Benjamin, Walter, 1892–1940, German essayist and critic. He is known for his synthesis of eccentric Marxist theory and Jewish messianism. In particular, his essays on Charles Baudelaire and Franz Kafka as well as his speculation on symbolism, allegory, and the function of art in a mechanical age have profoundly affected contemporary criticism. Benjamin was influenced by his close friendship with the historian of Jewish mysticism Gershom Gerhard Scholem. In 1933, he moved to France because of the rise of the Nazis. When the Nazis invaded France, he fled to Spain, was denied entry, and committed suicide.
See collections of his essays edited by H. Arendt (1968, 1978); his Moscow Diary (1986); The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin, 1910–1940 (1966, tr. 1994) edited by Manfred R. and Evelyn M. Jacobson; Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship (1981) by G. Scholem; studies by R. Wolin (1982), S. Handelman (1991), and B. Witte (1991); essays by G. Scholem (1965, 1981).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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