These two mandarin intellectuals first met in 1923 in Frankfurt am Main. Joined by a powerful interest in philosophy and criticism, Adorno (1903-1969) and Benjamin (1892-1940) became intellectual allies by the end of the decade. Their extraordinary correspondence caught fire when Hitler's rise to power in 1933 drove the two German Jews into exile: Benjamin to Paris, Adorno to England and then to the U.S. The 121 letters in this carefully annotated and beautifully translated volume present a remarkable dialogue between two innovative thinkers. In Paris, Benjamin was living hand-to-mouth, working on his ""Arcades Project"" (see Forecasts, Nov. 29), a penetrating inquiry into the cultural underpinnings of 19th-century Europe. In England at Merton College, Oxford, Adorno was working on a variety of projects, including raising money to keep Benjamin afloat. Additionally, Adorno was a member of the Institute for Social Research (the so-called Frankfurt School) and was attempting to bring Benjamin into its orbit by steering pieces of ""The Arcades Project"" into the journal it published. But Adorno was also an exacting reader of Benjamin's work. He pressed the elusive thinker hard and in illuminating detail on ""The Arcades Project."" Over many of its pages, this correspondence delves deeply into this strange, unfinished masterpiece. There are also fine pages on Kafka, on Gershom Scholem and many other intellectual luminaries of the Weimar era. But the letters are also humanly touching. In 1938, Benjamin writes to his friend ""Teddie"": ""I do not know how long it will still physically be possible to breathe this European air."" Not long, as it turns out. Hounded by the Gestapo, in 1940 Benjamin committed suicide while trying to escape. The final letter of this collection is a suicide note. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 11/29/1999 Release date: 12/01/1999 Genre: Nonfiction
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