Benjamin’s –abilities

Samuel Weber, Author . Harvard Univ. $29.95 (363p) ISBN 978-0-674-02837-1

In this demanding book, Weber (Theatricality as Medium ) analyzes Benjaminian theory and its potential, presenting a close reading of Walter Benjamin at his most energetic and complex. Focusing on the critic’s favorite suffix, “-abilities” (invoked in his discussions of communicability, iterability, impartability, knowability and reproducibility), the author explores Benjamin’s contention that just because something is communicable does not mean it is communicated; therefore, that sense of potential (as opposed to the activity itself) is where serious examination ought to begin. The book is not meant to be easy going and demands prior understanding of theory and critical and philosophical jargon to fully mine its gems—such as when Weber deftly extends Benjamin’s seminal work on media to the present time and reasserts Benjamin’s mastery of using theater as both metaphor and object of study. An essay on detail (“the detail remains, even today, the uneasy residence that God is condemned by language to share with the Devil”) provides lighter entertainment. Through Benjamin, Weber illuminates what happens between what is written and what is read and the true impossibility of defining any sort of straight line between those two points. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/31/2008
Release date: 05/01/2008
Ebook - 374 pages - 978-0-674-03395-5
Paperback - 363 pages - 978-0-674-04606-1
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