The Strange Life and Death of Walter Benjamin

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Last week in my “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies” class I discussed Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School. Of course, this meant discussing Walter Benjamin, an eclectic yet influential theorist. Benjamin was born into a well-to-do Jewish family in Germany in 1882. He was horrified by World War One, and left the country to study in Switzerland, where he received his doctorate from the University of Bern in 1919. He had difficulty finding an academic job after he returned to Germany, but he continued to write in a wide range of fields, including art, translation, poetry, history and literature.  He also considered himself to be a psychonaut, and carried out extensive experimentation with hashish and morphine. Given his background as a failed academic, he might have appeared unlikely to become an influential figure, but his critical ideals in the humanities, and skeptical vision of modernity, led him to become important not only in literary criticism but also Critical Theory. …