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    Names written in invisible ink: Walter Benjamin, friendship and historical generation

    Dolbear, Sam (2019) Names written in invisible ink: Walter Benjamin, friendship and historical generation. Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    This thesis takes a diagram of Walter Benjamin’s Urbekanntschaften (‘primal acquaintances’) as its starting point to explore questions of friendship and generation in relation to history, as manifested through Benjamin’s work and biography. The diagram, drawn hastily in the corner of a notebook in 1932, includes 48 names connected by lines. I first transpose this diagram into a number of counter-forms to interrogate its potential significance: into the arborescent form of an ontogenetic/phylogenetic tree, a diagram of chemical bonds, a city map and an astral chart. Each chapter then draws out a number of spatio-temporal constellations detectable on the diagram: from Benjamin’s exile in Switzerland from 1917 to his time in Naples/Capri in 1923–24 and, lastly, to his time in Paris around 1927. With each moment clusters of names and shared generational concerns emerge. With 1933 and the fracturing of the generation by political and social crisis, the diagram is surpassed by another document: an address book, used by Benjamin from 1933 until his death in 1940. The address book is a record of scattering: the dispersal of people, relationships, things in exile, as testament to repeated erasures. In order to ground the thesis in an account of experience, I contextualise each moment on the stage of Benjamin’s generational development. This is both collective (historical, phylogenetic) but also individual (historical, ontogenetic), from an account of adolescence to maturation into the 1920s. 1933 brings an account of degeneration and the thesis falls back into childhood in the conclusion: with an account of projected salvation. The purpose of this thesis is to reconsider the work of Walter Benjamin within the context of his life, through his associations and within the currents of larger historical conjunctures; to examine questions of friendship and its relation to history and politics; to investigate the parallels of friendship and generation from the work of Benjamin alongside his contemporaries; to understand friendship’s relation to freedom and the redemption not just of life but the concept of friendship itself.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Additional Information: This thesis is not currently available for public use
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 23 Jul 2019 14:50
    Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 13:59


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