2018-11-06Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.1515/arcadia-2018-0021
Silence / Signification Degree Zero: Walter Benjamin’s Anti-Aesthetic of the Body
This essay examines Walter Benjamin’s opposition against traditional aesthetics and his development of an alternative, a decidedly anti-aesthetic approach. More specifically, it focuses on how Benjamin launches a frontal attack on Idealist aesthetics in the theory of ancient tragedy expounded in the Trauerspiel book and how he develops his own alternative conception in critical delineation from it. Closely examining his engagement with Nietzsche, Hölderlin, Hegel, and Solger, the essay shows how Benjamin’s entire theory is construed as a pointed response to a long and complex discourse on tragedy. Through a reconstruction of these debates, it becomes evident that the core of Benjamin’s critique concerns the relation between universal and singular in Idealist aesthetics, spelled out in a theory of reconciliation that is directly tied to the themes of fate and sacrifice. Against this background, the essay then analyzes – drawing both on Benjamin’s reception of Franz Rosenzweig as well as the work of Giorgio Agamben – Benjamin’s notion of silence as a retreat from language and meaning, as an immersion into the body. Instead of offering an image of reconciliation, tragedy, for Benjamin, then appears as the site where bodily singularity and impotentiality fragments the totality of signification, where meaning is disrupted and reduced to degree zero.
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This publication is with permission of the rights owner freely accessible due to an Alliance licence and a national licence (funded by the DFG, German Research Foundation) respectively.