Walter Benjamin and the Aesthetics of Power

Synopsis

Walter Benjamin and the Aesthetics of Power explores Walter Benjamin's seminal writings on the relationship between mass culture and fascism. The book offers a nuanced reading of Benjamin's widely influential critique of aesthetic politics, while it contributes to current debates about the cultural projects of Nazi Germany, the changing role of popular culture in the twentieth century, and the way in which Nazi aesthetics have persisted into the present. Lutz Koepnick first explores the development of the aestheticization thesis in Benjamin's work from the early 1920s to his death in 1940. Pushing Benjamin's fragmentary remarks to a logical conclusion, Koepnick sheds light on the ways in which the Nazis employed industrial mass culture to redress the political as a self-referential space of authenticity and self-assertion. Koepnick then examines to what extent Benjamin's analysis of fascism holds up to recent historical analyses of the National Socialist period and whether Benjamin's aestheticization thesis can help conceptualize cultural politics today. Although Koepnick insists on crucial differences between the stage-managing of political action in modern and postmodern societies, he argues throughout that it is in Benjamin's emphatic insistence on experience that we may find the relevance of his reflections today. Walter Benjamin and the Aesthetics of Power is both an important contribution to Benjamin studies and a revealing addition to our understanding of the Third Reich and of contemporary culture's uneasy relationship to Nazi culture.