Walter Benjamin: Materialism and Messianism

Walter Benjamin, influenced both by Marx’s analysis of materialist inequities of society and by his friend Gershom Scholem's spiritual quest, attempted to combine the two approaches in his suggestive and poetic writings, and critically explored the concepts of historical inevitability, progress and messianism.

In a posthumously published work, Theses on the Philosophy of History, Benjamin undermines the conventional reading of history by juxtaposing the Messianic idea of the Abrahamic religions with modernity, and by doing so structures the present as a time of "end of times":

"...every second of time was the strait gate through which the Messiah might enter.”


Some questions to consider:

* How does Benjamin’s critical analysis of the idea of progress relate to the American dream of the future?

* Can we reconcile our idea of progress with the theological notion of the coming of the Messiah at the end of time?


Reading:

The Thesis on the Philosophy of History is available for download in the Files section.

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  • darini

    Howard gave an excellent presentation, and the ensuing discussion though a bit challenging at times was exactly why Benjamin's work is important and useful to discuss. Thanks for another great meetup!

    April 8, 2013

  • Jorge

    Another lively and insightful talk. As always, i am compelled to re-exam. In this case the notion of "redemption."

    April 8, 2013

  • Eran

    Thank you Howard for leading such a wonderful discussion. It was an haunting, perceptive and uncompromising examination of our present and its relation to history. We're now looking forward to the past.

    1 · April 7, 2013

  • joy

    Sorry can't make it today...

    April 7, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I apologize but I will not be back in town in time for tonight's meet up

    April 7, 2013

  • Hannah K.

    Sorry guys; I won't be able to make it tonight. Have fun!

    April 7, 2013

  • Laurence M.

    Sadly, cannot make it tonight. Wish you all lively discussions!

    April 7, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    sick

    April 6, 2013

  • Yen

    Yes! : )

    1 · April 6, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I got a time conflict again and won't be able to make it but wishing you guys have a great discussion.

    March 26, 2013

  • Jorge

    I enjoy gazing at the image (see above).

    1 · March 24, 2013

    • Jeryl

      Paul Klee. One of my top 5 favorite artists of all time!

      1 · March 24, 2013

  • Erlena D.

    Can't wait for this discussion (after all Adorno )

    1 · March 9, 2013

  • Jeryl

    "We have been taught that the Messianic idea is part and parcel of the idea of the progress of the human race in the universe, that redemption is achieved by man’s unassisted and continuous progress, leading to the ultimate liberation of all the goodness and nobility hidden within him. This, in essence, is the content which the Messianic ideal acquired under the combined dominance of religious and political liberalism—the result of an attempt to adapt the Messianic conceptions of the prophets and of Jewish religious tradition to the ideals of the French Revolution."

    Scholem, Gershom. The Messianic Idea in Judaism: And Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality (Kindle Locations[masked]). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

    1 · March 7, 2013

    • Jeryl

      "Traditionally, the Messianic idea in Judaism was not so cheerful; the coming of the Messiah was supposed to shake the foundations of the world. In view of the prophets and Aggadists, redemption would only follow upon a universal revolutionary disturbance, unparalleled disasters in which history would be dislodged and destroyed. The nineteenth-century view is blind to this catastrophic aspect. It looks only to progress toward infinite perfection.

      Both prophets and Aggadists conceived of redemption as a new state of the world wholly unrelated to anything that had gone before, not the product of a purifying development of the preceding state. Hence for them the world unredeemed and the world in process of redemption were separated by an abyss. History was not a development toward any goal"


      Scholem, Gershom. The Messianic Idea in Judaism: And Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality (Kindle Locations[masked]). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

      2 · March 7, 2013

  • Sara Lua C.

    I recently moved back to NYC exactly so that I would be able to engage in philosophical inquiry and the inspiration of learning from others.

    February 28, 2013

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