Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship (New York Review Books Classics)
Gershom Gerhard Scholem
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Gershom Scholem is celebrated as the twentieth century's most profound student of the Jewish mystical tradition; Walter Benjamin, as a master thinker whose extraordinary essays mix the revolutionary, the revelatory, and the esoteric. Scholem was a precocious teenager when he met Benjamin, who became his close friend and intellectual mentor. His account of that relationship—which was to remain crucial for both men—is both a celebration of his friend's spellbinding genius and a lament for the personal and intellectual self-destructiveness that culminated in Benjamin's suicide in 1940.
At once prickly and heartbroken, argumentative and loving, Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship is an absorbing memoir with the complication of character and motive of a novel. As Scholem revisits the passionate engagements over Marxism and Kabbala, Europe and Palestine that he shared with Benjamin, it is as if he sought to summon up his lost friend's spirit again, to have the last word in the argument that might have saved his life.
this to him, and he admitted this contradiction quite candidly. He said it was simply a matter of a task that he had not yet mastered but for which he had high hopes. His “Janus face” still bore the liveliest expression. When our conversation turned to Benjamin’s work under the auspices of the Institute and his attitude toward the Institute generally, we discussed the question of his readiness to come to Palestine, a readiness he had expressed in quite a few of his letters of those years.
223n, 254–55 Einbahnstrasse (“One-Way Street”), 145, 170, 183, 196, 232 “Der Erzähler” (“The Storyteller”), 254 “Goethe,” 193–95, Gesammelte Schriften (Collected writings), 234n, 263 Geschichten aus Ibiza (Tales from Ibiza), 232 Illuminations, 4n, 57, 123, 147, 187, 252, 254 “Kriegerdenkmal” (War memorial), 170 “Zur Kritik der Gewalt” (“Critique of Violence”), 40, 114 “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit” (“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical
history’s black hole, and from posterity’s sunny deformations. If he can regenerate his friend by recovering, through memory, his friend’s religious longings, then he can revive the living truth of Judaism. He can make the mystery of a human personality proof of the existence of the soul; and he can make the imperatives of the soul, and not the dirty expedients of politics, proof of the need for a Jewish state. He cannot so easily tear himself away from his friend—perhaps that is the real reason
1925, Jula Cohn married the chemist Fritz Radt, a brother of Benjamin’s first fiancée, Grete Radt. The two then lived in Berlin, and Benjamin stayed in touch with them for a long time. Once or twice he traveled with Fritz Radt to Zoppot and in the local casino indulged a passion for gambling that sometimes came over him. On one of those trips he lost all his cash, down to the last pfennig, and had to borrow money for the return trip to Berlin. An innate wanderlust, inner unrest, and
figures, for which I expected a solution only from my new life in Eretz Yisrael; it was the question I grappled with, under varying emphases, for years. It was a memorable evening, and Benjamin later adverted to it on a number of occasions as a high point of our encounter. Another high point of a very different kind was the encounter, somewhat later, with Judah Leon Magnes, chancellor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, on which occasion Benjamin held the floor. When Benjamin told me about