I Want to Start Again: The Schlemiel, Bad Luck, and the Desire for a New Life (Starring Walter Benjamin)

The desire for change and a new life is fundamentally human.  And oftentimes the desire to start a new life is based on the fact that one is beset by bad luck.  To be sure, this is a theme which many Jews are familiar.  Bad luck seems to follow Jews around.  And, as a result, […]

Walter Benjamin, Leon Shestov, and Heinrich Heine’s Senses of Humor

Walter Benjamin paid very close attention to the work and life of Leon Shestov.  Shestov was a Russian émigré to Paris whose critical writings on literature and Judaism Benjamin had great respect for.  In one of his saddest (and last) letters to Gershom Scholem, written in 1939, Benjamin writes about Kafka’s legacy to his readers […]

On an Aesthetic of Redemption or The Problem With Historicizing Walter Benjamin (Take 1)

I’m not an intellectual historian.  And while I enjoy reading intellectual history, I always worry about the problem of periodization.   Like any historicization, the risk is to say that on this or that date everything changed with this or that thinker.  The problem with such claims is that – in a Derridian sense – something […]

Walter Benjamin’s Messianic Butterflies

In his introductory essay to Walter Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood around 1900 entitled “Hope in the Past,” Peter Szondi argues that, in his belief that the past held the secret of the future, Benjamin became a schlemiel of sorts.  To illustrate, Szondi cites one of the passages in which Benjamin remembers his childhood experience of a […]

Walter Benjamin’s Struggle With Adulthood and The Youth Movement (Schlemiel Precursors – Take 1)

To better understand Walter Benjamin’s approach to the schlemiel, I have, in previous blogs, looked into his relationship with the youth movement in Germany.  There is a strong link between the two since the schlemiel falls between being a man and a child.  And Walter Benjamin’s appeal to youth and his struggle with adulthood situate […]

Students and Teachers of The Schlemiel Legacy: From Sancho Panza to Walter Benjamin

(Enter Walter Benjamin) To be distracted and become absent minded, is so to speak the condition of the possibility of the schlemiel. Walter Benjamin knew this lesson very well.  He learned if from Kafka, who learned it from Sancho Panza and Don Quixote. At the end of his Kafka essay, Benjamin notes that he is […]

Charles Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin, and the Daemonic (Take 1)

In an essay on Walter Benjamin entitled “Walter Benjamin and his Angel,” Gershom Scholem notes that one of the things that disturbed him most about Benjamin was his interest in the daemonic.  Scholem, in this essay, notes that Benjamin’s interest increased the more he delved into the work of the Parisian poet and cultural critic […]