More fragments from the oeuvre of the brilliant Marxist philosopher-critic (Illuminations, the first collection to appear in this country, came out in 1968). Benjamin, who died tragically in Spain in 1940, was a German Jew with wideranging interests and a dense, sometimes impenetrable style. This volume gathers together personal recollections, notably ""A Berlin Chronicle"" and ""Moscow""; notes for an unfinished book entitled Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century; articles on his friend Bertolt Brecht, Karl Kraus, surrealism, etc.; and essays on politics and linguistics. Benjamin's autobiographical sketches, especially the piece on Moscow, display a warmly evocative sense of place and elaborate Proustian cadences, but his real claim to fame rests on the drier and more difficult theoretical works. In ""On Language as Such and On the Language of Man,"" for instance, he makes the striking assertion that all nature, animate and inanimate, partakes in language to some degree, since everything communicates its ""mental meaning."" Benjamin, as Peter Demetz notes in his long and illuminating introduction, attempts to ""read"" objects, cities, and institutions, ""as if they were sacred texts."" This book is rough sledding, but the cryptic richness of Benjamin's thought makes it worth the effort--many of his shorter essays could easily have been expanded into full-length books. Much of his work is untranslated or hard to find or both, but judging from what's currently available, Frank Kermode might not have been wildly exaggerating when he called Benjamin the greatest critic of the century.