Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was one of the most intriguing and original Marxist cultural theorists of the twentieth-century. He made a precarious living in Berlin as a literary journalist and, partly under the influence of Ernst Bloch and Lukacs, turned toward the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. In the late 1920's, he became a close friend of Brecht, championing his revolutionary 'epic theatre'. Driven from Germany in 1933 by the rise of Nazism, Benjamin settled in Paris where he had close associations with the surrealists. When the Nazis invaded France, Benjamin fled to the Spanish frontier where on being denied entry, he committed suicide rather than risk being delivered to the SS. Benjamin's writings are a curious mixture of esoteric, sometimes mystical Jewish thought, artistic modernism, and unorthodox Marxism. He united an apocalyptic vision of history with a concern for the material, productive basis of art. Fascinated by tradition, yet a radical spokesman for the new technological media, steeped in high German philosophy, but a champion of the proletariat, Benjamin was in turn philologist, literary critic, political commentator, and philosopher of history.
Bolz and van Reijen proceed from the standpoint that Benjamin's thought was shaped by his attempt to connect extremes - to make the theological idea of salvation fruitful for political thought. Then, they go on to structure Benjamin's important clusters of themes in light of the radical consequences of this intention.
Norbert Bolz is Professor of Theory of Communication at the University of Essen. Willem van Reijen is Professor of Philosophy at Utrecht University.