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WALTER

BENJAMIN

Course Information
180.821
Introduction to Cultural Studies: Truth and Error
Dr. James Burton Ph.D.
Semester: WS14/15
19.04.2015
Andrea Lpez Lpez: 1461123

1. BIOGRAPHY ........................................................................ 3
2. FRANKFURT SCHOOL ...................................................... 4
2.1. TRADITIONAL THEORY AND THEORY
CRITICAL ............................................................................... 6
2.2. CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF MARXISM...................... 6
2.3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF ILLUSTRATION ........... 6
2.4. CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF TOTALITARISMS AND
NEOCAPITALISM ................................................................. 6
3. THE WORK OF ART IN THE AGE OF MECHANICAL
REPRODUCTION..................................................................... 7
4. KEY CONCEPTS ABOUT WALTER BENJAMIN: ........ 8
5. CONCEPT OF COPY ........................................................ 11
5. WHAT IS THE INFLUENCE OF WALTER
BENJAMIN NOWADAYS? ................................................... 13
CITATION ............................................................................... 15

1. BIOGRAPHY
(Berlin, 1892 - Portbou, 1940) German
philosopher and critic. The son of an
Israelite antiquarian, he studied at the
Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium in Berlin
and then in a private school in
Thuringia. He published his first essays
in the youth magazine Der Anfang.
When the war of 14 exploded he
volunteered, but was declared unfit for
service. In 1917 he married Dora
Pollak, and with her he went to
Switzerland to attend the courses of
the University of Bern, where he
graduated in 1919 with a thesis on the
concept of art criticism in German
romanticism
(Der
Begriff
der
Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik,
published in Berne in 1920).
He returned to Berlin, confronted with difficulties of all kinds, both economic
and sentimental (then differences with his wife began differences that in
1930 would result in their separation). He did a translation of the Tableaux
Parisiens Baudelaire, and he prepared a plan for a magazine (Angelus Novus)
that never saw the light. In 1922, Hofmannsthal published one of his essays
on Goethe's Elective Affinities in Neue Deutsche Beitrge.
Between 1923 and 1925 Benjamin worked on his biggest work: another
essay, this time concerning the origins of German Tragic Drama (Ursprung
des deutschen Trauerspiels). The text in question, philosophical analysis of
an art form, an example of the speculative method of its author whose
thinking is not confined to meditation on the classic themes of philosophy,
rather, it arises from an application to concrete cultural evidence; hence the
aspect of the assay, that presents philosophical investigation of Benjamin.
After presenting the work at the University of Frankfurt am Main, they
denied him the occupational license that desired. The author then initiated
an extensive partnership in newspapers and magazines that often afforded
him the opportunity to travel around Europe. Under the influence of Latvian
stage
director
Asja
Lacis
and
Lukcs's
work Geschichte
und
Klassenbewusstsein he approached communism; in their thinking, never
focused only on one orthodoxy, the Marxist concept of alienation always
occupied a central place.
He was charged with the drafting of the article "Goethe" in Soviets
Encyclopedia, and during the winter of 1926-27 he made a trip to

Moscow. In 1928 the editor Rowohlt published Ursprung des deutschen


Trauerspiels, and
the
volume
of
short
essays
and
reflections Einhabnstrasse. After the advent of Hitler, Benjamin emigrated
to Paris. The first years of his new life were very hard; finally, the Institut
fr Sozialforschung in Frankfurt (entity also emigrated) gave him the
appointment of member and opened the doors of their magazine, in which
some of the best works of the author appeared, including Das Kunstwerk im
technischen Reproduzierbarkeit Zeitalter seiner.
The Nazi invasion of France surprised him in Paris, where he worked for a
long time on the text that judged the result of all his labour: Paris, die
Hauptstadt des XIX Jahrhunderts. Benjamin, who never took his friends
advice, who urged him to leave Europe, at that time he tried, with a group
of anti-fascists, to get to Spain to embark for the United States. Just
crossing the border, a Spanish official threatened to hand them over
fugitives with the Nazis; Benjamin believed him and poisoned himself. In
1955 a two-volume collection appeared with the authors writings, directed
by T.W. Adorno, which owns the dissemination of the work and thought of
his friend.
Walter Benjamin has become the interpreter of the most characteristic
transformations of our time: the widespread commercialization, new
cognitive forms, the crisis of traditional historical experience...

2. FRANKFURT SCHOOL
To
understand
the
thinking and theories of
Walter Benjamin it is
important to realize the
ideals and principles on
which
the
Frankfurt
School was based.

The so-called Frankfurt


School emerged with
the founding in 1923, of
the Institute for Social
Research
(IIS),
interested in developing
an overall reflection on
the
processes
that
consolidated
the
bourgeois-capitalist society from a Marxist perspective.
In 1931, under the direction of Horkheimer, the orientation changes:
instead of focusing on purely Marxist studies, interdisciplinary research is

conducted: sociology, psychology, etc., but predominantly philosophical


reflection. During this period they become part of Fromm, Adorno, Marcuse
school, among others, resulting in what was called "critical theory". The
project was to retake it, going deep into, Marx's theory, as critical theory of
capitalism, Freud incorporating developments in relation to society. In 1934,
following the arrival of Hitler year, the Nazis closed the Institute for
communist tendencies and the Jewish ancestry of most of its members,
many of whom were exiled and some died. Horkheimer moved the school
activity to Geneva and Paris, and finally in the same year they moved to
Columbia University (New York) thus opening his American stage.
The first collective work are the Authority and Family Studies, written
Paris, where they make a diagnosis of social and cultural stability
contemporary bourgeois societies. By 1947, with the appearance
"Dialectic of Enlightenment" written by Horkheimer and Adorno, a change
position in relation to Marxism, whose name is avoided is verified.

in
of
of
of

With Fromm and Marcuse the incorporation of psychoanalysis to critical


theory.
The ideas of Frankfurt greatly influenced the protest movements of the
1960s.
Jrgen Habermas, after the death of Adorno and Horkheimer, is the main
representative of the second stage of the Frankfurt School.
In the chronological history of the Frankfurt School we would have to
highlight four key stages:
1.
The first between the years 1923-1931, from the date of its
foundation, and where in the Institute for Research or Social joins the
University of Frankfurt and the choice as new director of the
Horkheimer Institute.
2.
The second from 1931- 1950 under the Max Horkheimer, in
which the Journal for Research or Social is published, (1932). The
second stage coincides with the rise of Nazism, exile and death of
some of its members. Period more centered on critizing
totalitarianism. However, contact with American society introduces
and reinforces the study of post-industrial society and its cultural and
sociopolitical. Max Horkheimer's return to Germany in 1950 lis closes
this stage.
3.
From 1950 until the death of Adorno in 1969 and Horkheimer
in 1973, it is at this stage that fundamental works of those who
returned to Germany, but also of those who remain in the US such as
Marcuse works are written.
4.
The fourth stage involves the emergence
generation" among which Jrgen Habermas.

of

"second

2.1. TRADITIONAL THEORY AND THEORY CRITICAL


The Frankfurt understand that traditional theory that believes that science is
an objective and neutral knowledge, guided by the search for the
truth. Such is the position of positivism. However, according to the school,
the positivist position is an ideology in the service of the establishment and
legitimizes the various forms of domination of humans. Positivist reason, the
traditional theory is considered an instrumental reason that focuses on the
means and not the end, making the human an object.
Critical theory, by contrast, believes that reason must be critical against all
types of manipulative and alienating ideology that pretending to dominate
nature has ended up dominating the human being, as seen in the rise of
totalitarianism. The goal of critical theory is fundamentally emancipatory:
who should liberate human beings, not enslave. Their goal is a fairer society
and it is therefore necessary to combine theory and praxis. The analysis of
society requires an interdisciplinary perspective

2.2. CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF MARXISM


The Frankfurt criticize various aspects of Marx's predictions. First:
considering that the proletariat could no longer be a revolutionary class that
transform capitalist society because the system had made him bourgoise,
integrate it into the system increasing consumption. Second, the school
believed that the collapse of capitalism that Marx spoke about did not occur
because economic crises could be avoided by political and economic
intervention.Third, Marx believed that a just society would make the freest
humans. Horkheimer, however, states that a greater freedom, smaller
justice and vice versa. A greater freedom, greater risk of abuse and
totalitarianism. More justice, more repression and a return to totalitarianism.

2.3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF ILLUSTRATION


The vital and historical experience of the members of the Frankfurt School
led to a shift in his thinking. The systematic and rationally organized
barbarism made them distrust the ability of men and especially of reason in
order to build just and egalitarian societies. The Enlightenment philosophers
believed that the problems of humanity would have a solution when humans
were able to apply reason to all areas of their lives. His optimistic confidence
in human progress thanks to the "divine" reason, full of mythical elements,
shook the world with weapons hitherto unknown. The First and Second
World Wars, the Nazi death camps, nuclear bombs showed the deadly and
Machiavellian power of reason or paradoxical "rationalization" of destruction.
The failure of instrumental reason is one of the central ideas of the Dialectic
of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer. Both were deeply critical,
skeptical and pessimistic about human rational capacity.

2.4. CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF TOTALITARISMS AND


NEOCAPITALISM
Initially the Frankfurters relied on Marxism as the only possibility to
combine the proletarian ideal of justice with the liberal ideal of

progress. Claimed the individual against capitalist society alienated human


beings, reducing it to mere producer and consumer. This review aimed to
raise awareness of the proletariat to fight totalitarianism and conquer
emancipation, but in the thirties, members of the School realized the
inability of the proletariat to carry out this task.
After that time the school concluded that the proletariat had disappeared
integrated into the postwar middle class, oblivious to any kind of
revolution. In addition Marxism has been undermined by the totalitarian
communist regimes practice, as implemented by Stalin, which has lost the
ideal of justice and basic freedoms have been removed. Critical theory
focuses, then, on criticizing the increasing depersonalization and
objectification of neo-capitalist societies caused by the consumer society
and technological control. In the neo-capitalist societies all attempts to
dissent ends up becoming a commodity (eg .: Che and t-shirts, badges,
posters.) The standard of living rises and at the same time, we are all more
controlled, more subject to bureaucracy and excessive regulation. The
media serving the market interests manipulate consciences and promote
uniformity spreading a series of values, tastes and needs that make the
individual in a mass element. Therefore, the neo-capitalist societies are a
disguised form of totalitarianism.

3. THE WORK OF ART IN THE AGE OF


MECHANICAL REPRODUCTION
The basic idea of this book (short but decisive aesthetic manifesto, surely
one of the most influential and cited the twentieth century) is that all art
has a physical dimension that is subject to the technical means to produce
it. Presumably a change in these technical means in turn cause substantial
variation in art, in the form of conceiving, in the form of exposing and how
to perceive it.
The technical and mechanical ability to
reproduce, copy or serialize art in mass
causes it to lose its historical dimension,
its here and now, his "distant uniqueness",
authenticity, ultimately its "aura". The art
thus becomes a cultural industry that
manufactures products for the masses,
which in its search for entertainment have
a "distracted reception" of this art. Thus
losing the possibility of a "concentrated
reception" through meditation that allows
access to the primitive ritual function of a
work of art.
This seemingly aesthetic essay has a
social and political reading of great
magnitude that exceeds the mere
philosophy of art. He engages in a global
project of critical theory of society, in which the changes in the art would be

few symptoms over a process that Benjamin called "aestheticization of


politics". A deep cultural crisis characterized by:
a) the standardization and mass media manipulation by the emergence of
new forms of technically mediated perception of reality.
b) impersonation of conscious experience by the unconscious processing,
which promotes cultural industry (as adorno and horkheimer say
"illustration as fraud to the masses").
c) the dismantling of the subject of knowledge as an autonomous individual
capable of performing experience of reality. This leads to a depletion of
individual perception of reality.
d) the political making of cultural values ("aestheticizing politics") prepares
man for the supreme aesthetic enjoyment of its own destruction through
war.

4. KEY CONCEPTS ABOUT WALTER


BENJAMIN:
Art
A considerable part of Benjamin's work revolves around the concept of art,
a term conceived from a materialist perspective and at the same time,
messianic: art connects with the past and is liberating. In a historical
analysis of art, lives an inflection at the time that the technical
reproducibility has its own place of artistic procedures. The beginning of the
twentieth century is a time of structural transformation of aesthetic
perception and the role of the image.
Aura
Concept born in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, but
begins to emerge in short history of photography. The traditional work of art
has an aura that comes from its unique appearance and gives a symbolic
authority. With the aura, one remoteness, past and tradition appears. By
extension, aura is all that fascinates the artwork. With the possibilities of
technical reproduction, the aura disappears. It is the conflict between
repetition and unique event.
Baudelaire
Benjamin was one of the great interpreters of
Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), who brought a
new key reading: capturing the social dimension of
the poetry of this French author. Benjamin made an
allegorical reading of Baudelaire, whom he adopted
as a guide to the flights and criticism. He read as
the poet of the destruction of modern life and social
abstraction of the capitalist economy. It took the

concept of Baudelaire's flneur.

Flaneur
Term learned from Baudelaire. Urban, consumer, neurasthenic and some
dandy walker that synthesizes the anonymity of the city and the modern
economy, both of which impose new conditions of experience. Walking is
almost a new way of philosophizing, the indefatigable traveler knows that
cities have an underground story that only he can grasp. At the same time,
the visitor is resistant to the extent that his act is idle and opposed to the
model of capitalist productivity. Walking as a way to receive an account of
things.
City
Nobody had thought before Benjamin culture so deeply immersed in its
urban and material environment. He caught with great insight the scope of
urban transformation in culture. The Benjamins city is the new modern city
living and emblem of the transience of the times imposed as a new
experience. The paradigm of this new city is Paris.
Aesthetics
Aesthetics should produce a truth content to release revolutionary
energies. In this regard, you must create illuminations as revelations that
capture the existence of a hitherto unseen thing that is liberating for each
historical moment. This is the potential of knowledge of aesthetics.
Photography
Benjamin warns of the danger of the political use of the new means of
reproducing images such as film and photography. Photography, specifically
portrait, was manipulated to meet the bourgeois taste and desire to belong
to a social group. In short history of photography, Benjamin begins to
articulate the concept of aura and criticism to modern means of
reproduction of the image.
Goethe
The great essay on Goethe's Elective Affinities is
the example of criticism in the sense that
Benjamin thought he should have. In it is
distinguished from the false totality in art, as
Goethe intended: the symbol itself is truer than its
supposed universalization. Thereby it rejects a
cultural tradition of myth and meaning of the
symbol.

History
The image of angel looking at lots of ruins is the best summary of
Benjamin's conception of history which, according to him, is not a science
but a form of memory. If science proves aseptically, memory changes. For
Benjamin, the past lingers like a disjointed debris in the present and the
new emerges as a fragment. Benjamin looks for different and silenced
prehistories of the present for searching traumas of memory (violent past
emergencies today) to capture the trace of exploitation and barbarism, and
thus redeem memory.
Illuminations
Benjamin lightings, illuminations opposed to religion, are profane. The
illuminations are the poetic work of the image, the union of elements in
distant appearance, the meeting of which produces a revelation and
conversion of historical time.
Image
Benjamin is highly critical of new commercial uses and indiscriminate image,
showing the conflict between the single (and aural) event and reproduction
in series. The loss of the aura of the image carries an aesthetic
impoverishment, a loss of their cultural value and thread connecting with
the past. The autonomy of the image as a fetish of capitalism.
Language
According to Jewish tradition, the word is when God creates things. Hence
the language has a sacred element. Benjamin is always displayed against
the instrumental conception of language in modernity, which has emptied
the word sacred.
Marxism
Benjamin himself claimed that it was not a Marxist dialectical materialist. He
came to Marxism through reading Lukcs, although his Marxism was always
unorthodox. According to him, Marxism did not invalidate Judaism; on the
contrary, completed its new economic and social consciousness. InTheses
on the Philosophy of History wrote: Al concept classless society must be
refunded to the true Messianic face, and this in the interest of revolutionary
politics of the proletariat itself. The last text written by Benjamin, Theses on
the Philosophy of History, is a compendium of his peculiar historical
materialism.
Memory
The concept of memory for Benjamin comprising an epistemological content,
a philosophy of history and a policy proposal. Epistemological concept,
means addressing the past not only as that which was but as that which
failed. An approach which places otherwise to this: watch the forgotten past
but also consider what, at present, is in danger of being excluded. New
knowledge that transforms the philosophy of history: history of the winners
with a significant absence of truth, the losers. In his theory of history,

forgetting is broader and more structural than the memory, an exceptional


adventure of oblivion. Benjamin invalidates the theory of progress and
launching a new political project: the danger of forgetting persists. In his
text Theses on the Philosophy of History insists on releasing memory
capacity.
Modernity
Incarnation of hell and at the same time, promise of revolution. Benjamin
disbelieves that fable of progress which has been submitted as modernity.
Neither his major disasters such as the First World War, have served to lift
the veil of faith in progress. Only revolution can end the form of violence
that is modernity.
Revolution
Messianic event, the only one capable of preventing the catastrophe. The
revolution is not made on behalf of the future but the past. Nor is it the
result of a linear historical evolution, but is born from the pain of the
humiliated and exploited by progress. It is the only violence that can
destroy the violence of history.
Surrealism
Benjamin considers the legacy of surrealism as a form of social and moral
liberation, a real revolutionary force of history with the power to transform
the world. He sees surrealism as a true historical enlightenment. In his 1929
text Surrealism. The last instance of European intelligence and the Arcades
Project, is ascribed to the revolutionary potential of the surrealist dream
axioms.
Critical Theory
In Benjamin, this concept goes far beyond its formulation by the
philosophers of the Frankfurt School and friends of Benjamin, Theodor
Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Criticism should be understood so that politics
are its continuation by other means. In his sociology of culture, he
emphasizes the concept of social experience. As a theorist of culture,
interest refers to changes that the process of capitalist modernization brings
in the structures of social interaction.

5. CONCEPT OF COPY
The rationale copy, its why, according to Benjamin meets the need of the
masses of bringing art objects themselves, which is not possible with the
original, which presents characteristics of distance and superiority are you
intrinsic. The problem does not originate in the copy but the reaction that
occurs in the presence of art reproductions.

When the copy is conceived


as a result of competition, art
is
forced
to
reinvent
itself; thus
arises
what
Benjamin called "negative
theology of l'art pour l'art",
the work is reduced to a mere
exhibitive value. However, the
author
does
not
involve
copying an attack on the
artwork
because
clearly
placed in separate segments,
unlike Horkheimer and Adorno.
"Reproduction as the getting ready illustrated newspapers and newsreels, is
distinguished unequivocally from the image".
(Benjamin, 1989: 4).
The copy can never replace the artwork, due to its own characteristics that
the author confers. It is important, therefore, that the concept of copy
referred to by Benjamin does not annul the figure of the author or disfigures
the authorship of the works, but the work again; talk about an expansion of
the work and not what might be known as "plagiarism". In fact, the author
stresses from the first paragraph where reproduction is something existing
from the beginning of time, even being used as a teaching tool that would
become the great masters, but what it represents a break with the past is
the automation of such reproduction. Authorship is not, therefore, an issue
discussed by Benjamin in this trial, which is more concerned with the
possibilities offered by technology.
The here and now, this unique existence is what according to Walter
Benjamin, the authenticity of the artwork. What defines the work of art in
the classical sense is that it is unique. At the time in which a work of art is
not only capable of being copied but is reproduced in bulk, each of these
copies, however perfect and aesthetically similar they are to the original,
have been completely robbed ofthe context surrounding the authentic work
of art and, therefore, lose what Walter Benjamin called the "aura".
Just before the original artwork, unique, one can see the aura: a state of
symbiosis with the work that does not occur with the copy. And it is why
Benjamin, even though not as pessimistic placed in a spectrum as their
peers with respect to reproduction, gives a distinct (and least appreciated)
characteristics of the original.
Benjamin does not consider copying from this evil idea because, from their
point of view, there can be no single identity between original and copy; so
the original is intrinsic has an authenticity and it is irreplaceable by any
reproduction. However, no copy history is not linked to geographical, even
authorial historical context, since it is the result of a technical reproduction,
the mechanism of a machine. This is not art, but handicrafts. Precisely
because the copy has no aura, the technical reproduction of the artwork
does not repersent for Benjamin, a priori danger for art, not a "depletion",
as claimed by Adorno and Horkheimer but simply a refuncionalization.

5.
WHAT IS THE INFLUENCE OF
WALTER BENJAMIN NOWADAYS?
With The Work of Art in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction, the thinker
Walter Benjamin sought a reading on new
forms of artistic creation and reception
born as a result of technical advances of
modernity on the one hand, constitute a
statute for significance of the work of
modern art and, secondly, a reformulation
of Marxist thesis on the influence of
infrastructure in the superstructure from a
contemporary point of view. However,
unwittingly, he also developed the first
approach to a surprisingly current reality:
the mass reproduction. In front of their peers and colleagues from the
Frankfurt School, as Adorno and Horkheimer, Benjamin did not provide
technical reproduction as necessarily evil. Benjamin, therefore, argued that
the existence of bulk copies refuncionalized both the artwork and the public
role itself, idea shared by most theorists now, but this refuncionalization,
even despite being created from the system, could represent a
revolutionary instrument through capacity. The revamping of the artwork is
constructed, for Benjamin, on two levels: one, the reception and another,
that of creation, inseparable from each other because power always keeping
appropriated both thus, the artwork in the area of elitism. However,
playback allows, on the one hand, access to the masses artworks
demystifying its traditional role (and therefore removing then from the
sphere of the sacred to become of daily use) and, secondly, the active
public participation in the creation of the artwork; that is reproducing
themselves (being the perfect example of this film). Benjamin believes that
this knowledge capacity provided by the mass reproduction may involve the
inauguration of citizenship with respect to a traditionally used for power
handling instances of other classes figure; thus reproducing the artwork
provides a weapon of struggle against the ruling class, becoming an
emancipatory tool for the newly released class society and a possible attack
on the fascist media. Benjamin does not make obvious differences between
the original artwork, defined by its uniqueness, and copying or
reproduction; however, gives them space and different characteristics, not
conceiving the copy as an attack on the artwork precisely because its
function is different. While the original artwork has what Benjamin called
"aura" (a feeling of remoteness bound by the history of that work, which
passes from the context of its creation to the vicissitudes experienced by
the original), the copy lacks the same.
A definition of what is a work of art, from the technical reproducibility, no
longer exists being that it is snatches away what Benjamin calls its
"parasitic existence in a ritual" and therefore allows not only a definition
based on the criteria of the hearing itself, which becomes part of the same

stratum artwork defining and building it in interaction and allowing, to


disassociate from stagnation in tradition, social change.
Thus, Benjamin created with this text the beginning of revisionism from the
traditional concept of art, based on a conservative structure both in relation
to the reception of the work and the creation of the artist, and opening the
door to new perspectives on the potential of reproductions in the social
sphere.

CITATION

Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical


Reproduction. London: Penguin, 2008. From
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"Information Theory." 157-70. Accessed April 19, 2015.


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benjamin biography&f=false.

Witte, Bernd, and James Rolleston. Walter Benjamin: An Intellectual


Biography. 1985. From
https://books.google.es/books?hl=es&lr=&id=dKLTOc4BvRgC&oi=fnd
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"Walter Benjamin - Biography." The European Graduated School.


Accessed April 19, 2015. http://www.egs.edu/library/walterbenjamin/biography/.

Benjamin, Walter. "On the Concept of History." Marxist. Accessed


April 19, 2015.
https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/benjamin/1940/history.
htm.

Barker, Chris. "Mechanical Reproduction in an Age of High Art."


Contemporary Aesthetics. Accessed April 19, 2015.
http://www.contempaesthetics.org/newvolume/pages/article.php?arti
cleID=708.

Robinson, Andrew. "Walter Benjamin and Critical Theory." Ceasefire


Magazine RSS. April 4, 2013. Accessed April 19, 2015.
https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/in-theory-benjamin-1/.

Osborne, Peter and Charles, Matthew, "Walter Benjamin", The


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N.
Zalta (ed.), URL =
<http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2013/entries/benjamin/>.