Walter Benjamin’s Zur Kritik der Gewalt (‘On the Critique of Violence’): reception, relevance, and a mis-diagnosis?
Walter Benjamin’s early essay Zur Kritik der Gewalt [Zur Kritik] first published in 1921 is a notoriously difficult text, but its relevance to contemporary politics makes it a text to which theorists repeatedly return. This reading takes issue with those critics, notably Axel Honneth, who see Benjamin’s project in Zur Kritik as fatally, dangerously flawed. It is suggested here that Benjamin’s text, despite the difficulties, still posits the possibility of a ‘lookout point’ - not prescriptive per se but in keeping with his abiding interest in literature, metaphorical and exegetical. There is no ground on which to stand that does not in effect constitute the lookout point of the place and times of the lookout, but this reading suggests that the Benjaminian lookout point is the lookout which is never fixed because it is not ‘looking out’ on but towards others, and is not merely addressing and prescribing, but talking with itself and others. That Benjamin embraces religious language to effect this move, perhaps suggesting, a lookout in judgment from a fixed point, from some ‘higher’ (transcendental) ground, certainly might be troubling for some, but it will be suggested these anxieties are misplaced.
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