(Translated by Howard Eiland) Begun in Poveromo, Italy, in 1932, and extensively revised in 1938, Berlin Childhood around 1900 remained unpublished during Walter Benjamin's lifetime, one of his "large-scale defeats." Now translated into English for the first time in book form, on the basis of the recently discovered "final version" that contains the author's own arrangement of a suite of luminous vignettes, it can be more widely appreciated as one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century prose writing.
Not an autobiography in the customary sense, Benjamin's recollection of his childhood in an upper-middle-class Jewish home in Berlin's West End at the turn of the century becomes an occasion for unified "expeditions into the depths of memory." In this diagram of his life, Benjamin focuses not on persons or events but on places and things, all seen from the perspective of a child--a collector, flaneur, and allegorist in one.
This book is also one of Benjamin's great city texts, bringing to life the cocoon of his childhood--the parks, streets, schoolrooms, and interiors of an emerging metropolis. It reads the city as palimpsest and labyrinth, revealing unexpected lyricism in the heart of the familiar.
As an added gem, a preface by Howard Eiland discusses the genesis and structure of the work, which marks the culmination of Benjamin's attempt to do philosophy concretely.
About the Author
Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin: 15 July 1892 – 26 September 1940) was a German Jewish philosopher, cultural critic and essayist. An eclectic thinker, combining elements of German idealism, Romanticism, Western Marxism, and Jewish mysticism, Benjamin made enduring and influential contributions to aesthetic theory, literary criticism, and historical materialism. He was associated with the Frankfurt School, and also maintained formative friendships with thinkers such as playwright Bertolt Brecht and Kabbalah scholar Gershom Scholem. He was also related to German political theorist and philosopher Hannah Arendt through her first marriage to Benjamin's cousin, Günther Anders.
Among Benjamin's best known works are the essays "The Task of the Translator" (1923), "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1936), and "Theses on the Philosophy of History" (1940). His major work as a literary critic included essays on Baudelaire, Goethe, Kafka, Kraus, Leskov, Proust, Walser, and translation theory. He also made major translations into German of the Tableaux Parisiens section of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal and parts of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu. In 1940, at the age of 48, Benjamin committed suicide at Portbou on the French–Spanish border while attempting to escape from the invading Wehrmacht. Though popular acclaim eluded him during his life, the decades following his death won his work posthumous renown.