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February 12, 1982 - Image 19

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1982-02-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Intellectuals: Scholem andrWalter Benjamin'

PHILADELPHIA —
"Walter Benjamin, The
'--Story of a Friendship"
(Jewish Publication Society
Of America) is an incompar-
>- able memoir chronicling the
intimate friendship be-
tween two masters of the
spirit and language. Its au-
. thor, Gershom Scholem, is
considered to be one of the
c oremost Jewish scholars of
our age; his lifework has
peen the almost single-
handed reconstruction of
Jewish mysticism, which he
has set forth in a series of
nc+- ",le publications.
1
book's subject, Wal-
.. r
-er Benjamin,
Denjamin,
. i s regarded
l by many as the greatest
philospher-critic of the cen-
tury and his writings com-
mand increasing attention.
The present volume,
- translated from the original
German, has already re-
'''-ceived advance critical
acclaim. A pre-publication
report in Kirkus Reviews
notes:
"So little is available,
,biographically, about
Walter Benjamin — per-
haps the most supple, in-
tuitive, and creative cri-
tic of the age — that the
testimony of a close
friend like Scholem ar-
rives as a major boon.
And since Scholem is
himself a great scholar
and thinker, since the in-
tellectual comradeship
- between the two was so
intense for a time, the
commingling of their
thoughts comes to be
even more revealing than
the life-facts them-

i t

"Scholem's
math-
ematically training and de-
:Teloping involvement with
Judaism and Kabala had a
lasting effect on Benjamin,
contributing to the concept
of aura as well as that of
name (God) vs. word (man).

Close as it was, their
friendship carried within it
the seeds of hurt and mis-
understanding, which
ripened under the pressure
of separation and political
crisis. Ultimately, their
paths diverged.
Scholem, convinced that
there was no future for Jews
and Judaism in Germany,
emigrated to Palestine in
1923. Benjamin, under the
influence of, among others,
Theodor Adorno, Bertolt
Brecht and Asja Lacis, be-
came increasingly drawn to
Marxism and remained in
Europe until too late. In
1940, fleeing the Nazis, he
committed suicide on the
Spanish border.
Until Benjamin's tragic
death, the friendship was
maintained through letters,
critical commentary, and a
fervent exchange of litera-
ture to emphasize and
validify the correspondents'
respective intellectual and
political directions.
Publishers Weekly, ob-
serves: "Scholem's un-
swerving belief in God
and Jewishness became
the focus of his life and
activity, whereas Benja-
min's two gods — mysti-
cal Judaism and dialecti-
cal Communism — pre-
vented his coming to
terms with either." These

GERSHOM SCHOLEM

"Benjamin's great work
on Kafka also has unmis-
takable Scholem strains
. . . As stuff of the intern-
gente, an invaluable docu-
ment about not merely one
but two of the century's
most profound minds."
Gershom Scholem and
Walter Benjamin first met
as young men in Berlin in
1915. Scholem was then 17
and Benjamin 23. There
was an immediate affinity
between them of intellec-
tual interests and they
struck up a friendship that
continued for years and
proved mutually fructify-
ing, though not without its
tensions. -
They pursued their in-
tense discussions of
Judaism, religion, litera-
ture, and philosophy at
every opportunity. (The
year 1918 found Scholem
living close to Benjamin
and his wife, Dora, in
Switzerland, and, as Kir-
kus Reviews writes, "this
period of extreme inti-
macy . . . is absolutely
exhilarating to read ab-
out.") When they were
separated, their ex-
changes went on in es-
saylike letters, many of
them reproduced in this
volume.

differences of perspec-
tive, in the last phases of
their friendship, took on
a grim edge, revealing
Scholem's uncanny
clairvoyance and Benja-
min's equivocation of
thought and ideology.
"Walter Benjamin: The
Story of a Friendship" is
thus not only the record of a
memorable association, but
also a gripping account of
the duel that engaged two
remarkable minds.

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