Thursday, October 28, 2010

Enfin, A Man In Full

The adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality is a process of unlimited scope, as much for thinking as for perception.

- Walter Benjamin

Author Stephan Wackwitz writes with apparent embarrassment about his youthful affection for fantasy socialist and thus a willing idiot for totalitarianism, Walter Benjamin:

My admiration for some of Benjamin's writing, the elegance of his thinking and his language more than anything else, has accompanied me throughout my intellectual life. And this in spite of the irreparable damage I probably inflicted upon myself during my period of obsessive Benjamin reading. Because the confusion of his thinking exponentially propelled my own confusions to new heights, for many years. When you read Benjamin, you must learn to strictly separate admiration and criticism.
Or otherwise simply take him for what he writes. To some, his writing is as enjoyable as anything one may find. In itself, that does not give its’ content any more significance than can be rationally found in it.

After all, the concept of originating critical theory by obfuscation turned into a cottage industry that reached its peak in the academic industry sector in the 1980’s. It then migrated into the occupations of social thinking and political crash testing.
It is precisely the purpose of the public opinion generated by the press to make the public incapable of judging, to insinuate into it the attitude of someone irresponsible, uninformed.

- Walter Benjamin, telling us that facts are irrelevant when we suffer from “false consciousness.”


So how do you explain why his writing, which fails to meet any traditional criteria, has been been so phenomenally influential since the 1960s? The content argument points to Benjamin's combination of "scientific socialism" with cabbalist and messianic motifs (most prominently in his "Theses on the Philosophy of History) which struck a chord with students' illusory hopes of revolution against all odds. And the motifs in the essay on "The Artwork in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" would certainly have been useful for a generation where most people grew up wanting to become "something media-related".
A creature we frequently meet today, not to mention their enablers, well programmed by a monomaniacal, ideologically driven view found in the academy:
In 1972 I was twenty, a supposedly not entirely untalented, deeply impressionable and utterly confused individual. One week it was Maoism, the next it was poetry or fine art. The interminable vacillations of a young man. Ersatz military service in Bad Urach, holidays in Paris, a patchwork university degree in Munich. The obligatory hitch-hiking in Italy. The effects of Nietzsche's "Zarathustra" and three cans of beer in a youth hostel in Milan. An old man holds his head in despair over the diaries of his younger self.
Thankfully, he is now free of this sort of narcissism:
Of all the ways of acquiring books, writing them oneself is regarded as the most praiseworthy method.
There will always be people who will sugar-coat tyranny, just as there will always be young people who are sharp enough but lack the life experience to resist them. The irony is that it’s those people who are not ‘people of letters’ that are more likely to have the capacity to identify the theories and motives behind the intellectual child molesters.

That they prey on callow university students is no less wrong.