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Walter Benjamin: biography of this German philosopher

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History is full of important figures worth remembering for his contributions in the search for knowledge, whether in the scientific, philosophical, literary or other fields. In this article we will talk about one of these figures, specifically, belonging to the 20th century: the German philosopher, literary critic and translator Walter Benjamin.

In this brief biography of Walter Benjamin we will review his life, and some of his most notable contributions throughout his career.

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A biography of Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin, full name Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin, He was a philosopher and literary critic, as well as a translator and essayist, of German origin.. He was born on July 15, 1892 in Berlin (Germany), and died on September 26, 1940 in Portbou (Spain), at the age of 48.

Benjamin's thought, associated with the Frankfurt School, draws on different disciplines and orientations, such as German idealism, romanticism, historical materialism, and mysticism Jew.

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His contributions focused mainly on two currents: Western Marxism and aesthetic theory..

Thus, Benjamin was a restless philosopher, greatly influenced by Marxism, who drew on different philosophies and currents to develop his own thought. In addition, he was a great traveler, since he was in different countries learning and training.

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Origins and childhood

Walter Benjamin was born in Berlin in 1892, into a wealthy family of Ashkenazi origin (this term refers to Jews settled in Central and Eastern Europe). His family was engaged in business, and at that time was fully integrated in Germany..

His father was Emil Benjamin, a banker from Paris who had moved to Germany; in Berlin he worked as an antiques dealer. His mother was Pauline Schönflies, who told him stories at night (this is how Benjamin remembers him, who in fact is inspired by them to develop one of her theories).

Thus, Benjamin reflects on them, focusing on the relationship that they establish between tradition and the present time. Later, in 1905, Benjamin entered a boarding school in a rural area, specifically in Thuringia (Germany). Two years later, in 1907, Benjamin returns to the school in Berlin.

Studies, life and trajectory

When he turned twenty, Walter Benjamin began his studies in philosophy at the University of Freiburg. (Germany), although shortly after he moved to the University of Berlin to continue there.

It is at the University of Berlin where he is introduced to Zionism, a Jewish nationalist political movement and ideology. From there, Benjamin develops a "cultural Zionism", based on the value of the culture of Jewish mysticism. On the other hand, Benjamin, perhaps influenced by his origin, defends Judaism as an essential part of European culture, and especially values ​​its spirituality.

In addition, Walter Benjamin is also interested in educational issues, and in his college years he joins a group called "Union de Estudiantes libres", where he is chosen as president. Thus, he develops for this group some writings that mention the need for reform, both educationally and culturally.

As for his private life, Walter Benjamin married Dora Pollack in 1917. They had a son, Stefan Raphël (1918-1972). At that time, Benjamin was looking for a theme for his thesis, which ended up focusing on the philosophy of Kant and Plato.

Frankfurt School

We have seen at the beginning of the article how Walter Benjamin's thought was, to a large extent, associated with the Frankfurt School. Thus, Benjamin was a collaborator of said School, although he was never directly "associated" with it.

For its part, the Frankfurt School, in Germany, was made up of a group of researchers and scholars who followed a number of theories and theoretical orientations, such as those of Freud, Marx and Hegel.

Walter Benjamin adopted a Marxist philosophy in his career. Marxist philosophy sought to study the nature and foundations of Marxism, a theoretical model explanatory of reality, formed through the thought of Karl Marx, German philosopher and revolutionary of Jewish origin. Let us remember that Marx's contributions had an impact in fields as diverse as economics, law, history and sociology.

Literature: translations and literary criticism

Walter Benjamin, as we have seen, was also a translator and literary critic. Of his translations, those of two important figures stand out: Marcel Proust and Charles Baudelaire. On the other hand, one of the best known works of Walter Benjamin was The work of the translator (it is an essay), which deals precisely with this literary activity in which he was a participant: translation.

As for his literary criticism, the criticism of works such as the novel elective affinities, by Goethe, and some works by Franz Kafka, Karl Kraus, Marcel Proust, Charles Baudelaire… he also translated the work into German Les Fleurs du Mal, and some parts of Proust's novel À la recherche du temps perdu.

Death in Spain

In the year 1940, in the historical context of the occupation of France by the Nazis, Walter Benjamin heads to the United States, through Spain. But the Spanish police intercept him, along with a group of refugees of which he is also a part, as he did not carry the documentation (visa) required at that time.

As a result, Benjamin, in a hotel in the Pyrenean border town, ingested a lethal dose of morphine, and committed suicide in Portbou (Girona province). He was 48 years old and his death occurred on September 26, 1940.

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