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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: September 2012

4 - Critical reception

Summary

Today, Walter Benjamin is far from succumbing to the fate of the Russian Jewish philosopher whose widow he describes in 1939 as sitting alone in her Paris apartment surrounded by uncut volumes of her husband's works (C, 594). This was not always the case. From the time of his death in 1940 to the mid-1960s, a relatively small part of his total output was available, and only then in German. But what did become available in these years played a significant role in shaping Benjamin's subsequent reception and influence. Now, fifty years after the initial post-war publication of his essays, Benjamin's renown is such that he has spawned an immense amount of secondary writing about his critical and cultural analyses. Four phases can be distinguished in this reception: an initial stage beginning in the 1950s as Benjamin's writings begin to be published in Germany; a second phase in which Benjamin's Marxism and later association with the Frankfurt School is prominent; a third phase in which the theoretical and critical character of much of his writing is emphasized as literary theory comes to the fore; a fourth phase in which he gains an ever wider reception within the disparate disciplines of the humanities and the social sciences.

Translation and early history of reception

This first phase can be traced to the publication of a two-volume edition of Benjamin's writings by Theodor Adorno in 1955.

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