ABOUT THIS BOOK
Walter Benjamin became a published writer at the age of seventeen. Yet the first stirrings of this most original of critical minds—penned during the years in which he transformed himself from the comfortable son of a haute-bourgeois German Jewish family into the nomadic, uncompromising philosopher-critic we have since come to appreciate—have until now remained largely unavailable in English. Early Writings, 1910-1917 rectifies this situation, documenting the formative intellectual experiences of one of the twentieth century's most resolutely independent thinkers.
Here we see the young Benjamin in his various roles as moralist, cultural critic, school reformer, and poet-philosopher. The diversity of interest and profundity of thought characteristic of his better-known work from the 1920s and 30s are already in evidence, as we witness the emergence of critical projects that would occupy Benjamin throughout his intellectual career: the role of the present in historical remembrance, the relationship of the intellectual to political action, the idea of truth in works of art, and the investigation of language as the veiled medium of experience.
Even at this early stage, a recognizably Benjaminian way of thinking comes into view—a daring, boundary-crossing enterprise that does away with classical antitheses in favor of the relentlessly-seeking critical consciousness that produced the groundbreaking works of his later years. With the publication of these early writings, our portrait of one of the most significant intellects of the twentieth century edges closer to completion.
This thoughtfully planned edition of Benjamin's early writings will afford readers who may only be familiar with his later canonical work a sense of the range and force of the initial phases of Benjamin's intellectual formation. Those who thought they knew Benjamin will warmly welcome these magical and charming essays, poems, stories, fragments, and dialogues from Benjamin's metaphysics of youth.
-- Gerhard Richter, University of California, Davis
In Early Writings, Howard Eiland covers the earliest period of Benjamin's extant oeuvre that helped form the critical project that dominated his literary and philosophical career. This volume's range provides a comprehensive account of Benjamin's development from an ardent advocate of youth and educational reform to a philosophically committed critic of literature.
-- David Ferris, University of Colorado at Boulder
This is a valuable addition to the available work in English of one of the seminal Jewish critical thinkers of the 20th century, author of the massive Arcades Project. The mostly lambent translations by editor Eiland and others...help place Benjamin's later work within the context of his early preoccupations.
-- Publishers Weekly
Early Writings (1910-1917) [is] the latest volume to appear in Harvard University Press' Benjamin edition--an exemplary scholarly project that has now been ongoing for 25 years...In these seven years, from the ages of 18 to 25, it's possible to see Benjamin develop from a precocious, pompous adolescent into a daring and profound thinker. The latest pieces in the book--in particular "The Life of Students," "Trauerspiel and Tragedy," and "On Language as Such and the Language of Man"--lead directly to his most important insights into the nature of literature and history. In fact, the last of these, never published in Benjamin's lifetime, can be seen as a kind of skeleton key to his mature work, full of overtly mystical beliefs that would go underground when Benjamin became a professed Communist...One of the things that makes Benjamin so fascinating is the way he seems to translate Jewish ways of thinking into a post-Jewish intellectual culture. Early Writings shows that this fertile dualism was present from the very beginning.
-- Adam Kirsch Tablet Magazine
In the introduction, editor and translator Eiland does a wonderful job of explaining how the essays relate to events in Benjamin's early adult life and to the evolution of his theories...These pieces offer the reader valuable insight into Benjamin's philosophical thought.
-- Scott Duimstra Library Journal
This well-planned, beautifully translated volume collects Benjamin's earliest writings and is a welcome addition to the corpus of his contributions to the fields of philosophy, aesthetics, politics, and literary criticism. From his first attempts as an author in 1910 when he was a student in Munich, Benjamin refined his voice as one of Europe's most independent, fiercely metaphysical writers. Here Eiland et al. allow the reader to witness the emergence of the themes that would occupy Benjamin in the productive decades to follow: language and truth, historical memory, the relation of experience to the active life. The 45 original, direct pieces collected here constitute a crucial context for his developing thought. This collection stands alongside Benjamin's Selected Writings, ed. by Marcus Bullock and Michael Jennings as more evidence of Benjamin's stature as a thinker of world-historical force. Those interested in philosophy, letters, German literature, and intellectual history will undoubtedly find this volume immensely fruitful.
-- M. Uebel Choice