Benjamin, Negativity, and De-vitalized Life

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March 7, 2017

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Benjamin Walter vitalism Marx Karl historical time non-essentialism politics Esposito Roberto Hardt and Negri

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Frontier troubles Annals

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Jonathan Short, « Benjamin, Negativity, and De-vitalized Life », Anthropology + Materialism, ID : 10.4000/am.802


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This paper contends that Walter Benjamin’s image of life as ‘de-vitalized’ allows history to be thought negatively, as open and without promises or guarantees. This negative conception of history provides a valuable counterpoint to the prevalent variants of neo-vitalist thought that continue to think human being in terms of an abstract (vital) property to be realized historically. By refusing an image of redeemed humanity, Benjamin, like the early Marx, shows that the concept of history is necessary for thinking humanity non-essentially, and that, if it is to avoid becoming an abstract essence, historical time must be thought negatively.

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