Walter Benjamin's Concept of the Image (Routledge Studies in Twentieth-Century Philosophy)
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
In this book, Alison Ross engages in a detailed study of Walter Benjamin’s concept of the image, exploring the significant shifts in Benjamin’s approach to the topic over the course of his career. Using Kant’s treatment of the topic of sensuous form in his aesthetics as a comparative reference, Ross argues that Benjamin’s thinking on the image undergoes a major shift between his 1924 essay on ‘Goethe’s Elective Affinities,’ and his work on The Arcades Project from 1927 up until his death in 1940. The two periods of Benjamin’s writing share a conception of the image as a potent sensuous force able to provide a frame of existential meaning. In the earlier period this function attracts Benjamin’s critical attention, whereas in the later he mobilises it for revolutionary outcomes. The book gives a critical treatment of the shifting assumptions in Benjamin’s writing about the image that warrant this altered view. It draws on hermeneutic studies of meaning, scholarship in the history of religions and key texts from the modern history of aesthetics to track the reversals and contradictions in the meaning functions that Benjamin attaches to the image in the different periods of his thinking. Above all, it shows the relevance of a critical consideration of Benjamin’s writing on the image for scholarship in visual culture, critical theory, aesthetics and philosophy more broadly.
ultimately two aspects of the image. On one side, there is the internal luminosity of things in their state of ‘material community’ (SW I, 67) [‘stoffliche Gemeinschaft einander mitteilen’ (GS II, I, 147)]. This luminosity comes about through their relation to the creative word of God. On the other, there is what Benjamin refers to as the merely external relation of things to fallen words as the means for their manipulation by men. The terms of this contrast mirror the difference between the
detail in section four of this chapter. I will also discuss there the significance of the claim that it is language that lifts the image into a sphere of ‘mediation.’ Suffice it to note here that precisely in his choice of the language of the image and in its attachment to certain forms of material culture in the Arcades Benjamin signals a modification of the key tenets of his earlier work. This means that interpretations that postulate an unproblematic continuity in Benjamin’s writing cover over
semblance of phantasmagoria. In either case, the emphasis falls on the new way that things are experienced. ‘Awakening’ is, for instance, aligned to a new vision of things that strips back their phantasmagoric sheen.32 Just as in the early essay on youth, Benjamin rails against the ‘imprisonment’ of ‘calendar time, clock time, and stock-exchange time’ (SW I, 11) and looks for ‘a ray of light’ in which the self would experience ‘timelessness’ (SW I, 12), so, too, in his theses ‘On the Concept of
total immersion and absorption in it. Truth is the death of intention’ (U, 36). This last phrase is repeated in the N convolute of the Arcades: ‘Every present day is determined by the images that are synchronic with it: each “now” is the now of a particular recognisability. In it, truth is charged to the bursting point with time. (This point of explosion, and nothing else, is the death of intentio. . .)’( A, [N3, 1], 462–463). If the death of intention unifies the two perspectives, in the later
image occurs in language is that language has the status of ‘mediation.’ I think that the political significance given to proximity in Benjamin’s Artwork essay also supports the interpretation I am giving here of the meaning of the immediacy in the case of the dialectical image. The Artwork essay sees in the cinema a mass art able to reintroduce the prized value of distraction as the context for the assimilation of perceptual experience [Erfahrung]. More specifically, film is able to ‘provide an