Walter Benjamin and 'materialism'

Homburg, Phillip (2016) Walter Benjamin and 'materialism'. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

This thesis examines the emergence of Walter Benjamin’s materialism, within his early
thought, from within the context of post-Kantian philosophy. The original contribution
made by this thesis is that it differentiates Benjamin’s materialism from both Romanticism
and neo-Kantianism, on the one side, and empiricism, on the other. In contrast to those
who identify Benjamin as a practitioner of a Romantic form of immanence, a neo-Kantian
or a mystical empiricist, I place Benjamin’s materialism within the context of the conflict
between an empiricist form of materialism and post-Kantian idealism.

This thesis is divided into four chapters. In the first chapter, I examine the history
of materialism and its critical reception in the Kantian idealist tradition. The second chapter
examines of the development of Karl Marx’s materialism. I show that Marx’s conception
of reality fundamentally challenges traditional conceptions of idealism and materialism. In
the third chapter, I show that Benjamin’s critique of neo-Kantianism necessarily points
towards a concept of knowledge that can encompass the particularity of experience qua
sense experience within itself, something that is closed off in the neo-Kantian attempt to
secure the objective validity of knowledge. The final chapter focuses on Benjamin’s
attempt to locate an expanded concept of experience. I look at several instances of how
this concept manifests itself in the poem, life and language. I develop a materialist account
of the idea that runs counter to the neo-Kantian one. Finally, I conclude by showing the
limits of the Romantic concept of immanence for Benjamin.

Throughout this thesis, I examine how Benjamin breaks out of both the neo-
Kantian and Romantic strands of post-Kantian idealism. I also pay close attention to
Benjamin’s critique of empiricism. This thesis demonstrates that Benjamin’s materialism
emerges out of a serious engagement with that tradition, yet it remains irreducible to a
form of neo-Kantianism, Romanticism, or empiricism.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > Philosophy
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General) > B3209.B584 Benjamin, Walter, 1892-1940
P Language and Literature > PT Germanic literature > PT0001 German literature > PT1501 Individual authors or works
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 21 Oct 2016 10:23
Last Modified: 21 Oct 2016 10:23
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/63975

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