Walter Benjamin and the Idea of Natural History

Walter Benjamin and the Idea of Natural History

In this incisive new work, Eli Friedlander demonstrates that Walter Benjamin’s entire corpus, from early to late, comprises a rigorous and sustained philosophical questioning of how human beings belong to nature.

Across seemingly heterogeneous writings, Friedlander argues, Benjamin consistently explores what the natural in the human comes to, that is, how nature is transformed, actualized, redeemed, and overcome in human existence. The book progresses gradually from Benjamin’s philosophically fundamental writings on language and nature to his Goethean empiricism, from the presentation of ideas to the primal history of the Paris arcades. Friedlander’s careful analysis brings out how the idea of natural history inflects Benjamin’s conception of the work of art and its critique, his diagnosis of the mythical violence of the legal order, his account of the body and of action, of material culture and technology, as well as his unique vision of historical materialism.

Featuring revelatory new readings of Benjamin’s major works that differ, sometimes dramatically, from prevailing interpretations, this book reveals the internal coherence and philosophical force of Benjamin’s thought.

About the author

Eli Friedlander is Laura Schwarz-Kipp Professor of Modern Philosophy at Tel Aviv University. His previous books include Walter Benjamin: A Philosophical Portrait (2015).

“Friedlander’s interpretative lens offers his readers a genuinely illuminating and deeply convincing way of appreciating both the local detail and the overarching significance of Benjamin’s texts.”

—Stephen Mulhall, University of Oxford

“Friedlander’s highly original study resituates the interpretation and evaluation of Benjamin’s immensely fecund work within the context of the most advanced contemporary thinking on first and second nature. The book will have a considerable impact across the humanistic disciplines.”

—David E. Wellbery, University of Chicago

“Friedlander succeeds beautifully and convincingly in presenting Benjamin’s seemingly heterogeneous oeuvre as a coherent philosophical effort. Timely reading for philosophers, Benjamin scholars, and all readers interested in the question of the human as a life-form in trying times.”

—Eva Geulen, Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung

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