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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Walter Benjamin : the production of an intellectual figure Hoenle, Sandra Vivian Berta


Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), a twentieth-century Jewish-German intellectual, has recently achieved iconic status; however, during his lifetime, many scholars considered him to be a failure. This substantial shift in scholarly attitude invites questions concerning how intellectual figures are understood and constructed within academia. Cultural studies has renewed and enlarged the sphere of interest in Benjamin's work while, at the same time, canonizing and thus freezing it. This dissertation addresses the non-canonical side of the production of Walter Benjamin and, in so doing, shows what traditional scholarship has overlooked — the effect of the so-called "private" sphere on so-called "public" intellectuals. The dominant model for traditional scholarly studies remains both abstract and linear: it consists of tracing the influence of one (usually male) scholar upon another. This dissertation disrupts the tacit assumptions behind such an approach to knowledge by showing how intellectuals are produced both by and at the intersections o f the public and the private. The general scholarly acceptance of this false dichotomy, commonly referred to as the public/private split, has resulted in viewing scholars as though they exist in an abstract realm of ideas rather than in a concrete realm of lived reality. I draw on and add to the insights of feminist and cultural studies scholars who have attempted to show how people's interested contradictory locations, defined, as they are, by class, religion, ethnicity, gender, and so on, intersect with and affect their publicly constructed identities. To this end, my study provides a concrete example of how one particular intellectual, Walter Benjamin, has been (and continues to be) produced within specific historical, social, and cultural contexts.

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