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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 5, Number 1 (January 2007) : 17--32
Epigoni in the House of Language
Benjamin on Kraus
Alexander Gelley
Rubric A: History of Humanities



What links Walter Benjamin and Karl Kraus is a fascination with the dregs of public discourse, its “by-products” or “waste products,” but these to be understood as the negative pole of an exalted ideal of language, though conceived differently by each one. Benjamin was an avid reader of Die Fackel, a polemical gazette focused on Viennese journalism that Kraus published from 1899 to 1936. Benjamin’s 1931 essay on Kraus is one of his most densely woven, recondite productions, filled with formulations that reach back to Benjamin’s 1916 text “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man.” There, the act of naming designates the dimension of divine creative power in pre-Babelic language. In Kraus’s practice of citation Benjamin found traces of such a primordial capacity of language, a thetic power akin to divine naming. Citing in this sense involves not only the retrieval of a text or a concept, but intervention into the temporal process, the activation of a past in the present: citing as inciting. For Kraus, Benjamin wrote, “justice and language remain founded in each other,” making it clear that while justice in a legal sense (Recht) was often invoked in Kraus’s critique of journalism, what was fundamentally at stake was a reverence for “the image of divine justice [Gerechtigkeit] in language.”

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