Jane O. Newman: Re: Benjamin and the Baroque


Thanks to Chris Braider for sorting out the strands in his comment and for restating with clarity precisely what it is that I am interested in, namely what turned out to be the ultimate weakness of both the system of states (and of several individual states) allegedly founded in 1648, and the violence to populations both within territorial borders and without undertaken in the name of these dangerously self confident, but unstable nations. Understanding Benjamin’s messianism in this context is, as Braider indicates, a complicated, complicated thing, and is surely related to other holdings in his library (Rosenzweig of course, but also Ehrenberg and Lukacs) that would need to be interrogated (or so is the thesis of my book) in the company of texts from the period of the Baroque proper as well as in terms of how that period was constructed and received. Another way of putting this is that my association of the term ‘redemption’ with Benjamin’s political stance on the war might be best understood as derived from and pointing to my interest in locating Benjamin’s position within early twentieth-century discourses of confessio rather than within those of fides (or, for that matter, of Truth), as those two versions of religion were sorted out by Hobbes and of course Spinoza as well, in order to create the conditions for understanding the significance of his repeated insistence that the Silesian playwrights in whom he is interested were Lutherans, a point upon which little criticism about Benjamin has touched. Redemption, messianism are part of a vocabulary associated with the kingdom-to-come as it may or may not break in on the now, regardless of what men do. (On Benjamin and messianism in a context somewhat different than the one in which I am interested, see James Martel, “Waiting for Justice: Benjamin and Derrida on Sovereignty and Immanence.” Republics of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts 2, no. 2 (June 1, 2011): http://rofl.stanford.edu/node/92). Germany’s attacks on Belgium and France were undertaken precisely by men and under the confessional banner of Lutheran war theology as it led the way into battle in the here-and-now of a very concrete holy war. There was an earlier period when state-identified confessions had provided both the impetus and the mask for countless acts of ‘righteous’ violence similar to these, namely, the Baroque (although also earlier too). One reading of Spinoza in this context that Braider does not mention, but that I like in this regard is Etienne Balibar’s in his Spinoza and Politics (orig., 1985, transl. 1998), which brings us very much down to earth as to how “illusions” became so dangerous in the period about which Benjamin was writing and allows us to return to Andreas Gryphius’ Carolus Stuardus play (1649) about the execution of Charles I, for example, and see it in a new light.

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