Metaphysics of the Profane: The Political Theology of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem

Metaphysics of the Profane: The Political Theology of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem

Metaphysics of the Profane: The Political Theology of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem

Metaphysics of the Profane: The Political Theology of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem

Synopsis

Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem are regarded as two of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century. Together they produced a dynamic body of ideas that has had a lasting impact on the study of religion, philosophy, and literary criticism.

Drawing from Benjamin's and Scholem's ideas on messianism, language, and divine justice, this book traces the intellectual exchange through the early decades of the twentieth century -- from Berlin, Bern, and Munich in the throws of war and revolution to Scholem's departure for Palestine in 1923. It begins with a close reading of Benjamin's early writings and a study of Scholem's theological politics, followed by an examination of Benjamin's proposals on language and the influence these ideas had on Scholem's scholarship on Jewish mysticism. From there the book turns to their ideas on divine justice -- from Benjamin's critique of original sin and violence to Scholem's application of the categories to the prophets and Bolshevism. Metaphysics of the Profane is the first book to make this early period available to a wider audience, revealing the intricate structure of this early intellectual partnership on politics and theology.

Excerpt

Many new materials are presented here for the first time in English, including previously untranslated selections from Gershom Scholem’s journals and letters, the early writings of Walter Benjamin, and unpublished material from the Scholem Archive in Jerusalem. a short note on the use of the German in this work is therefore due. Each citation is given in translation, followed by the original that Columbia University Press has kindly allowed me to include in the notes to the chapter. in the case of Benjamin, several works from the early period are now available in English, and I have sought to refer to these translations whenever possible. Nevertheless, I have chosen to modify them to better serve this study. On occasion, reference is given but the translations will strongly diverge.

I would like to thank Suhrkamp Verlag for kind permission to reproduce Walter Benjamin’s “Theologisch-Politisches Fragment,” from Gesammelte Schriften II:203—204, “Notizen zu einer Arbeit über die Kategorie der Gerechtigkeit,” and Gershom Scholem’s “Der Bolschewismus,” from Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher I:401-402 and II:556-558, and “Thesen über den Begriff der Gerechtigkeit” (Scholem arc. 1599/277.34) from the Gerschom Scholem Archive in Jerusalem. Many thanks to Rafi . . .

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