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The Origin of German Tragic Drama

Benjamin's most sustained and original work, and one of the main sources of literary modernism.

Cited by Lukács as a principal source of literary modernism, Walter Benjamin’s study of the baroque stage-form called Trauerspiel (literally, “mourning play”) is the most complete document of his prismatic literary and philosophical practice. Engaging with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century German playwrights as well as the plays of Shakespeare and Calderón and the engravings of Dürer, Benjamin attempts to show how the historically charged forms of the Trauerspiel broke free of tragedy’s mythological timelessness. From its philosophical prologue, which offers a rare account of Benjamin’s early aesthetics, to its mind-wrenching meditation on allegory, The Origin of German Tragic Drama sparkles with early insights and the seeds of Benjamin’s later thought.

Reviews

  • “Walter Benjamin is the most important German aesthetician and literary critic of [the twentieth] century.”
  • “He drew, from the obscure disdained German baroque, elements of the modern sensibility: the taste for allegory, surrealist shock effects, discontinuous utterance, a sense of historical catastrophe.”

Blog

  • Resisting Left Melancholia

    Published in 2000, Without Guarantees — edited by Paul Gilroy, Lawrence Grossberg, and Angela McRobbie — brings together more than 30 essays inspired by, or written in honor of, the great cultural theorist Stuart Hall, who died three years ago this week. "It is appropriate," the editors write in their preface: 

    given the spirit of Stuart's own commitments that this volume has a second, subsidiary purpose. Cultural studies have been subjected to much abuse lately and the fragile institutional initiatives with which those words are entangled are now under great and growing pressure. In these circumstances it seemed right to try to make this public gift a modest interventionist act in its own right. Here then are some implicit and explicit reflections on what cultural studies can be and what it might become. 


    Below, we present one of the essays collected in the volume: Wendy Brown's now classic reflection on Hall and the condition that Walter Benjamin termed "left melancholia." First published in
    boundary 2 in 1999, Brown's essay spurred a debate that has continued through the present day. 

     

    via Stuart Hall Foundation

    “In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. ... only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins.”1 Walter Benjamin

    It has become commonplace to lament the current beleaguered and disoriented condition of the Left. Stuart Hall is among the few who have tried to diagnose the sources and dynamics of this condition. From the earliest days of the rise of the Thatcher-Reagan-Gingrich Right in Europe and North America, Hall insisted that the “crisis of the Left” in the late twentieth century was due neither to internal divisions in the activist or academic Left nor to the clever rhetoric or funding schemes of the Right. Rather, he charged, this ascendency was consequent to the Left's own failure to apprehend the character of the age, and to develop a political critique and a moral-political vision appropriate to this character.

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  • Acts of Dissent Through History

    The Verso Book of Dissent: Revolutionary Words from Three Millennia of Rebellion and Resistance is a compendium of revolt and resistance throughout the ages, updated to include resistance to war and economic oppression from Beijing and Cairo to Moscow and New York City.

    To celebrate the release of the new edition - 50% off at the moment as part of our end-of-year sale
    we've present a selection of key moments of dissent from the book.


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  • Fiction and Form: Howard Caygill, Sara Salih and Matthew Charles join The Storyteller editors

    Howard Caygill, Professor Of Modern European Philosophy at Kingston University and author of the forthcoming Kafka: In the Light of the Accident (Bloomsbury, 2017), Sara Salih, Professor of English at the University of Toronto, and Matthew Charles, Lecturer in English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies at the University of Westminster, joined The Storytellers editors and translators, Sam Dolbear, Esther Leslie and Sebastian Truskolaski, for a special event to launch Walter Benjamin's fiction collected in English translation for the first time.


    Recorded by Backdoor Broadcasting

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Other books by Walter Benjamin Translated by John Osborne Introduction by George Steiner