WALTER BENJAMIN: The Story of a Friendship by Gershom Scholem

WALTER BENJAMIN: The Story of a Friendship

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KIRKUS REVIEW

So little is available, biographically, about Walter Benjamin--perhaps the most supple, intuitive, and creatic critic of the age--that the testimony of a close friend like Scholem arrives as a major boon. And since Scholem is himself a great scholar and thinker, since the intellectual comradeship between the two was so intense for a time, the commingling of their thoughts comes to be even more revealing than the life-facts themselves. Youngsters in Berlin together, Jewish intellectuals of fierce precociousness, Scholem and Benjamin went at ideas the way lions go at meat; in 1916, Scholem notes in his diary: ""The word irgendwie [somehow] is the stamp of a point of view in the making. I have never heard anyone use this word more frequently than Benjamin."" 1918 found Scholem living close to Benjamin and wife Dora in Switzerland, and this period of extreme intimacy (with mÉnage-like undertones) is absolutely exhilarating to read about here. Scholem's mathematical training and developing involvement with Judaism and Kabbalah had a lasting effect on Benjamin, contributing to his concept of aura as well as that of name (God) vs. word (man). Benjamin's great work on Kafka also has unmistakable Scholem strains. But Scholem's emigration to Palestine in 1924, Benjamin and Dora's break-up, Benjamin's involvement with Marxism (primarily through a woman, Asia Lacis, whom he met in 1924), and the long physical separation of the friends thereafter effectively broke this brilliant interplay. Ever more personally fragmented, harried by divorce and then by Hitler, friend of Brecht and Scholem (attempting to make his ""Janus face"" acceptable to both), Benjamin killed himself on the Spanish border in 1940--an act Scholem is not coy about: he thought it more or less inevitable. So there is that rare thing here: intellectual drama. Yet Scholem, the least lurid, most reticent of memoirists, makes it almost incidental--always acknowledging that his later links to his friend were incomplete, agonized, essentially tragic ones. As stuff of the intelligence, an invaluable document about not merely one but two of the century's most profound minds.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Jewish Publication Society