Illuminating inheritance: Benjamin's influence on Arendt's political storytelling

Philosophy and Social Criticism 26 (5):1-27 (2000)
Abstract
This article focuses on the political 'effect' that Arendt wished to achieve with her 'old-fashioned storytelling'. It is argued that she inherited her concept of the 'redemptive power of narrative' (Benhabib) from Walter Benjamin. The close relationship of the two intuitively suggests an affinity between Arendt's concept of a 'fragmented past' and her 'storytelling' and Benjamin's conception of history and narrative. An attempt is made here to determine the amplitude and the meaning of this proximity. An account is provided of Benjamin's and Arendt's shared belief that the past is fragmented and that only fragmented writing, mainly in the form of 'stories', had the capacity to be faithful to its 'ruins'. It is argued that for both Arendt and Benjamin, the purpose of this writing form was not to commemorate the dead, but to show their absence - their invisibility. It is suggested that Arendt and Benjamin held a similar conviction: that stories had the capacity to save the world. Key Words: Arendt • Benjamin • catastrophe • experience • fragmented past • imagination • remembrance • revelation • standpoint of the defeated • storytelling.
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