Walter Benjamin: The Colour of Experience

Walter Benjamin: The Colour of Experience

Walter Benjamin: The Colour of Experience

Walter Benjamin: The Colour of Experience


Caygill argues that all of Benjamin's work is characterised by its focus on a concept of experience derived from Kant but applied by Benjamin to objects as diverse as urban experience, visual art, literature and philosophy.


My chief interests were philosophy, German literature, and the history of art… Since the centre of gravity of my scholarly interests lies in aesthetics, my philosophical and literary studies have increasingly converged.

Walter Benjamin, Curriculum Vitae, 1925

Experience and immanent critique

Benjamin's elaboration of a non-Hegelian speculative philosophy of experience redefined the nature and limits of critique. the Kantian view that critique should confine itself to securing the legitimacy of judgements in terms of a categorial framework applicable only within the limits of spatio-temporal experience no longer sufficed. the extension of the bounds of experience brought with it the demand for a new and extended notion of critique. Benjamin responded to this demand by returning to the concept of criticism developed by the Romantic, pre-Hegelian generation of Kant's critics, above all Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis. From their example he derived a speculative concept of criticism guided by the method of 'immanent critique'. the discovery of the method in his early work in literary criticism was contemporary with the elaboration of his speculative concept of experience, and both remained closely linked throughout his authorship.

It is axiomatic for immanent critique that the criteria of critical judgement be discovered or invented in the course of criticism. This followed necessarily from the extension of the bounds of experience: if the absolute is immanent to experience, then the critical judgement of experience must also be undertaken immanently. There can be no externally given and secured criteria of critical judgement such as those Kant deduced from the nature of the apper-ceptive subject. Consequently, instead of making critical judgements according to transcendentally secured criteria, immanent critique looks for its criteria in the traces of the absolute left in an experience or work. It is attentive to the distorted and inconspicuous ways in which the absolute manifests itself in the work or object of experience as well as open to having its 'conditions of legibility' transformed by the encounter with the work or object of experience. But far from being a modified form of transcendental argument such as that proposed in Kant's account of reflective judgement in The Critique of

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