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Benjamin and Brecht: The Story of a Friendship

A fascinating account of the friendship between two of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century
Germany in the mid 1920s, a place and time of looming turmoil, brought together Walter Benjamin—acclaimed critic and extraordinary literary theorist—and Bertolt Brecht, one of the twentieth century’s most influential playwrights. It was a friendship that would shape their writing for the rest of their lives.

In this groundbreaking work, Erdmut Wizisla explores what this relationship meant for them personally and professionally, as well as the effect it had on those around them. From the first meeting between Benjamin and Brecht to their experiences in exile, these eventful lives are illuminated by personal correspondence, journal entries and private miscellany—including previously unpublished materials—detailing the friends’ electric discussions of their collaboration. Wizisla delves into the archives of other luminaries in the distinguished constellation of writers and artists in Weimar Germany, which included Margarete Steffin, Theodor Adorno, Ernst Bloch and Hannah Arendt. Wizisla’s account of this friendship opens a window on nearly two decades of European intellectual life.

Reviews

  • “If this book had appeared decades ago, it would have terminated an unproductive debate in one fell swoop: that of the influence—be it fruitful, be it disastrous—of probably the most significant German playwright and poet of the 20th century, Bertolt Brecht, on probably the most significant critic of his day, Walter Benjamin … Scrupulous, scholarly, and written with loving commitment.”
  • “What emerges from this rich selection of materials is not merely a fuller picture of these towering figures but also of the working life of intellectual production,deliberation, and publication on the part of a vibrant scene of letters, culture, and activism under threat of imminent dissolution.”
  • “With great archival expertise, Wizisla captures the spontaneity, energy, and excitement of Benjamin’s and Brecht’s thinking in process; their efforts to arrive at an aesthetic that expresses Communist practice; and their struggle tocome to terms with Soviet reality under Stalin.”
  • “Wizisla’s story of artistic and political radicalism in the darkest of times is a landmark publication. These two friends ‘inhabited’ their times supremely well; their traces ought to inspire us in ours.”

Blog

  • Frankfurt School Bookshelf

    In 1923, a group of young radical German thinkers and intellectuals came together, determined to explain the workings of the modern world. Their lives, like their ideas, profoundly, sometimes tragically, reflected and shaped the shattering events of the twentieth century. 

    Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School is a brilliant new group biography by Stuart Jeffries, looking at the enduring importance and influence of the Frankfurt School.

    To celebrate publication we bring you a Frankfurt School Bookshelf with 40% off Grand Hotel Abyss, alongside Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, & more. Ends on Friday September 23rd, and includes free worldwide shipping (and bundled ebooks where available).

    We'll also be posting pieces & excerpts from works by Frankfurt School thinkers throughout the week, including a Frankfurt School Timeline by Stuart Jeffries. See everything here


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  • Ebook Highlights from Verso’s Archive from $1/£1


    *** THE SALE IS NOW OVER - THANKS FOR ORDERING! ***

    We’ve come to realize that our 90% off ebook sale has placed our readers in a dual crisis of both shortening time and expanding options, leaving many paralyzed or uncertain on how to navigate this vast terrain of radical ebooks. The task is certainly daunting. With a diverse list of authors ranging from Rosa Luxemburg, Ellen Meiksins Wood, Fredric Jameson, David Harvey, and Benedict Anderson to Patrick Cockburn, Liza Featherstone, John Berger, and Richard Seymour, choosing the right bundle can be a challenge. 

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  • Walter Benjamin: Conversations with Brecht

    To celebrate Verso's new paperback edition of Erdmut Wizisla's Benjamin and Brecht: The Story of a Friendship, we present this selection of Walter Benjamin's diary entries on Bertolt Brecht, translated by Anya Bostock, which appeared in Aesthetics and Politics.


    Benjamin and Brecht. Svendborg, Denmark, 1934.

    1934

    4 July
    . Yesterday, a long conversation in Brecht’s sickroom about my essay "The Author as Producer." Brecht thought the theory I develop in the essay — that the attainment of technical progress in literature eventually changes the function of art forms (hence also of the intellectual means of production) and is therefore a criterion for judging the revolutionary function of literary works — applies to artists of only one type, the writers of the upper bourgeoisie, among whom he counts himself.

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Other books by Erdmut Wizisla Translated by Christine Shuttleworth

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