Walter Benjamin was a prolific writer, whose corpus spans a wide range of genres, from philosophy, to criticism, to autobiography. A small cottage industry has developed around Benjamin’s extensive writing, producing an ongoing stream of interpretations, applications, and contextualizations. A host of different “Benjamins” have arisen, depending on the great variety of analytical frameworks and disciplinary concerns. Benjamin’s difficult life in interwar Europe as a nomadic character on the fringes of so many cultural circles is very much part of his philosophy, and cannot be entirely separated from his critical theory. Benjamin worked on the edge of a political precipice, and adapted methodologies from a wide range of cultural currents, expressing himself eloquently in French and German, providing a significant challenge to his English translators. He challenges the film critic and media analyst to craft new avenues of interpretation in order to recognize the utopian within the ideological, and to illuminate the lost promises of technological modernity.
Students in this class are encouraged to think through Benjamin’s critical aesthetics in light of contemporary image culture and tropes of recycling, affect, technologies, and posthumanism. The fragmentation and circulation of images in digital media is anticipated by Benjamin along with its dangers and potentials for social justice. We will explore the ways that his work has been taken up by feminist theorists, media archaeology scholars, and other interdisciplinary scholars as a way of opening up a richly interdisciplinary approach to the aesthetics and politics of film and media. Students will be required to do class presentations and complete a final research paper.