Zeitschrift für deutsch - jüdische Literatur und Kulturgeschichte (Journal of German - Jewish Literature and Culture History)
Ed. by Weidner, Daniel / Weiss, Yfaat / Wiese, Christian
2 Issues per year
I Kinds of Time
The following remarks concern the question of time in Walter Benjamin's thought on ethics and justice. This theme is intimately connected to his attempt to locate the idea of human action beyond the confines of the subject conceived as the underlying instance to which the will is attributed. His thought in this area is exploratory. In Benjamin's discussions and correspondence with Gershom Scholem, he experiments with ideas deriving from Jewish thought in order to create a locus for his understanding of the ways in which the human being is inserted into the order of justice. It is not prejudicial to the seriousness of this attempt if one notes that this is also partly what was at work in Benjamin's relation to the ideas espoused by Brecht and Adorno. Yet it is above all in the thought broached in the discussions and correspondence with Scholem, in the years preceding the publication of the article “Zur Kritik der Gewalt” in 1921, that Benjamin takes the major steps in his meditation on justice as an order of being. In his essays “Zwei Gedichte von Friedrich Hölderlin” and “Über die Sprache des Menschen und über Sprache überhaupt” of 1914 and 1916 respectively, Benjamin works out the main features of the displacement of the centre of the literary work of art and of language from the subject to the world, to essences, and, in the latter case, to God. In fragments and essays following these first major formulations of his thought, he develops the views on justice that were to find a radical expression in his text “Zur Kritik der Gewalt”. It is not fortuitous that in one of these fragments, “Zur Bedeutung der Zeit in der moralischen Welt”, which probably dates from 1920/21, he employs the image of the storm to evoke the working of God's forgiveness in history. The image was to return in an enigmatic passage in the ninth of his “Geschichtsphilosophische Thesen” of 1940.
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