The marriage of time and identity: Kant, Benjamin and the nation-state

Philosophy and Social Criticism 25 (3):57-80 (1999)
Abstract
The paper explores the role played by concepts of temporality in shaping the self's identity and its moral responsibility. This theme is examined in both Kant and Benjamin, two theorists who view the modern self as an essentially historical being. For Kant, teleological and uniform time shoulders the heightening of the self's universal attributes and the constant expansion of a moral community. The desired end is the establishment of an integrated and homogeneous human space, a cosmopolitan stage wherein history is finally redeemed. This progressive notion of time is seen as dangerous by Benjamin, since it generates forgetfulness and inner impoverishment of the self. Instead, Benjamin advances a fragmented conception of time, one allowing conversation between distant moments and grounding identity in concrete images. While the poetic recovery of memory leads to the distinct and exclusive, Benjamin follows Kant in demanding universal moral responsibility of the self. However, Benjamin's strategy, so to speak, is the integration of our temporal - not spatial - experience. Key Words: Benjamin • history • Kant • nation-state • space • time.
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