Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

If acquiring a court record, or being "put away" in an institution, gives him prestige in the gang, society is simply promoting his rise to power, rather than punishing or "reforming" him. Agencies which would attempt to redirect the boy delinquent must reach him through his vital social groups where an appeal can be made to his essential conception of himself.

There is a process of selection in the gang, as a result of the struggle for status, whereby the ultimate position of each individual is determined. The result of this process depends largely upon the individual differences--both native and acquired--which characterize the members of the group. Other things being equal, a big strong boy has a better chance than a "shrimp." Natural differences in physique are important and physical defects play a part. Natural and acquired aptitudes give certain individuals advantages. Traits of character, as well as physical differences, are significant; these include beliefs, sentiments, habits, special skills, and so on. If all members of the gang were exactly alike, status and personality could only be determined by chance differences in opportunity arising in the process of gang activity. In reality, both factors play a part.❖

Walter Benjamin ( 1892-1940) was one of the more mythical figures among those associated with the Frankfurt School. This is due, in part, to the acknowledged brilliance of his writings, which have enjoyed a renewed popularity among literary theorists in recent years. In addition, he died a martyr. In 1938, Benjamin refused Adorno's urging to join other members of the Frankfurt School in New York. He was committed to pursuing an intellectual and political course in Europe (at the time, in Paris) and was ambivalent about life in the United States. He was arrested by the collaborationist French government, but was later released from a Nazi internment camp through an international effort on his behalf. While trying to escape from France across the Spanish border, he was emotionally overwhelmed by a combination of ill health, the likelihood of arrest, and the impact of the tragedy that had befallen Europe. He committed suicide at age forty-eight. Though the selection "Art, War, and Fascism" is short, it reveals Benjamin's incisive mind at work analyzing the aesthetic perversions of fascism.


Art, War, and Fascism

Walter Benjamin ( 1936)

The growing proletarianization of modern man and the increasing formation of masses are two aspects of the same process. Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. The violation of the

____________________
Excerpt from Epilogue from "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"; Hannah Arendt , ed., Harry Zohn, trans., Illuminations, pp. 243-244. 1955 by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt a. M., English trans. 1968 by Harcourt Brace & Co., reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace & Co.

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