The Anxiety of Influence: Adorno’s Grappling with Walter Benjamin’s Mysticism

Schlemiel Theory

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Anyone who reads Walter Benjamin can sense, from the very first sentences of any of his essays or books, that his writing is influenced by mysticism. But Benjamin was torn between mysticism and the political. While his friend Gershom Scholem encouraged him to pursue the mystical and the theological, other friends, like Bertolt Brecht and Theodor Adorno, suggested that Benjamin move more toward the political. With this tension in mind, it’s fascinating to see how Adorno describes Benjamin’s mystical tendencies in his essay “A Portrait of Walter Benjamin.” In Adorno’s descriptions we can see that he was grappling with Walter Benjamin’s mystical influences and the mystical aspects of his work. To be sure, one can sense Adorno’s anxiety around this subject.

Adorno begins his attempt with a simple statement about the main, singular theme of “Benjamin’s philosophy”:

The reconciliation of myth is the theme of Benjamin’s philosophy. (234, Prisms

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