Walter Benjamin, Diabolical Hater

November 28, 2012

Walter Benjamin going in on the dissident bourgeois poet Erich Kastner:

The metamorphosis of the political struggle from a drive to make a political commitment into an object of contemplative pleasure, from a means of production into an article of consumption, is characteristic of this literature.

But it doesn’t stop there. Benjamin deigns to quote himself (“a perceptive critic”), from “Left Wing Melancholy,” to sum up:

These extreme left-wing intellectuals have nothing to do with the worker’s movement. Rather they exist as the mirror image of that fringe of bourgeois decadence which tried to assimilate itself to feudal strata and admired the Empire in the person of the reserve lieutenant. … Their function, seen from a political point of view, is to form not a Party, but a clique, seen from a literary point of view, not a school but a fad, from an economic point of view not to become producers but agents. Agents or hacks, who make a great show of their poverty and congratulate themselves on the yawning void. It would be impossible to carve a more comfortable position out of an uncomfortable situation.

Instead, Benjamin wanted art that would, by revealing its techniques, destroy the (class) divide between reader and writer. It was praxis, not merely aestheticization of politics (Benjamin would have even stronger words for such a tendency in a later essay). In Benjamin’s estimation, Kastner’s stuff, for all its radical trappings, was still bent on enhancing the author’s prestige in the eyes of his own circle and in the eyes of those he was criticizing.

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America: Still Fascist and Loving It

October 16, 2009

Reading Benjamin for the umpteenth time…

Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.

If that’s the case, we’ve been fascist since at least World War 2… Something I’ve suspected for a while, really. I wonder if Marcuse had any rejoinder to this.

All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war.

Ah, yes. The kicker.

Epilogue from Mussolini:

We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, a passion. It is not necessary for it to be a reality. It is a reality in the sense that it is a stimulus, a hope, is faith, is courage. Our myth is the nation, our myth is the greatness of the nation! For us the nation is not just territory, but something spiritual. A nation is great when it translates into reality the force of the spirit.