Walter Benjamin and the Re-Enchanted World

Sunday, July 12, 2020

What Is It

Walter Benjamin was a German Jewish critical theorist, essayist, and philosopher who died tragically during the Second World War. His thoughts about modernity, history, art, disenchantment, and re-enchantment are still discussed today. So who was Benjamin, and what is his intellectual legacy? Why did he believe that Enlightenment values, such as rationality and modernization, brought about disenchantment in the world? Did he think there was a way to find re-enchantment without abandoning these values? And what would he have had to say about social media and its power to distract? The hosts have an enchanting time with Margaret Cohen from Stanford University, author of Profane Illumination: Walter Benjamin and the Paris of Surrealist Revolution.


Comments (2)

Devon's picture


Monday, July 13, 2020 -- 1:37 PM

Dave See write in during

Dave S. wrote in at the end of Sunday's broadcast with the following:

Greets, with hopes you & yours are, & remain healthy!
Couple questions:
--true that he used a manuscript to roll cigarettes?
--agreed, "aura"has been superseded by the 'net?

Reply from Josh:

For me it’s a yes and no: on the one hand I do think the internet has intensified the situation described by Benjamin, since (among other things) we can now gain access to high-quality digital reproductions of artworks. But on the other hand people are still traveling from all over the world to see the Mona Lisa (the crowds in the Louvre make it an absurd situation) and other paintings, as well as sculptures, buildings, etc. So the original object, in cases where there is one, still exerts at least some pull.

I haven’t heard that cigarette story about Benjamin, but I have heard it about Mikhail Bakhtin. (See Michael Holquist's Introduction to The Dialogic Imagination, pp. xv-xxxiii.) Fascinating story!

joanie's picture


Tuesday, July 21, 2020 -- 3:44 PM

The Walter Benjamin show was

The Walter Benjamin show was great; thanks! A problem/obstacle to understanding the role of art is that art has been overtaken by entertainment, as in, for example, TED Talks, which should be TAD Talks. People don't seem to want to go deep, be transformed--the effects of art--they want to be distracted--the effects of entertainment. I'm entertained by watching my cat.