Échafaudages du réel. Images d'une vie prospère dans l'oeuvre stratégique de Walter Benjamin

Anna-Kaarina Peura

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


    Since his formative years, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) is looking for a « place » of sharing where pedagogically effective communication would generate fruitful action. After the failure of his Habilitation thesis, in 1925, this demanding place is located outside any university milieu. Benjamin, however, does not cease to mention the possibility of renewing research through teaching. Yet this is not the result of lengthy elaborations of pedagogy or of some other special field, but of constructing a « universal » – that is for Benjamin : philosophical – conception of knowledge. For Benjamin, in truth, knowledge and teaching are intrinsically linked : the transmissibility of knowledge requires the act of researching and the will to teach and all true knowledge is knowledge transmitted. More precisely, the true knowledge is transmitted in the uninterrupted line of reception, conservation, development and communication of knowledge. On the basis of this vision Benjamin conceives a conception of the human and a way of acting – a « practice » of the written discourse – and the attempt of the Benjaminian man to realize himself. Subsequently, Benjamin’s teaching will be reflected in a variety of activities, including commentary on philosophical and literary texts, book reviews, radio works, as well as writings on history, aesthetics and art. Now, as in his reflections of the formative age, Benjamin never ceases to question the epistemological basis of the object of study, nor the just mindset, the attentive state of mind of anyone who tries to transmit, through his or her own tested precepts, the knowledge transmitted. The present study seeks to highlight this strategic, that is to say directing and formative constancy of the philosophical discourse on history and individuality in Benjamin. The three parts of the text are built around the epistemological conditions of the pedagogical and political exposition that seeks to construct one’s landmarks in life (part 1), the limits of human knowledge and experience at the height of man (part 2), the conception of historical time, linked to the fields which the latter puts in charge for the « subject » of knowledge (part 3). To clarify this theme of the epistemological tradition and philosophical anthropology, I chose three texts from the early Benjamin. These texts serve as a basis for his reflection on and around the same theme : « Das Leben der Studenten» (« The Life of the Students »), of 1915, « Trauerspiel und Tragödie » (« Trauerspiel and Tragedy »), of 1916, and « Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie » (« On the Program of the Coming Philosophy »), of 1918. Like the « interfaces » between « subject » and his or her situation at a given moment, these texts present in germ the means of diagnosing the future history, which can be seen in Benjamin’s later epistemological reflection, notably in the unfinished Passagen-Werk (The Arcades Project). In order to deepen Benjamin’s research on history and the « subject » in his or her time, each of these three texts was accompanied by a major western philosopher who helps to put in perspective the intellectual tradendum that Benjamin wishes to pass on. Thus, it is in Plato’s pedagogical mirror that the pre-war German students can find their sense of being and their orientation beyond the preconceived idea of ready-made careers. Similarly, it is Kant and Heidegger who, respectively, solicit Benjamin to reflect on a program for a « metaphysical » epistemology and on the possibilities of filling time from the Baroque Trauerspiel to any thinking and responsible man. It is true that the writing and commentary of the texts bring Benjamin closer to the heart of Jewish teaching. However, in Benjamin it is permissible to perceive a special form of spirituality in the epistemology of history and individuality : this includes a spiritual dimension that is objectively grasped from the point of view of epistemology and metaphysics, and not from the confessions alone. This type of spirituality could « renew » the research for the pedagogy of art today, bringing it back to the « sources » of an alternative education. The precursor would be the « know thyself » of the philosophers of Antiquity, whose epistemology Benjamin also recalls in his work. Basically, the reflection on knowledge in Benjamin is linked to the questioning of « true life » : Benjamin approaches it, in particular, from the point of view of societal action. More precisely, it is not for him to have access only to a personal consciousness or autonomy, through reflection on oneself and history, but to know what can be true for man and his situation at some point of time. The hypothesis that the present study proposes to verify is that, from the point of view of the relation between the theory of knowledge and self-knowledge, true knowledge for Benjamin is equivalent to authentic life.
    Translated title of the contributionÉchafaudages du réel. Images d'une vie prospère dans l'oeuvre stratégique de Walter Benjamin
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor's degree
    Awarding Institution
    • Aalto University
    • Varto, Juha, Supervising Professor
    • Elo, Mika, Thesis Advisor
    Print ISBNs978-952-60-7382-8
    Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-7381-1
    Publication statusPublished - 2017
    MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


    • Walter Benjamin
    • connaissance
    • enseignement


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