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The melancholy guard post 

Agora. Journal of Metaphysical Speculation.
Forfatter: Nummer 2–3 2017
Allegory and melancholy are two key words for Walter Benjamin's writing, which is now moving backwards into Norwegian cultural life. Agora offers a delayed number by a "late" philosopher.


Walter Benjamin may not be a name many in Norway know, but now Solum has published a complete translation of his Passenger Screeners – two thick volumes by Arild Linneberg – and Agora has come up with a Benjamin number.

The Agora number contains ten interesting essays on various aspects of Benjamin's thinking and philosophy. The essays are well suited for a politically and philosophically interested reader, but they require patience, because Benjamin's philosophical mix of anarchism, Jewish messianism, and deep everyday considerations are not readily available.

We also get a clear overview of the philosopher's sad finally fleeing from the Nazis in an essay by Finn Iunker in the issue. "The Hitler-Stalin pact in August 1939 had made him apathetic and discouraged," Iunker can tell us. Agora also offers the following pages by Walter Benjamin:

Messianism and the Allegory. Ragnhild Evang Reinton has written the essay “Thinking poetically. About reading and writing at Walter Benjamin ». She highlights Benjamin's Jewish lineage and its importance to his thinking. She also highlights his encounter with the Frankfurt School and his alternative, unorthodox Marxism. The theological perspective in his philosophy is a challenging alternative to the idea of ​​progress that dominates the West today. Messianism is something quite different from making progress – it is rather to believe that the end of history can occur at any time. Time is almost eternal here and now in the messianic tradition. Unorthodox Marxism clashes with Jewish messianism in Benjamin's philosophy. The past can be redefined on behalf of the oppressed – against the rulers – and a redefinition of history and a rebellion against the idea of ​​progress is needed, Benjamin said. His thinking is also a rebellion against industrialization and the monotonous existence of technocratic capitalism. This could be done by "the allegorical immersion of the melancholy act into the phenomena".

Bolt's essay uses Benjamin's thoughts on aesthetics of politics as a gateway to understanding today's political situation in the West.

The problem is that the hidden double meaning that the allegory demands is lost. This invites melancholy pondering. The allegory is a dictatorial character function that has in many ways been abandoned by modernity – in favor of symbolism and other linguistic symbolic functions. The allegory often refers to a time when the Bible was still considered the dominant scripture in the West. Today, as is well known, one prefers to read concrete and literal, for symbolic distress, but never allegorically or anagogically. In other words, no one believes any longer that the world has a hidden meaning in which to interpret the signs, but as Reinton writes: "The allegory, like the slow reading, can see the unseen and hear the unheard."

Rescue motif, secularization. In the essay «Experience and mimesis. A motive for salvation in Walter Benjamin's philosophy, "writes Dag T. Andersson:" In a time when experience is threatened by displacement of experiences, Benjamin will save the phenomena, save the real experience. " Benjamin himself wrote: "It is the task of the poetic language to break through the denominations and give back the words a yet forgotten or hidden meaning."

Saint-Simonism was a French socialist movement with clear Messianic features, but it was more secular than Benjamin liked. Dominique Routhier addresses this in the essay "The Entrepreneurial Ethics of Socialism and the Spirit of Fascism. Benjamin and Saint-Simonism ». Benjamin was very critical of secularisation, and also of the social-democratic definition of what labor is. He was not enthusiastic about the quasireligious worship of saint-simonism, and viewed the movement as one of many beginnings of fascism. In other words, he was very critical of Saint-Simonism and its sanctification of the church and work – two sizes that he believed were in the service of progress.

Anders Kristian Strand has written the essay «A Theory of Maturity. Decay and rescue in Walter Benjamin's Origins des deutschen Trauerspiels [The History of German Grief] ». According to Strand, the mourning book deals with a sub-genre of Baroque drama, which expresses a strong awareness of crisis and decay. "The German mourning game is in the span between the history of secularization and the 'state of grace'," writes Strand.

In his essay "Attempting a Critique of Violence," Benjamin discussed the relationship between secularization and Jewish messianism, modernity, and historical decay. This is discussed by Ragnar Braastad Myklebust in the essay "General strike, power criticism and non-state law".

Benjamin was very critical of secularisation, and also of the social-democratic definition of what labor is.

Everyday life, language, politics. Benjamin's philosophical views on everyday life and its secrets are the theme of Marie Louise Krogh's essay "Walter Benjamin and Everyday Images". "With Walter Benjamin, one can experience how everyday condenses eternity," she writes, showing how everyday experiences in Benjamin's philosophy are formed through encounters with everyday mysteries.

Emil Bernhard has written the essay "Stranger and Function", which is about Benjamin's translation concept. In the translations too, Benjamin often found ambiguities, or allegorical character functions. The essay is not primarily about translating anything, but about relating to the allegory as a character function. Anyone who wants to go deeper into this should read Benjamin's texts on Charles Baudelaire.

The essay by Erik Granly Jensen, "Identifying the Impossible, Language Philosophy and Politics of Walter Benjamin," is largely about the relationship between Immanuel Kant and Benjamin. Benjamin did not break with Kant, but would expand Kant's determination of the limits of the possible experience.

The last essay is about Donald Trump, neo-fascism and Benjamin's philosophy, and stays at the intersection of aesthetics and fascism. Mikkel Bolt uses Benjamin's thoughts on aesthetics of politics as a gateway to understand the current political situation in the West. By addressing Benjamin's thoughts on art, aesthetics and politics, Bolt shows that Trump has all the hallmarks of a postmodern fascist.

All in all, the ten essays on Benjamin are interesting and well written. You just have to flip over a thinker who is both passing and in front of traffic at once.

Henning Næs
Henning Næss
Literary critic in MODERN TIMES.

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