Michael P. Krienitz

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Walter Benjamin



It is said that Walter Benjamin, one of the most influential cultural theorists in the Marxist tradition, did not research Karl Marx's writings until the final decade of his tragically abbreviated life. Benjamin was born in Berlin to a wealthy Jewish family. His studies at Freiburg, Munich, Berlin, and Berne resulted in a doctorate in 1919, but his dissertation on German tragic drama--a brilliant but unorthodox performance completed when he was thirty-three--was rejected by the University of Frankfurt. With a university career closed to him, Benjamin turned to journalism.

From 1925 to 1933, he made his living mainly with his pen and became friendly with a number of left-wing intellectuals. When the Nazi seizure of power drove him from Berlin in 1933, he immigrated to Paris and eked out a living through commissions from the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. He wrote some of his most admired work during these years of exile, but in 1940 he committed suicide in Port Bou, Spain, in the mistaken belief that his plan to emigrate to America had been thwarted and that he would have to return to Nazi-occupied France. His major works include Illuminations (1969), The Origin of German Drama (1977), Reflections (1978), Moscow Diary (1986), and The Arcades Project (1999).

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