Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Unappreciated during his own tragic life, Benjamin became a major influence upon modern cultural criticism after World War II when former colleagues and friends began publishing his work. Using messianic and Marxist ideas in a very idiosyncratic manner, Benjamin criticized all attempts to mask the suffering of humanity with an aesthetic illusion.
Walter Benjamin was born July 15, 1892, to an upper-middle-class Jewish family living in the West End of Berlin. From his father, a dealer in art and antiquities, he acquired an early interest in culture. While at the prestigious Friedrich-Wilhelm Gymnasium, he was influenced by the antiauthoritarian educational concepts of Gustav Wyneken, eventually taking on a leadership role in the Youth Movement and publishing articles in their journal Der Anfang. He separated from the group when they enthusiastically accepted World War I, which Benjamin avoided by feigning sciatica. In Freiburg, Berlin, Munich, and Bern, where he studied philosophy, Benjamin came under the influence of Zionists and leftists, including Martin Buber and Ernst Bloch. His doctoral dissertation, Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik (the concept of art criticism in German Romanticism), completed in Bern in 1920, examined Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s metaphysics and Friedrich Schlegel’s aesthetics.
In 1917, Benjamin had married Dora...
(The entire section is 2142 words.)
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Walter Benjamin (BEHN-yah-meen) is considered a major cultural critic whose profoundly complex works reflect both a melancholic messianism and an idiosyncratic Marxism. Benjamin was little appreciated during his own life, which ended tragically in suicide. Only after World War II—when Theodor Adorno, a leading member of the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research, and Gershom Scholem, distinguished scholar of the kabbalah, began publishing his works—did Benjamin’s influence on modern cultural theory begin to be felt.
Born in 1892 into an affluent Jewish home in the West End of Berlin, Benjamin received his secondary education at the prestigious Friedrich-Wilhelm Gymnasium, which brought him under the influence of the antiauthoritarian concepts of Gustav Wyneken. Benjamin became a leader in the so-called Youth Movement but broke with the group over its enthusiastic acceptance of World War I, which Benjamin avoided by feigning sciatica. He married Dora Pollak in 1917, their only child Stefan being born the same year, but the couple separated after 1924. Studying philosophy in Freiburg, Berlin, Munich, and Bern, Benjamin made contacts with Zionists and leftists, including Martin Buber and Ernst Bloch. His doctoral dissertation, Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik (the concept of art criticism in German Romanticism), which examined Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s metaphysics and Friedrich Schlegel’s aesthetics, was published in...
(The entire section is 1091 words.)