Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life by Howard Eiland & Michael W Jennings - review by John Gray

John Gray

Last of the Haute Bourgeoisie

Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life

By

Harvard University Press/The Belknap Press 704pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

A letter describing Walter Benjamin as he appeared in the early months of 1938, when he was living in Paris, captures something essential about the German-Jewish critic and philosopher:

He had nothing of the bohemian about him. In those days, he had a pot belly that protruded slightly. He usually wore an old, halfway sporty tweed jacket with a bourgeois cut, a dark or coloured shirt, and grey flannel trousers. I don’t believe I ever saw him without a tie.

Benjamin led a precarious and nomadic life, moving

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