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Correspondence 1930-1940

Correspondence 1930-1940

Gretel Adorno, Walter Benjamin

ISBN: 978-0-745-63669-6 March 2008 Polity 336 Pages


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We must see to it that we put the best of ourselves in our letters; for there is nothing to suggest that we shall see each other again soon. So wrote Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno in spring 1940 from the south of France, shortly before he took his own life.

The correspondence between Gretel Adorno and Walter Benjamin, published here in its complete form for the first time, is the document of a great friendship that existed independently of Benjamin's relationship with Theodor W. Adorno. While Benjamin, alongside his everyday worries, writes especially about those projects on which he worked so intensively in the last years of his life, it was Gretel Karplus-Adorno who did everything in her power to keep Benjamin in the world.

She urged him to emigrate and told him about Adorno's plans and Bloch's movements, thus maintaining the connection between the old Berlin friends and acquaintances. She helped him through the most difficult times with regular money transfers, and organized financial support from the Saar region, which was initially still independent from the Third Reich. Once in New York, she attempted to entice Benjamin to America with her descriptions of the city and the new arrivals from Europe though ultimately to no avail.

“Throughout the volume’s 180 letters, the editors’ scrupulous referencing and the extensive footnotes help us to decode the hermetic web of enquiries about close friends, in-jokes and mutual favours spun by the correspondents. The English translation skilfully navigates Benjamin’s effusive idiosyncrasies and softens the clipped directness of both authors to reveal the comfortable familiarity beneath.”
Times Literary Supplement

“The correspondence between Gretel Karplus Adorno and Walter Benjamin documents a remarkable friendship. Benjamin valued “Felizitas” as a critic who was at once acute and sympathetic, and these letters bristle with some of the most challenging formulations of his thought in the 1930s. Yet their relationship also enabled Benjamin to reveal aspects of his life that remained hidden from even his closest male friends, including Adorno himself and Scholem. The letters thus offer a moving and surprisingly intimate account of the fate of a great intellectual struggling to survive – and to write – in exile.”
Michael Jennings, Princeton University

This book makes available in English for the first time the extensive correspondence between Walter Benjamin and Gretel Adorno, the wife of Theodor W. Adorno

The correspondence sheds fresh light on the life and work of Walter Benjamin. who is widely recognised as one of the most original and influential social thinkers and literary critics of the 20th century

It also sheds fresh light on the very difficult conditions in which Benjamin, like many other German Jewish intellectuals in the 1930s, was struggling to survive

This is a unique book which will be of great interest to students and scholars in literary theory and literary criticism, cultural theory and social theory. As a poignant personal testimony to the last years of one of the 20th centuries greatest thinkers, it will also have a much wider appeal