Review: Introducing Walter Benjamin

Introducing Walter Benjamin Introducing Walter Benjamin by Howard Caygill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you're not familiar with the Graphic Guides (also known as Introducing...), then you may be in for a treat. They often take complex people or theory and break it down into meaningful chunks using a mixture of images, quotes, and text. Caygill's treatment of Walter Benjamin was enjoyable if not sometimes a big challenging. Benjamin was a strange mixture of historian, art critic, and wandering scholar. Though for me, I always knew him for his most popular work, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Caygill illustrates (pun intended) how this was a later work to a range of works that focused on sensemaking of artistic endeavors and their relation to the modern world (of the mid-twentieth century), an unstable world of shifting ideologies and the horrors of war. Benjamin lived in Europe throughout the first half of the 20th century and was both Marxist and Jewish, which meant his existence in Germany would prove increasingly challenging. The most fascinating aspect I found in this work was the wondering nature Benjamin who was never able to find a stable academic home; I tend to think that is the challenge of a great many scholars today. The art was useful at times, illustrating the artworks or the major historical people that Benjamin interacted with. Yet, sometimes, the images didn't serve to enhance the narrative but just seemed plopped in without explanation.

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