Spring 2009

Walter Benjamin and a (the) “Possible Politics”

Listed in: Political Science, as POSC-90


Pavel Machala (Section 01)
Irving N. Wohlfarth (Section 01)


Walter Benjamin was an influential German-Jewish Marxist thinker who during his life in the first half of the confused, violent and utopic twentieth century positioned himself between various Marxist camps, including the Frankfurt School, and many others besides them. His politics pervade every line he wrote and yet he never wrote what he called "my politics." Responses to his work have been no less paradoxical: elaborate respect for his cultural criticism combined with all due neglect for its political implications. These implications are extraordinarily radical but not, so he claimed, "to the left of the possible." This seminar will explore these paradoxes, as well as “lessons” for “possible politics” at the dawn of the new century’s global turmoil, through selected close readings from Benjamin's work. The gap that separates his politics from the established canon will be gauged by a series of comparative readings from Karl Marx, Max Weber, Hannah Arendt and others. This course fulfills the requirement for an advanced seminar in Political Science. Requisite: Political Science 58, 80, 81, or an equivalent Limited to 12 students. This is an advanced seminar for juniors and seniors. No underclassmen. Offered once Spring semester. Professor Machala. Lowenstein Fellow Wohlfarth.