Walter Benjamin's Transit: A Destructive Tour of Modernity

Polsky, Stephanie. 2003. Walter Benjamin's Transit: A Destructive Tour of Modernity. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis focuses specifically on Walter Benjamin's philosophical insights into the emerging climate of fascism, in Europe, between the two World Wars. These were inseparable from a challenge to modem understandings of history. For Benjamin official histories function to record the spoils of the victors effectively erasing the losing side from the annals of history. This has particular resonance given that Benjamin, a German Jew, was himself under constant threat of cultural erasure during the course of his writing, thus making him in a way the embodiment of a certain constellation of fascist forces. The theme of an 'embodied' fascism will be applied to Benjamin's corpus as well as to other's directly involved and affected by the rise of German fascism. Throughout this thesis I chart the ways in which Benjamin applies alternative methods to reading history, in order to unearth the violence beyond his present situation of fascism. Benjamin argued that violence subtends all modern state function, insofar as its power is won and maintained by the silent suppression of its citizens. Such suppression was the cause of periodic eruptions of violence with society. It was built into the very fibre of what we call civil society as it is generated through culture. This reading of Benjamin hones in on vital areas of modern cultural production such as rhetoric, photography, language, spatiality and communications technology and attempts to situate them within the scope of Benjamin's concerns about violence. In addition to critical theory, my research incorporates the field cultural studies, as Benjamin's main concern was with the ideological role that certain cultural objects played within the social economy in the era that preceded German fascism's consolidation of power. Benjamin's investigations of violence, and its relationship to various technologies at the start of the 20th Century, form an invaluable source of insight with which to evaluate the current critical debates about fascism.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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Walter Benjamin, Modernity, cultural erasure, rhetoric, photography, language, spatiality



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Date Deposited:

11 Jun 2020 10:39

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 14:29


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