Letters exchanged between 1928 and 1940 by two prominent German intellectuals and scholars of literature, music, and culture, Walter Benjamin and Theodor Wiesengrund-Adorno, now published in their entirety for the first time in English. Benjamin's and Adorno's first meeting in 1923 in Frankfurt sparked in each a strong interest in the other's intellectual pursuits, and eventually led to a dedicated friendship that endured through difficult years of exile. Their exchange continued until Benjamin's suicide in the Pyrenees, provoked by the threat of forced deportation to Nazi-controlled France. As each correspondent held the other's professional opinion in high esteem, both spend many pages discussing current research, criticizing each other's manuscripts, and reviewing the latest academic publications. Their letters help to trace the shaping of such significant projects as Benjamin's work on Kafka and Baudelaire and Adorno's on Wagner and jazz, and command respect for their erudition in a wide range of fields, from philosophy to modern culture. As first names eventually replace "Herr Wiesengrund" and "Herr Benjamin,— the letters shed more light on the personalities and daily preoccupations of the two friends, who shared the problems of immigrant life (for Adorno in London and later the US, for Benjamin in France). We learn about their efforts to publish their work and earn money and recognition in a foreign culture. Benjamin reveals concerns about his son Stefan's mental health and his adventures in procuring a dwelling place in Paris. Adorno, on the other hand, frequently helps his friend with contacts and recommendations, including the arrangements for Benjamin's abortive immigration to America. Finally, the imminent political cataclysm in their native Germany, particularly the situation of the Jews, sets the worried tone of their later correspondence. While the absence of a comprehensive editorial introduction outlining major landmarks in their biographies and careers is unfortunate, these letters do let Benjamin and Adorno speak eloquently for themselves on many complex issues.
Read full book review >