Where are you from, Walter Benjamin?

Mr. Benjamin has a lot of opinions about a lot of things, and feels very little compunction about making broad, sweeping statements without justifying them in any way. I admire that. I also disagree with him. Frequently.

“When seeking insight into a work of art or an art form, it never proves useful to take the audience into account.”
– This is plain wrong. Without some serious contextualization I never would have made any headway with my comprehension of Japanese Noh Theatre. It is only by trying to emulate the audience this stuff was designed for that I can even begin to appreciate what it tries to do.

“No poem is meant for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the audience.”
– What? Shakespeare wasn’t an artist because he wrote to sell theatre tickets? Court musicians and painters weren’t artists because they did their work on commission? Some of the best art ever created has been as part of business deals that involved very specific audiences being targeted by works tailor-made for their pleasure.

“[Translations] do not so much serve the work’s fame as they owe their existence to it.”
-Can’t it do both? And isn’t this directly undermined by the next sentence:
“In [translations] the original’s life achieves its constantly renewed, latest and most comprehensive development.”
-Being constantly renewed sounds like a service to me.

“It is clear that a translation, no matter how good, cannot have any significance for the original.”
-Is that clear? Especially with all this talk about a work’s fame, life and after-life I can’t help but feel that a work becoming trans-national and viewed through new cultural lenses does actually impact the perception of the original work quite a bit.


“Certain relational concepts gain their proper, indeed their best sense, when from the outset they are not connected exclusively with human beings. Thus we could still speak of an unforgettable life or moment, even if all human beings had forgotten it.”

“Accordingly the translatability of linguistic structures would have to be considered even if they were untranslatable for human beings.”

“Even in ages of the most prejudiced thinking, it has been presumed that life must not be attributed to organic corporeality alone.”

Is Walter Benjamin:
a.) An artifical intelligence sent from the future.
b.) An interstellar probe of alien manufacture.
c.) A sentient gas.