segunda-feira, 10 de dezembro de 2012

Dr. Walter Benjamin`s Curriculum Vitae (1939)

Curriculum Vitae (VI): Dr. Walter Benjamin

I was born on July 15, 1892, in Berlin, the son of the merchant Emil Benjamin. (1) I received my education at a classical Gymnasium and graduated in 1912. (2) I studied philosophy, along with German literature and psychology, at the universities of Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Munich, and Berlin. In 19171 went to Switzerland to continue my studies at the University of Bern.

In the course of my studies my thinking was decisively influenced by a number of writings, some of which lay far from my main field of study. These included Alois Riegl’s Spätrömische Kunstindustrie, Rudolf Borchardt’s Villa, and Ernst Petzold’s analysis of Hölderlin’s “Brot und Wein.” (3) Lectures by the Munich philosopher Moritz Geiger, and by Ernst Lewy, a Berlin lecturer on Finno-Ugric languages, made a lasting impression on me. (4) Lewy’s classes on Humboldt’s study Über den Sprachbau der Völker, and the ideas he developed in his own study Zur Sprache des alten Goethe, awakened my interest in the philosophy of language. (5) In 1919 I obtained my doctorate summa cum laude at the University of Bern. My dissertation has been published under the title Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik (Bern, 1920). (6)

My first book published after my return to Germany was a translation of Baudelaire’s Tableaux Parisiens (Heidelberg, 1923). It included a preface entitled “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers,” the first precipitate of my reflections on the theory of language. (7) From the outset, my primary interest has been the philosophy of language, along with the theory of art. The former led me to pursue Mexican studies during my years at the University of Munich—a decision I owe to my acquaintance with Rilke, who was also studying the Mexican language in 1915. Similarly, my interest in the philosophy of language played a part in my growing interest in French literature. Here I was especially engaged by the theory of language which emerges from the works of Stéphane Mallarmé.

In the years immediately following the end of the war, I was still primarily concerned with German literature. My essay “Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften” (Munich, 1924-1925) is the first study of relevance here. (8) This work earned me the friendship of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who published it in his Neue deutsche Beiträge. Hofmannsthal also took a very lively interest in my next work, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (Berlin, 1928). (9) This book set out to offer a new view of seventeenth-century German drama. Its aim was to distinguish Trauerspiel [mourning play] from Tragödie [tragedy], and it attempted to demonstrate the affinity between Trauerspiel as a literary form and allegory as a graphic art.

In 1927 a German publishing house approached me with a commission to translate Proust’s great novel. I had read the first volumes of this work with passionate interest in Switzerland in 1919, and I accepted the commission. This work led to several extended stays in France. I had first visited Paris in 1913, and had returned there in 1923. From 1927 to 1933 no year passed without my spending several months in Paris. I gradually made the acquaintance of a number of leading French writers, including André Gide, Jules Romains, Pierre Jean Jouve, Julien Green, Jean Cassou, Marcel Jouhandeau, and Louis Aragon. (10) In Paris I came across Rilke’s traces, and became acquainted with the friends and colleagues of his translator, Maurice Betz. At the same time, I undertook to keep the German public informed about intellectual life in France with regular reports which appeared in the Frankfurter Zeitung and the Literarische Welt. Three volumes of my translation of Proust (Berlin, 1927; and Munich, 1930) appeared before Hitler’s accession to power.

For me the inter-war years fall naturally into two periods, before and after 1933. In the first I traveled extensively and came to know Italy, the Scandinavian countries, Russia, and Spain. The literary output of those years, apart from the writings already mentioned, comprises a series of studies [Charakteristiken] of works by important poets and writers of our time. These include lengthy studies of Karl Kraus, Franz Kafka, and Bertolt Brecht, as well as Marcel Proust, Julien Green, and the Surrealists. (11) A collection of aphorisms, Einbahnstraße (Berlin, 1928), is also from this period.12 In addition, I was pursuing bibliographical studies. I prepared, for a commission, a complete bibliography of the writings of and about G. C. Lichtenberg, which has not been published. (13)

I left Germany in March 1933. Since then, all my major writings have been published in the journal of the Institute of Social Research. My essay “Probleme der Sprachsoziologie” (Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, 1935) gives a critical overview of the current state of philosophical theories on language. (14) The essay “Carl Gustav Jochmann” (ibid., 1939) is a postscript to my studies on the history of German literature. (15) (A collection of German letters from the nineteenth century, which I published in Lucerne in 1937, belongs in the same context.) (16) My article “Zum gegenwärtigen gesellschaftlichen Standort des französischen Schriftstellers” (ibid., 1934) grew out of my studies on recent French literature. (17) The essays “Eduard Fuchs, der Sammler und der Historiker” (ibid., 1937) and “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit” (ibid., 1936) are contributions to the sociology of the visual arts. (18) The latter work seeks to derive certain art forms, especially film, from the change in function that art in general has undergone in the course of social development. (My essay “Der Erzähler,” published in a Swiss journal in 1936, deals with analogous problems in the field of literature.) (19) My most recent study, “Über einige Motive bei Baudelaire” (ibid., 1939), is a fragment forming part of a series of investigations aimed at making the poetry of the nineteenth century a medium for a critical understanding of that century. (20)

Written in late 1939 or early 1940; unpublished in Benjamin’s lifetime. Gesammelte Schriften, VI, 225-228. Translated by Edmund Jephcott.


1. Emil Benjamin was born in 1866 and died in 1926.
2. Benjamin attended a humanistisches Gymnasium—a secondary school emphasizing Latin and Greek.
3. Alois Riegl (1858-1905), art historian born in Austria, argued that different formal and stylistic orderings of art gradually emerge as expressions of different historical periods. In his major work, Spätrömische Kunstindustrie [Late Roman Art Industry; 1901], Riegl sets out his concept of the Kunstwollen—the manner in which a given culture at a given time wishes to see its cultural objects. The notion posed a significant challenge to reigning theories of art, which derived from the notion of a classical ideal. Rudolf Borchardt (1877-1945), German-Jewish essayist and poet, produced a body of work notable for its nationalist-conservative tenor and its great formal refinement. Villa (1908) is a study of the history of landscape architecture. Ernst Petzold’s Hölderlins “Brot und Wein” [Hölderlin’s “Bread and Wine”; 1895-1896, 1896-1897] was the first monographic commentary on Hölderlin’s work.
4. Moritz Geiger (1880-1937), German philosopher, taught at the universities of Munich and Göttingen until 1933, when he was dismissed because he was a Jew. He emigrated to America and taught in New York until his death. Geiger was best known for his phenomenological study of aesthetic pleasure. Ernst Lewy (1881-1966) was a German linguist.
5. Benjamin presumably refers to Wilhelm von Humboldt’s highly influential monograph Über die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues und ihren Einfluss auf die geistige Entwickelung des Menschengeschlechts (On the Structural Variety of Human Language, and Its Influence on the Intellectual Development of Mankind; 1836), which Humboldt originally wrote in 1827-1829 as the introduction to his three-volume study of the ancient Kawi language of Java, Über die Kawisprache auf der Insel Jawa (published posthumously, 1836- 1840). Ernst Lewy’s study Zur Sprache des alten Goethe: Ein Versuch über die Sprache des Einzelnen (Goethe’s Late Style: An Inquiry into the Language of the Individual) was published in 1913.
6. This work has been published in English as The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism. See Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 1: 1913- 1926 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 116-200.
7. Benjamin omits mention here of his 1916 essay “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen” (On Language as Such and on the Language of Man), unpublished in his lifetime and translated in Volume 1 of this edition.
8. Translated as “Goethe’s Elective Affinities,” in Volume 1 of this edition.
9. In English as Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (London: New Left Books, 1977). Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929), Austrian poet, dramatist, and essayist, made his reputation with lyrical poems, stories, and plays in the last decade of the nineteenth century. His operatic collaborations with the German composer Richard Strauss made him world famous. He founded the journal Neue deutsche Beiträge in 1922. See “Hofmannsthal and Aleco Dossena,” in Benjamin’s Selected Writings, Volume 2: 1927-1934 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 421-422.
10. André Gide (1869-1951), French writer, humanist, and moralist, produced a series of remarkable novels, including L’Immoraliste (The Immoralist; 1902) and Les Faux Monnayeurs (The Counterfeiters; 1926). A cofounder of the Nouvelle Revue Française, he received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1947. See “André Gide and Germany,” “Conversation with André Gide,” and “The Present Social Situation of the French Writer,” in Volume 2 of this edition. Jules Romains (pseudonym of Louis Farigoule; 1885-1972), French novelist, dramatist, poet, and essayist, was elected to the Académie Française in 1946. His outstanding work remains his roman-fleuve, Les Hommes de bonne volonté (Men of Good Will; 1932-1947). Pierre Jean Jouve (1887-1976), French poet, novelist, and critic, is best known for a series of poetry collections, including Noces (1931) and Matière céleste (1937). Julien Green (1900-1998), French Catholic novelist, dramatist, and memoirist, was the child of American parents but was born and raised in Paris. His early novels, such as Mont-Cinère (1926), Adrienne Mesurat (1927), and Léviathan (1928), evoke a claustrophobic world in which the characters’ attempts to escape turn to passion, violence, and madness; they reflect Green’s difficulties in reconciling sexuality, particularly homosexuality, with Catholicism. Jean Cassou (1897-1986) was an eminent art historian and director of the Musée de l’Art Moderne in Paris. A native of the Spanish Basque country, he translated many texts from Spanish. His novels, such as Les Inconnus dans la cave (The Strangers in the Cellar; 1933) are marked by a discreet Romanticism and a protest against modern alienation. Marcel Jouhandeau (1888-1979), French Catholic novelist and autobiographer, was closely allied with the writers affiliated with the Nouvelle Revue Française. He is best known for his biting portraits of small-town life in the French provinces. Louis Aragon (pseudonym of Louis Andrieux; 1897-1982), French poet, novelist, and essayist, was one of the most politically active of the Surrealists. His novel Le Paysan de Paris (Paris Peasant; 1926) was a key text in Benjamin’s early thinking about Das Passagen-Werk (The Arcades Project). Aragon joined the French Communist party in 1927, visited the Soviet Union in 1930, and broke with the Surrealists in 1933 over issues of party orthodoxy.
11. See the essays “Karl Kraus,” “Franz Kafka,” “Surrealism,” “On the Image of Proust,” “Julien Green,” “A Family Drama in the Epic Theater,” and “Bert Brecht” in Volume 2 of this edition.
12. Translated as One-Way Street, in Volume 1 of this edition.
13. Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), German author and experimental psychologist, was a feared satirist in his time. Yet he is best remembered today as the first great German aphorist. More than 1,500 pages of his notes were published posthumously. In addition to jokes, linguistic paradoxes, puns, metaphors, and excerpts from other writers, they contain thousands of memorable aphorisms.
14. Translated as “Problems in the Sociology of Language,” in Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 3: 1935-1938 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002).
15. Translated as ‘“The Regression of Poetry,’ by Carl Gustav Jochmann,” in this volume.
16. Translated as German Men and Women, in Volume 3 of this edition.
17. Translated as “The Present Social Situation of the French Writer,” in Volume 2 of this edition.
18. Translated as “Eduard Fuchs, Collector and Historian”» and “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” in Volume 3 of this edition.
19. Translated as “The Storyteller,” in Volume 3 of this edition.
20. Translated as “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” in this volume.

In: Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 4: 1938- 1940 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 381-385.  

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