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Part One: Preamble

July 15, 1910

Dear Herbart,
Why don't I write you once? Why not? That's easy. I haven't yet received a single line from you in response to my many postcards. Nevertheless, out of the boundless goodness of my heart and since I want to consecrate the first day of the new year of my life with a good deed, I intend to find it in my heart to write a timely, precise, long, and real letter. And to begin, I hereby give notice that I want an answer to this letter, sent general delivery to: St. Moritz (Dorf). For on Sunday I intend to leave Vaduz, where I have spent many a beautiful day, walking in the cool valley and climbing to the mountain peak. Now my feet, and perhaps the smoky train, will transplant me from here to Ragaz, whence a few hours' journey will bring me to St. Moritz. It is still uncertain whether from there I might travel to Italy or return soon to Germany. So much for the actual facts. As far as my spirit is concerned, today it received bounteous nourishment to celebrate my eighteenth birthday. I would like to tell you about it in more detail, but this kind of subject matter will not tolerate the constraints of the strict cadences in which I write. And thus the technical limitations of my creative writing compel me to conclude this letter against my will
. [1]

The eighteen year old is travelling in the mountains and has already begun his own mimesis within the words. The writer is Walter Benjamin, and this additional information might lure us into interpreting every single comma in this scrap. But, as "reading is only one of a hundred ways of gaining access to a book," [2] this piece of paper multiplies the traces on the mountains, on the irony, on the birthday, on the abrupt conclusion.

More than for a theoretical assumption, the pages that follow try to respect the voyage, as the most perfect dimension, or landscape, by and through which to read Benjamin's letters as they rise to the surface. And we know from experience whilst travelling that the points of reference are subject to unforeseen displacements, jolts, jerks, smooth apparitions, slow metamorphoses (much depends on the transport, and there is quite a difference between a bike and a plane). We need only think about railway stations. "On departure, their openings," the adult recollects, "were a panorama, the frame of a fata morgana. No distance was more remote than the place where the rails converged in the mist." [3] But also the disposition of our soul is determinant, and the tracks are discriminating in the directions they follow. The child is now looking for a refuge "from the parental dwelling," and his eyes are finally captured by everything in flight. This is why the pages of this dissertation respect the space of the mountains, the sea, Marseilles and Naples, as the indication is precise: "On the return home, however, all was different." [4] 'Thus it was that I always returned from holidays an exile." [5] There is not any trace of homesickness but a mutual pact with the movement. Referring to Franz Kafka, Benjamin observes that it is no accident that his first 'Meditation' "was conceived on a swing." [6] Kafka once noted: "I have an experience and I am not joking when I say that it is a seasickness on dry land." [7] Travelling home, the child saw from the window of the train vistas that made him sad, for within parents and sons, "still burned the melancholy lamps that had shone in isolation from courtyard windows often without curtains, from staircases bristling with filth, from cellar windows hung with rags." [8] And yet these all are the last chances the child has to subtract himself from his "darkened house in the West End." [9] "Those few spare minutes preceding our exit from the train are still before my eyes. Many a gaze has perhaps touched on them, as if from those windows which look out of dilapidated walls in courtyards and in which a lamp is burning." [10]

In A Berlin Chronicle, Walter Benjamin affirms that "those five last fearful minutes of the journey before everyone got out of the train have been converted" [11] into the gaze of his eyes, and there are "those perhaps who look into them as into courtyard windows in damaged walls, in which at early evening a lamp stands." [12] In early 1933 he returned on the theme of the lamp, with a fragment which was to be incorporated late in Berlin Childhood around 1900. The title of the note is The Lamp. It reads:

What is certain is that childhood chains us to things in this way; indeed, it may be that in childhood we wander through the world of things like the stations of a journey of whose extent we can form no conception. Couldn't it be the case that childhood makes a start with the most remote things? At first, at the moment of birth, it makes itself similar to the most distant things in the deepest, most unconscious stratum of its own existence, so as subsequently to enable objects of the world around to accrete, layer by layer. [13]

"The most remote things," "the most distant things," are the main concern of the current dissertation; Benjamin would prefer: 'treatise.' Therefore, as was previously mentioned, travelling into the figures which imprint their shades on the eyes is the subject matter of the work. But travelling is a hard task. It requires the ability to lose oneself, to lend your eyes to other signs. It follows that the first hints of straying are not the inablity of making sense or the losing of one's thread, but rather the fall into a sort of distortions, the emergence of new configurations, new perceptions, new things. Benjamin is in Moscow when he observes: "In the first phase, the city still has barriers at a hundred frontiers. Yet one day the gate and the church that were the boundary of a district become without warning its centre. Now the city turns into a labyrinth for the newcomer. Streets that he had located far apart are yoked together by a corner, like a pair of horses reined in a coachman's fist," [14] and the traveller is lost. To characterise this special, more than specific, penchant, Benjamin returns to a short thesis. It is the fourth guide. He writes: "Not to find one's way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance - nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city - as one loses oneself in a forest - this calls for quite a different schooling." [15] In A Berlin Chronicle, he continues: "Paris taught me this art of straying; it fulfilled a dream that had shown its first traces in the labyrinths of the blotting pages [Löschblättern] of my school exercise books." [16] Thus, here we are close to the most distant things: the old books with the blotting paper. There he would sit painting with watercolours. "The colours I mixed would colour me." [17] Otherwise, before meeting the books, he would train his awkward hand on the reading box: entire childhood, as concentrated in the movement by which my hand slid the letters into the groove, where they would be arranged to form words. My hand can still dream of this movement, but it can no longer awaken so as actually to perform it. By the same token, I can dream of the way I once learned to walk. But that doesn't help. I now know how to walk; there is no more learning to walk. [18]

In 1938, reassembling and reordering the chapters for Berlin Childhood around 1900, Benjamin slightly modifies his previous note, about the schooling needed in the art of losing oneself. "This art I acquired late in life; it fulfilled a dream, of which the first traces were labyrinths on the blotting papers in my school notebooks." [19] Now he adds: "No, not the first, for there was one earlier that has outlasted the others. The way into this labyrinth, which was not without its Ariadne, led over the Bendler Bridge, whose gentle arch became my first hillside." [20]

The Bendler Bridge led and still leads to the Tiergarten, the park which gives the name to the very same area, in Berlin.

I, 2

The task of an introduction should now be directly addressed. Principally, it is the task of writing a letter, or a word, which, intended to be the first, is not also the last. Much has been said about the task of an introduction: it must intro-ducere, lead- into. Consequently, this introduction will lead away. The latter is not a step that is directly, etymologically derived, but a bit of a flight if you follow the movement, proceeding into something implies that you are also leaving something else: sometimes that you are fleeing.

Writing to Max Horkheimer, in the winter 1936-1937, Benjamin "somewhat frivolously touched on a subject that, in the first instance," [21] he "should have brought up only in personal conversation." [22] The difficult matter is an evaluation of the extent to which the dismantling of philosophical terminology might be considered a side effect of dialectical-materialistic thinking. In a previous letter to Horkheimer, he had complimented him on the sober resolution "to call a spade a spade." [23] Replying to the horrified response of his correspondent, Benjamin hurries to correct his misleading comments. "I mean," he makes clear, "that there is a way of using philosophical terminology to feign a nonexistent richness. This is an uncritical use of technical terms. Concrete dialectical analysis of the particular subject being studied, on the other hand, includes a critique of the categories in which it was apprehended at an earlier level of reality and thought." [24] As a measure, "general intelligibility surely cannot be a criterion. But it is likely that a certain transparency in details is inherent in concrete dialectical analysis. The general intelligibility of the whole is of course another story altogether." [25]

The transparency in details must be apprehended along the way; without taking a rest, "looking neither left nor right" [26] as the vista opens only at the summit, but only because of the dusty colours one might have glimpsed and dragged along the way. "The fact that in the morning the pupil knows by heart the contents of the book he has put under his pillow the night before, that the Lord inspires His own in their sleep ( ... ) to make space for such things to happen is the alpha and omega of all mastery, its hallmark." [27] After all, "the realization of dream elements, in the course of waking up, is the paradigm of dialectical thinking," [28] Benjamin notes as he is concluding the exposé, Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century. And whether it uses the language of dream or the silent practice of the hands, it is the same talent for travelling one finds when out of the window of the train, or that Valéry registers for artistic observation, but Benjamin transposes into the storytelling practise of Leskov: there is "a certain accord of the soul, eye, and hand." [29]

Perception may be defective. If this term ('defection') can be taken to imply a fragmentation of experience, a narcotic experience or phantasmagoria, it is most urgent to substitute for it the term 'distortion' and its correlates. In German the common verb is often 'entstellen.' In Franz Kafka, a recapitulating paragraph reads: "Odradek is the form which things assume in oblivion. They are distorted. The 'cares of a family man,' which no one can identify, are distorted; the bug, which we know all too well represents Gregor Samsa, is distorted; the big animal, half-lamb, half-kitten, for which 'the butcher's knife' might be 'a release,' is distorted. . ." [30] Distortion also comes to interfere heaviliy in Benjamin's life. It might be said that Kafka and Benjamin, the two children photographed at the beginning of the century, are distorted. Berlin Childhood around 1900 reads:

Thus, on one occasion, chance willed that Kupferstichen [copperplate engravings] were discussed in my presence. The next day, I stuck my head out from under a chair; that was a Kopf-verstich [a head-stickout]. If, in this way, I distorted both myself and the word, I did only what I had to do to gain a foothold in life. Early on, I learned to disguise myself in words...[31] With these last phrases the panoramic circumnavigation of the subject matter of the present treatise has been concluded, returning to the original 'disguise in words' on the piece of paper of the eighteen year old boy. In fact, paper and cities are the themes. Thus, the works of Benjamin that are at the centre of this tratise are the three versions of Berlin Childhood (A Berlin Chronicle, Berlin Childhood around 1900, 1934 Version, Berlin Childhood around 1900, Final Version), the essay on Franz Kafka (Franz Kafka) and - in transparency - the exposé for Paris, Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century.

The genesis and compositional history of these works is protracted; the drafts, compositions, reflections and variations on each are composed between 1932-1938 and beyond. Yet even this relatively imprecise dating is insufficient since these works can be neither detached nor singled out from earlier and subsequent texts.

In the 18th of November 1927, Benjamin was in bed reading The Trial by Franz Kafka. On that occasion he sketched down a short story. [32] The work on Paris, if contextualised in the core of the Arcades, [33] is still unfinished and will never be finished. The three versions on Berlin childhood testify to the struggle.

If the theme is travelling through paper and cities, the vertical dimension is not to be sacrificed. Indeed the reply given in this circumstance should calk the dialogue between Benjamin and Bertold Brecht in the occasion of a harsh dispute on Franz Kafka. The dramatist urged: "'It is nonsense. You must ignore it. You cannot make progress with depth. Depth is simply a dimension; it is just depth - in which nothing can be seen.' I end up telling Brecht that descending into the depths is my way of journeying to the antipodes." [34]

Thus, given the texts, the aim in what follows is to search through the pages for the trajectory of this voyage in all its temporal and spatial variations. We cannot afford the plumb which leads into the deep direction, as it is confiscated, glimmering plumb, into the dark blue eyes of the author, in which we know 'a lamp is burning.' And yet the present treatise is moved by the glistening of an annotation, as it is reflected, grows dense, comes into relief and slides away across the pages. The task involves searching for its shades on the above mentioned texts, as a codex, or a suggestion.

The indicated passage (with which we are ultimately concerned) belongs to Convolute N of the Arcades Project. The translator of an English edition tries to unravel the "hundreds of 22x28 centimetre sheets of yellowish paper." [35] The annotations in Convolute N range from late 1928 to mid-1940. The observations from N4 through N7a were "largely written between 1935 and late 1937." [36]Whilst the date of composition of the passage, N 7a, 7, is not certain, it is most probable that the note belongs to the same years. It reads:

My thinking relates to theology the way a blotter does to ink. It is soaked through with it. If one were to go by the blotter, though, nothing of what has been written would remain.[37] [...]

Part Two: On Proust, Language and Distortion

II, 1

As an introduction, this introduction will try entering again and again from slightly different angles into the various differentiations of Benjamin's texts. The task is neither a comment on the material content nor a critique of the truth content (in the unity of the work) but the open exposition of/to the currents and dialectical tensions at work. We might be moved and displaced several times by them, as an unavoidable effect. Their range of action is boundless in the Benjaminian oeuvre as this might have been his major concern. To what extent his historical materialism is imbued with theology must be clear from the theses On the Concept of History (and within the dialectical role theology plays in historical materialism); probably less obvious are the dialectics integral to the very concept of theology, and the extent to which the latter relation is the indispensable key to visualise the former is the task of this treatise to point out - insofar as the aim is an introduction to N 7a, 7.

Another way of suggesting this, referring to the author's words, might be to say that the strictest interest is in the dialectical tensions which move and keep taut the lines, the texts, the data by which, where others fail, he proceeds. Whether he could make his way through the non-adverted distortions on others' pages and directions; whether he could manage to catch a glimpse of the strings tricking under the table the ordinary movements of legein and the forces on the chessboard; whether he recognised that "every piece of knowledge (. . .) contains a dash of nonsense;" [57] he accumulated material which would have just needed a little touch in order to crystallise.

Writing to Adorno on the 31st of May 1935, about his Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century, Benjamin refers precisely to a parallel principle of work in progress. He received an external impulse to write down a piece from the Passagenwerk (the Paris essay), and hence violate the truly cherished Arcades ground. "For this very reason," he notes, "it was able to shake up a mass of material that I had been carefully protecting from outside influences for so many years. And that shock made crystallization possible." [58] In a letter sent to Gretel Adorno a few days later, on the 16th of August 1935, he repeats: "This much is certain: the constructive moment means for this book what the philosophers' stone means for alchemy." [59]

And yet, the material that waits to be composed, passed through by a flash which, in an ephemeral light, could reveal "the sharpest outline,' 'the single ray of light breaking into an artificially darkened room," [60] closely resembles material distorted in a state of similarity. "Every piece of knowledge (. . .) contains a dash of nonsense, just as in ancient carpet patterns or ornamental friezes it was always possible to find somewhere or other a minute deviation from the regular pattern." [61] The sameness of standardised products nullifies this perspective. But it is this view of the carpets which leads back to the labyrinth and Ariadne's thread, and to the voyage, too.

The principle of dialectical tensions at play in Benjamin's texts is never made clearer than in one of the first notes in N. The power of the little hunchback, of the epoch, as it enters the dialectical image, is manifest there. It might be read in terms of distortions transposed in the Passagenwerk and Paris. It reads:

Comparison of others' attempts to setting off on a sea voyage in which the ships are drawn off course by the magnetic north pole. Discover that North Pole. What for others are deviations, for me are data by which to set my course. I base my reckoning on the differentia of time that disturb the 'main lines' of the investigation for others.[62] [...]

Part Three: On Kafka, History and Distortion

III, 1

Prague, around 1900:

When I think about it, I must say that my education has done me great harm in some respect. I was not, as a matter of fact, educated in any out-of-the-way place, in a ruin, say, in the mountains something against which in fact I could not have brought myself to say a word of reproach. In spite of the risk of all my former teachers not understanding this, I should prefer most of all to have been such a little dweller in the ruins, burnt by the sun. . .[243]

The writer is a young man, Franz Kafka, in 1910. His first recollections do not differ much from the experiences of a nearly coetaneous Berliner, Walter Benjamin. The two men did not meet, though the chances were offered a few times: surely in Munich where Kafka went for a reading, and later in Berlin where again the writer from Prague happened to spend some time. The fact that neither one nor the other of the hypothetical meetings took place during Benjamin's journeys might already suffice to explain what remains a sorrow. Neither did they meet in Jerusalem.

Thus Benjamin: "Only today, it seems to me, am I able to appreciate how much hatefulness and humiliation lay in the obligation to raise my cap to teachers. The necessity of admitting them by this gesture into the sphere of my private existence seemed presumptuous. I would have no objection to a less intimate and in some way military display of respect. But to greet a teacher as one would a relation or a friend seemed inordinately unfitting, as if they wanted to hold classes in my home. . ." [244] The Berlin child was enduring his resistance, notwithstanding the daily nightmarish visions, of school, or the horrors of corridors and classrooms. [245] Greater Berlin´s annual school competition systematically won the first prize for most hated event in the child's life. "On those days," he remembers, "the feeling never left me that if I relaxed my vigilance for only a moment, permitted myself only the briefest well-being in the shade of a tree or before a sausage vendor's stand, I would fall in ten years' time irredeemably into the power of this place: I would have to become a soldier." [246] It is still in a school-day recollection that Benjamin associates "climbing the stairs in this fashion, with nothing before me but boots and calves, and the scraping of hundreds of feet" [247] with the walks in the city beside (almost beside) his mother. The child "always kept half a step behind her;" [248] thereafter, he concludes, there he learned and rooted "the stubborn refusal under any circumstances to form a united front, be it even with my own mother." [249]

III, 2

Prague, around 1900:

When I think about it, I must say that my education has done me great harm in some respects. This reproach applies to a multitude of people that is to say, my parents, several relatives, individual visitors to our house, various writers, a certain particular cook who took me to school for a year, a crowd of teachers (whom I must press tightly together in my memory, otherwise one would drop out here and there but since I have pressed them together so, the whole mass crumbles away bit by bit anyhow), a school inspector, slowly walking passers-by. . . [250]

It happened that sabotage was one of the first themes of the Berlin child. Benjamin writes: "I'm thinking here of a little piece of writing, perhaps the first I composed entirely for myself. It had to do with a man who distributes leaflets, and with the humiliations he suffers on encountering a public that has no interest in his literature." [251] The result comes next; he decides to secretely jettison the whole pack of leaflets. "At that time," Benjamin considers, "I could imagine no other form of revolt than sabotage - something rooted, naturally, in my own personal experience . . ." [252] Whether he ever overcame this phase or whether it never was sabotage remained inscribed (and transcribed) in him alone and, subsequently, in the critical efforts of others.

However, that in a few years such sabotage should become the idea of revolution was surely an outcome unpleasing for parents, several relatives, individual visitors, various writers, a certain particular cook. . ., a crowd of teachers, a school inspector, slowly walking passers-by. . . Unpleasant, too, that the Janus face [253] eventually never resolved either to elect Moscow or for Jerusalem - but for Paris, in the Nineteenth Century.

The first clear revolutionary traces emerge in the Critique of Violence, written in 1921; the Messianic motif already had been at the centre of attention in the 1919 doctoral thesis The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism; the controversial (for a matter of dating) Theological-Political Fragment could have been written between 1920 and 1921, and it probably was.

In the latter, the Messianic fracture overwhelms the world, while a soft touch acts in the inner core. The revolution, as the Kingdom of God, "is not the telos of the historical dynamic; it cannot be established as a goal. From the standpoint of history, it is not the goal but the terminus [Ende]." [254] How much for Benjamin the idea of classless society should coincide with the secularised idea of messianic time appears evident in XVIIa, (1940): "Classless society is not the final goal of historical progress but its frequently miscarried, ultimately [endlich] achieved interruption." [255]
In Franz Kafka, about fourteen years after the composition of the Fragment, Benjamin writes, "Salvation is not a premium on existence, but the last way out for a man whose path, as Kafka puts it in Er, is 'blocked by his own frontal bone.'' [256] Fourteen or fifteen years previously the blocked path could have been thought of as happiness. Before ruins had piled up toward the sky (progress)[257], all that is earthly in happiness could seek its downfall. [258] In the Theological-Political Fragment Benjamin thus asserts that "the secular order should be erected on the idea of happiness. The relation of this order to the messianic is one of the essential teachings of the philosophy of history." [259]Happiness preserves a revolutionary potential. Indeed, the geometrical explanation follows. "If one arrow points to the goal toward which the secular dynamic acts, and another marks the direction of messianic intensity, then certainly the quest of free humanity for happiness runs counter to the messianic direction. But just as a force, by virtue of the path it is moving along, can augment another force on the opposite path, so the secular order because of its nature as secular promotes the coming of the Messianic Kingdom." [260] Then the coming of the Messiah brings about a Standrecht, Martial Court, or summary justice which shortens the distance to the revolution: "every moment is a moment of judgment concerning certain moments that preceded it." [261] Yet, only for a redeemed humanity, "each moment it has lived becomes a citation à l'ordre du jour." [262] Be it an apocryphal gospel "Where I meet someone, there will I judge him" [263]- or Kafka himself - "The Last Judgment is a kind of summary justice" - the weak Messianic power with which the Now of Recognisability is endowed must not be deaf, not be blind, indeed, "we have been endowed with a weak messianic power, a power on which the past has a claim." [264]

In On the Concept of History (1940), the above-mentioned claim is mutely described. It is the demand for happiness; in 1920 or 1921, Benjamin still considered happiness to be the idea upon which the secular order should be based: one of the arrows that- still flits. "The image of happiness we cherish is thoroughly coloured by the time to which the course of our own existence has assigned us." [265] A dialectical parallel is therefore opened: "There is happiness - such as could arouse envy in us - only in the air we have breathed, among people we could have talked to, women who could have given themselves to us. (. . .) Doesn't a breath of the air that pervaded earlier days caress us as well? In the voices we hear, isn't there an echo of now silent ones? Don't the women we court have sisters they no longer recognise?" [266]

In the reign of what might have been, in the realm of the demand for happiness, generations of downtrodden are still screaming. Our own happiness is made of such mute words. It is happiness that ever failed. On this ground might surely be found the treasures of the collector Eduard Fuchs, to whom Benjamin at long last succeeded in devoting a study. Foremost, however, would be found the treasures, the childhood belongings of Benjamin's himself. "Every stone I discovered, every flower I picked, every butterfly I captured was for me the beginning of a collection.(. . .) It was thus that the things of childhood multiplied themselves in drawers, chests, and boxes." [267] The child, like a cabbalist, must rebuild out of endless postcards 'an inventory of dates for an entire century;' [268] there, "stamps bristle with tiny numbers, minute letters, diminutive leaves and eyes. They are graphic cellular tissue;" [269] "then there are small stamps without perforations, without any indication of currency or country. In a tightly woven spider's web, they bear only a number. These things are perhaps truly without a fate." [270] [...]


— The Walter Benjamin Research Syndicate


La tarea de la crítica es el cumplimiento de la obra.
Walter Benjamin

Para hablar de Benjamin es necesario hablar de los diferentes Benjamin. Su pensamiento quiere escapar, siempre, de lo sistemático y unitario. Por ello, nos encontramos ante un autor que despliega el total de su obra de una forma fragmentaria y poco usual. Además, podemos clasificar, de alguna forma, a Benjamin en tres etapas, algunas de ellas contradictorias entre sí.

En primer lugar, nos encontramos ante la etapa teológica en la que el autor alemán intenta corregir la tradición estética reivindicando la crítica romántica, la alegoría barroca y la obra anti-mítica del último Goethe. Sin embargo, el Benjamin de la segunda etapa, un Benjamin que está descubriendo las vanguardias (dadá, surrealismo, fotografía, cine ruso,…), y de un compromiso político radical, cuestiona la autonomía estética y esboza una especie de “teoría de la modernidad”. Por último, podemos observar la etapa en que, a través de un fundamento teológico, intenta restaurar la autonomía estética y persigue la conservación del elemento tradicional de las obras de arte.

El texto más conocido de Benjamin es, sin duda, La obra de arte en la época de su reproducibilidad técnica, escrito en 1936 y que, con apenas 40 páginas, se trata de uno de los ensayos sobre estética más influyentes.

Tampoco podemos aquí entrar en las diferentes interpretaciones, muchas veces interesadas, que se han apoyado sobre la figura de Benjamin. Como todo autor original y revolucionario, numerosos son los movimientos y comunidades que se han querido apropiar de sus ideas, desde el judaísmo cabalístico hasta el propio comunismo. No vamos a comentar, pues, las críticas que le hace el propio Adorno, ni las diferencias de Benjamin respecto al concepto de materialismo histórico que presenta frente a la escuela de Frankfurt.

La pérdida de la unicidad artística

El arte ya no es único. Ya se puede reproducir prácticamente todo (sorprende esto dicho en 1936… precisamente hoy, cuando las técnicas de reproducción han evolucionado hasta límites insospechables…). Desde las xilografías, las litografías o los giclées, el arte ha ido perdiendo su carácter originario de obra única, irrepetible. Es bien cierto que siempre ha existido, de una manera u otra, formas de reproducción. Pero en la época desde la que nos habla Benjamin, se han desarrollado técnicas realmente novedosas que hacen que la obra se actualice a cada instante. No hablamos de retocar o renovar piezas. Estamos hablando de copiar, de reproducir de forma prácticamente exacta las obras que un día fueron únicas y que jamás volverán a serlo. El diagnóstico es tan acertado que aturde.

El ensayo está marcado, de una forma significativa, por un concepto principal: la pérdida del aura en la obra de arte contemporánea. Y entendemos aura como esa experiencia de distancia. Aunque esa distancia sea breve, el aura se hace visible en la misteriosa totalidad de los objetos. Es lo oculto, lo misterioso, lo que nos da ese aura. No cabe duda de que Benjamin, al escribir este ensayo, tiene muy presente el conflicto entre el arte comprometido y “el arte por el arte”.

El aura, para Benjamin, encierra todas las cualidades esenciales de la obra de arte y, como dice Yvars, los vestigios de su pasado cultural y religioso. Un pasado que, como ya veremos, está ligado a la función del ritual. Por ello, tenemos por un lado la pérdida de unicidad debido al progreso de la técnica reproductiva y, por otro, la pérdida del momento creativo, el momento de la afirmación individual. Así, de este modo, el sujeto creativo, lingüísticamente hablando, desaparece para dar pie a obras en las que intervienen muchos procesos distintos, con muchos creadores diferentes. No hay que mirar muy lejos. El cine es un gran ejemplo. Incluso la obra en sí, si sale mal, se puede repetir en la postproducción.

Estamos ante una colectividad de productores que, además, se dirige a un espectador que, como tal, también desaparece. El film es recibido e ideado para la comunicación masiva. Esta interpretación no es nueva. Adorno ya había denunciado el poder de alienación en el que se podía convertir el cine en manos de la demagogia más peligrosa. De este modo, se deja de lado conceptos como creatividad individual o genialidad, ya que, el proceso es ahora una multiplicidad. Es la muerte del artista, vayamos ahora a la muerte de la unicidad de la obra de arte.

El hic et nunc del original es el concepto de su autenticidad. Necesariamente, una obra contiene un sentido de autenticidad que engloba toda su tradición. Un sentido, una quinta esencia, que está ligado inseparablemente a su objeto material. Por ello, perdiendo el objeto material de la obra, estamos perdiendo también su testimonio histórico. Por lo tanto, nos encontramos ante la situación siguiente: la obra artística original (A) es copiada y reproducida constantemente (A n1, A n2, An3,…) yendo a buscar el receptor a su particular situación, y no al revés. Esto es un forzar violento que es lo que provoca, nos dice Benjamin, la actual crisis “actual”, pero también la posibilidad de renovación de la Humanidad. Es actualizar la obra, dejando en la obra, y sin llevar a la copia, todo abismo de tradición y testimonio pasado.

Las masas de hoy parece que necesiten que todo les sea más próximo. Parece, pues, según este punto de vista, que hacer las cosas más próximas sea “más humano”. Evidentemente, esto no es cierto. Al hacerlo todo actualizable, se traspasa lo único de forma que se deja de lado. Todo puede ser copiado. Todo puede venir a mi posición a través de la copia. Ya no tengo que buscar lo oculto de la copia, porque ya no existe lo oculto. No hay ningún rastro, de este modo, de la tradición que se esconde en cada poro de tela, en el yeso de una escultura, en la obra que está distanciada.

Influido por autores como Pirandello o Brecht, el autor alemán ve cómo el actor de cine ha cambiado su público por el aparato que lo filma. Por eso, el aura queda suprimida al mismo actor y, también, al personaje que representa. El carácter fragmentario del actor fílmico hace que el aura no pueda envolver su personaje y, de esto, el cine se ha dado cuenta. Para solucionarlo, se ha creado un aura artificial a la que han llamado personality y que consiste en el culto a la estrella promovido por el cine capitalista. Benjamin se asombraría hoy de ver cómo su tesis no sólo se ha confirmado, sino que se ha agravado hasta construir toda una gigantesca industria a su alrededor.

Por eso mismo, parece indiscutible que la obra de arte en la época de la reproducibilidad técnica ha cambiado. La proximidad que se busca con la copia transforma la obra. Ha dejado de ser auténtica. Ya no es única. Pero, ¿es necesariamente negativo?, ¿no se libera así, por fin, de su carácter sacro?

Lenguaje como médium

Benjamin, a lo largo de toda su vida, habla sobre el lenguaje. Es uno de los pioneros del giro lingüístico y considera que todo fenómeno artístico no se puede comprender en términos de sujeto y objeto, sino desde la realidad anterior que corresponde, precisamente, al lenguaje. Cuando hablamos del lenguaje, naturalmente, nos referimos a la lectura y la escritura y, por lo tanto, la imagen también es un lenguaje.

El autor alemán entiende el lenguaje, influido por la tradición romántica de Hamman, Herder o Nietzsche, como anterior a todo conocimiento. Es constitutivo de toda conciencia y es, a la vez, la fuerza que puede hacer posible la salvación de la Humanidad. De alguna forma, hay que acabar con la concepción burguesa de la palabra como simple medio de conocimiento, siendo el objeto la cosa, y el sujeto el destinatario. La cultura científico-técnica, nos dice Benjamin, ha destruido el potencial de la cultura religiosa y de la función poética y estética, fundadora del mundo.

La reproducibilidad técnica ha cambiado la obra de arte. Se ha configurado otro conocimiento. Desde la fotografía, la reproducción figurativa ha ido aumentando hasta llegar a conseguir que la palabra y la imagen fueran de la mano. Ahora ya poseen la misma velocidad. Una velocidad, una forma de expresión que, sin lugar a dudas, modifica las sensaciones. Lo que se quiere decir es que el lenguaje es condicionante y constitutivo de conocimiento y conciencia y, por eso mismo, no es del todo raro que el cine surja en la sociedad capitalista, que necesita influir a las masas a la vez, sin ir individuo por individuo, como lo podía hacer una pintura. [...]

Albert LLADÓ

— Revista de Letras


This edition of Transformations focuses on the influence Walter Benjamin continues to have on contemporary thought. It seeks to create a dialogue between contemporary scholars, theorists, and writers from a range of disciplines and practices with Benjamin’s ideas on politics, art, and representation in the context of a shift from mass to global culture. In this increasingly privately mediated culture, virtually transmitted communicational artifacts are playing an important role in not only shaping the nature of representation, but the nature of being human itself.

Two things prevail in the essays presented in this collection. The first is the intense interest in the work of Benjamin coupled with a desire to re-invest it meaningfully into theories concerning the living relations of each author’s world. The second is the diversity of positions, terms of engagement, and interpretations of Benjamin’s work the authors herein adopt. Perhaps this second feature ought to have been expected, for just as the virtual dispersion through the media has diluted the power of the producer to determine the meaning of the artifact, so too, a diversity of approaches, interpretations, and applications can be expected to be taken in relation to Benjamin.

One ought not look for uniformity of thought or agreement in this collection of essays, therefore. Taking steps often either already taken or sometimes just foreshadowed by Benjamin, many of the writers assemble not one, but a multiplicity of ideas that produce a complex theoretical machine which will, of their own nature, resist becoming totalised into a single theme or idea. It follows then that each reader may find (and/or create) a number of themes and ideas running concurrently, connecting some of the ideas suggested by some essays to those suggested by some others. Other concerns emerge only gradually – “between the lines” so to say – as threads establish themselves and grow, apparently independently, while reading essays sequentially. And sometimes one might simply imagine a ghostly figure or mirage that appears suddenly to connect or reflect a conceptual structure or ideational formation suggested elsewhere, perhaps in this collection, but, perhaps also, in some other text.

Such is the nature of, and diversity in, the work of Walter Benjamin (one might add, a diversity reflected here). While this finally intensifies the reader’s task of interpreting and translating each author’s essay, it also enriches this encounter. Thus while this introduction aims to precise the concerns of this issue and each writer’s essay, the job of rendering whole and legible the collection belongs to each reader. Like reading Benjamin, this is a complex task and it requires each reader to relate their own sense of the work of art in a globally mediated culture to that which is transmitted virtually by and in this collection. Perhaps then, and only by translating the thoughts that appear herein into one’s own concrete experience, will the hall of mirrors that threatens to become an endlessly mediated virtuality be transformed and a real politics emerge.

Mika Elo’s “Elemental Politics” reconsiders Benjamin’s thought on photography, language, and politics in the light of the present attempts to re-theorise the image in the age of its digitisation. Elo argues that this transformation ought to be regarded as a secondary development in the photographic image in which digitisation reveals (and revisits) not so much questions latent in photography itself, but rather how digitisation can be regarded as an evolution and translation of the photograph and the form of visual language(s) it has generated. Now, however, with photography’s nature becoming more conscious in its secondary development, the questions raised by digital photography serve to highlight the underlying operations of what Benjamin termed “pure language” and the elemental political relations language establishes. For language is the foremost mediation technology, and it is that which enables humans to communicate, and through such communication, establish and alter social bonds and cultural relations.

In “Benjamin, Trauma and the Virtual,”Allen Meek examines how technologically mediated (virtual) traumatic memories can prize open the seal that history creates to conceal the victory of the “present” over the “past.” While all transmitted technological mediations are by nature dislocated and dissociated from time and space, and hence virtual, there lurks beneath the leaky seams of their spatio-temporal dislocation the stories and “traditions of the oppressed.” Meek shows that notions of “past” and “present,” mediation and reality, are actually cognate terms and, following Benjamin and Deleuze through Bergson and Freud, refrains a dialogical image of “past” and “present” framed in the actual and the virtual. With this assemblage, Meek argues that “[t]he task” of media theorists is “to seize upon images of . . . traumatic experience and re-mobilise them in the context of potentially liberatory narratives.”


— Transformations Journal



It is somewhat paradoxical that Walter Benjamin, who is by now all but universally recognised as one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century, is also a name cited with reverence in the academic field of Translation Studies - even though he produced only a sliver of reflections on the subject. There are, indeed, only two frequently cited texts in which Benjamin considers the subject: the early, esoteric essay 'On Language as Such and on the Language of Man' ('Über die Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen', 1916), and the very well-known piece 'The Task of the Translator' ('Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers', 1923). From these two slim texts comes Benjamin's surprising fame as a theorist of translation, concerning which we may note two interesting points: first, that the later essay is actually linked to the practice of translation, since it was originally published as Benjamin's preface to his own translation into German of Charles Baudelaire's poem-sequence Tableaux Parisiens ); and second, that since by no means all those who write on Walter Benjamin know his native language, German, his writings on translation are more often than not quoted in translation (English, Spanish, Italian or whatever). All this may usefully alert the readers of his work to the importance of translation, as an indispensable means of communication of ideas, and, at the same time, to the need for theoretical reflection on what is in no sense an unproblematic or value-free activity. In this brief study, we shall first examine the key elements of Benjamin's concept of translation, and then look in detail at certain aspects of the different language versions of his posthumous masterpiece, the study of nineteenth-century Paris centring on the arcades that is Das Passagen-Werk.


In 'On Language as Such and on the Language of Man', Benjamin argues, as a philosopher, in favour of an ontological equality of source and translated texts. As one commentator, Diego Fernández, puts it, 'human languages, in Benjamin's conception of language, maintain a relationship of affinity - not through being like each other or similar to each other, but through kinship' . Translation thus becomes a matter not of similarity or identity (translated text copies source text) but of affinity in difference (translated text and source text are two objects, separate yet akin and equal in value). The 1916 essay affirms: 'Translation attains its full meaning in the realisation that every evolved language can be considered as a translation of all the others' , perceiving translation as a succession not of similarities but of transformations, and thus pointing towards a vision of source and translated text as ontological equals. Benjamin here argues against the idea of a translation as a mere simulacrum of the original, adumbrating a counter-model of difference in equality: 'a translation, instead of resembling the meaning of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original's mode of signification, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel'.

Benjamin's vision of equality between source and translated texts is closely bound up with an antithesis which, though hardly a new invention, has received crucial attention in Translation Studies in our day, namely that between the domestic and the foreign, or, to use the somewhat inelegant prevailing terms, 'domestication' and 'foreignisation'. In 'The Task of the Translator', Benjamin endorses the views of an earlier commentator, Rudolf Pannwitz, who, writing in 1917, declared: 'Our translations, even the best ones, proceed from a wrong premise. They want to turn Hindi, Greek, English into German instead of turning German into Greek, Hindi, English. () The basic error of the translator is that he preserves the state in which his own language happens to be instead of allowing his language to be profoundly affected by the foreign tongue. (.) [Rather], he must expand and deepen his language by means of the foreign language' . In this context, Benjamin especially applauds Friedrich Hölderlin's German translations of Sophocles, as being exemplary of Pannwitz's recommended method.

This Benjamin-Pannwitz position looks both forwards and backwards, to Friedrich Schleiermacher in the early nineteenth century and Lawrence Venuti in our day. In his 1813 essay 'On the Different Methods of Translating', Schleiermacher, the translator into German of the complete works of Plato, argued that as far as translation strategy is concerned 'there are only two possibilities. Either the translator leaves the author in peace as much as possible and moves the reader toward him; or he leaves the reader in peace as much as possible and moves the writer toward him' . He strongly preferred the former option - i.e. the translator highlights the otherness of the translated text, by 'striving to adhere so closely to the foreign text as his own language allows' . Schleiermacher argues that if this method forces the reader to make more effort and may yield translations that appear 'harsh and stiff' , it is far superior to the other, less demanding approach. The latter, aiming at 'lightness and naturalness of style' and seeking to 'spare its reader all exertion and toil' , smooths over the alien features of the foreign-language text, insouciantly omits or replaces whole passages, and risks occluding the differences between what we would now call source and target languages (and the cultures behind them). Today, Schleiermacher's notion of the 'two methods' has been taken up by a whole school of latter-day translation theorists who have named them, respectively, 'foreignisation' (seen as good) and 'domestication' (seen as bad). The high priest here is the Italian-American translator and translation scholar Lawrence Venuti, who is famously fierce in his opposition to what Schleiermacher termed 'lightness and naturalness' and Venuti himself calls 'fluency'. Venuti has, indeed, linked Benjamin to the earlier German writer, seeing him as 'reviving Schleiermacher's notion of foreignising translating' . For Venuti, a translation should not read as if it were an original, but should bear the visible signs of its translatedness. In a text of 2004, he defines the bipolar terms as follows: 'Fluency masks a domestication of the foreign text that is appropriative and potentially imperialistic It can be countered by "foreignising" translation that registers the irreducible differences of the foreign text'. Venuti's aim - to denaturalise translation and ensure it does not become a mere act of textual appropriation - may be seen, controversial as it is, as a means of seeking that equality between original and translation to which Benjamin aspired.


It should, certainly, be of interest to both Benjamin students and translation scholars to consider what links may emerge from examining his masterpiece, Das Passagen-Werk, and his ideas concerning translation, in the context of both his original text and its various other language versions. Drafted between 1927 and 1940 and left incomplete (and long undiscovered) after its author's tragic death, Das Passagen-Werk finally saw publication in Benjamin's native Germany only in 1982. The manuscripts that became the published book are the collected fruit of his painstaking investigations in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and consist of a long sequence of fragments, albeit interrelated and organised according to a master plan. The volume as we have it appears as a compromise between two opposite concepts of writing - the finished work and the discrete fragment mediated by the key image of the constellation, which for Benjamin signifies interconnectedness as a ruling principle . A large part of Benjamin's text actually consists of blocks of quotations from other writers, mostly nineteenth-century, in either German or French (the French extracts, which are very numerous, are left in the original and not translated); these quotations, generally brief, are arranged in sections, and are interspersed throughout with segments of critical commentary, again for the most part brief, by Benjamin himself. This practice is respected in the published German version, and the result is what might be called a linguistically bi-coloured or piebald text, with abundant passages in French interleaved with others in German. Benjamin's original is, then, not a bilingual text, even if some have called it so. It should, rather, be called a macaronic text - that is, one which operates on the lines of the medieval carols which alternate Latin and English (as in the well-known 'In Dulci Jubilo': 'Ubi sunt gaudia/If that they be not there?', etc). We do not know, of course, exactly what the finished book would have looked like, nor whether Benjamin would have supplied German translations for his French quotations or preferred to assume a bilingual reader.

The original text of Das Passagen-Werk is, then, in reality not so much German as German/French. Meanwhile and as things stand, there exist, to the present writer's knowledge, seven other language versions of the book apart from the original. One, the French version (1989, reissued 2002), bears, as we shall stress below, a relationship to the original which is not entirely that of a translation. The remaining five can all be considered translations proper. Chronologically, the first - interestingly enough, preceding the French and English versions - is the Italian rendition, first published in 1986 and reissued in revised form in 2000. In its footsteps have followed translations into Japanese (1993), English (1999 and a shade belatedly), and Spanish , Portuguese and Korean (all 2005). The titles chosen for Benjamin's work vary, and none of the European ones literally translates Das Passagen-Werk . The Spanish and Portuguese titles make the volume a book, the English, more tentatively, a project; the French version calls it a book but adds the explicatory "Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century" (a title originating in that of one of Benjamin's own "exposés" for the project , as included in the various editions of Das Passagen-Werk). The two Italian editions have different titles, the first being, again, "Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century", but with the subtitle: 'Projects, notes and materials 1937-1949', thus pointing up the manuscript's work-in-progress character, while the second is "The "Passages" of Paris", the word 'passages' being retained in French. The evident uncertainty over how to title the book reflects the complex and genre-problematic nature of Benjamin's investigations.


How should these different language versions of Benjamin's work be placed in relation to the author's own views on translation? Here one needs to note the, certainly, peculiar textual nature of the original text of Das Passagen-Werk. Since Benjamin's German editors chose not to translate the French passages, the notion of a "German original" or "German edition" is something of a misnomer. The text of Das Passagen-Werk as it stands can only be understand in full by a reader equally conversant with German and French - as if, provocatively, arguing the impossibility of translation by refusing it. To the present writer's knowledge, no-one has yet undertaken a rendition of the French passages into German, an act which would, though, at last produce a full German version of Benjamin's masterpiece, and one may wonder whether since 1999 some German readers may not actually preferred to consult and use the English version, at least for the quotations from French. It is if, provocatively, Benjamin's text were arguing the impossibility of translation by refusing it. As it stands, Das Passagen-Werk is an unintended but eloquent graphic illustration on Benjamin's part of the ontological equality of translation (French) and original (German), as argued in "On Language as Such and On the Language of Man". At the same time, the notion of bringing reader closer to text rather than text closer to reader - the Benjamin-Pannwitz concept of "deepen[ing one's] language by means of the foreign language", corresponding to Schleiermacher's "mov[ing] the reader toward [the author]", is, for the French extracts, pushed to the extreme of bringing the reader so close to the original that the original is, quite simply, not translated at all.

Problems of a different nature are posed by the French edition (translator: Jean Lacoste), which officially bills itself as a translated text in the conventional sense, even though swathes of it, interleaved with the translated material, in reality form a kind of discontinuous French-language original within the text. The title-page declares the book to be "traduit de l'allemand" ("translated from the German"), but the "avertissement du traducteur" (translator's note) admits that "un grand nombre" ("a great number") of Benjamin's original quotations are in French. The relationship between these two statements is not explored anywhere in the volume's critical apparatus. It is, though, to be hoped that French readers will be aware that in the quotations from Baudelaire, Hugo, Fourier et al. they are in all cases reading the original texts and not retro-translations from the German. From the viewpoint of translation theory, the book's French passages certainly bring the text as close as possible to the reader, and the domestication issue can hardly be said to arise for those passages at all (they do not need to be adapted to "home", since they come from home already), only to the parts translated from German. If the German/French original is a visible hybrid or macaronic original, the French version of Das Passagen-Werk is an invisible hybrid, a collage of translation and original.

In contrast to both the German and French editions, the English (or American) version (translators: Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin) is an ontologically straightforward, non-hybrid, homogeneous textual phenomenon. In the conventional way, it translates everything, from both German and French, into English: the same is of course the case for the Spanish, Portuguese, Italian Japanese and Korean editions, but it is the English one that most needs distinguishing from the German and French editions, since inevitably it will also be read, quoted and taken as a reference point by native speakers of other languages, especially those which the book is not yet translated into. As regards matters of translation technique, the "Translators' Foreword" states that the task was divided between the two translators on a language basis, Eiland taking the German and McLaughlin the French, and that for the literary extracts previously existing translations were used wherever possible . Here this version may stand as a model for future translations into other languages. In terms of translation theory, the English version is fully open to the domestication/foreignisation debate, though with the proviso that the text has been transferred not from one other culture but from two, and translation thus becomes not so much a dialogue as a trialogue.

Similar considerations apply, for the most part, to the five other existing translations, which will not be discussed in detail here. We may, though, note that 2005 saw, with both the Spanish and Portuguese versions seeing the light of day, a major extension of the accessibility of Benjamin's book, which is now, notably, available in their country's main official language to virtually all the inhabitants of both Americas, North and South; and that with the Korean edition appearing in the same year to join the Japanese version, a significant part of East Asia is now also open to the ideas of Das Passagen-Werk. Translation thus facilitates the very necessary globalisation of Benjamin's ideas.


Concerning future translations into new languages (Russian? Chinese? Hindi? Bengali?), one may wonder what strategies are likely to be followed by those confided with the Herculean task of rendering the entirety of Das Passagen-Werk. As with many though not all of the existing versions, there is a good cause for having it done by two translators, or by a team (the Italian translation, in particular, is the product of a complex exercise in teamwork). After all, not all Germanists are French scholars, and vice versa. Understanding Benjamin's study in all its detail calls for an expert knowledge of nineteenth-century history (social and political), literature and philosophy, as well of technical areas such as architecture and engineering, not to mention the topography of Paris, and here recourse to specialists is vital and, indeed, the team method may very likely prove preferable. A further question remains in the air: as has happened in the past with, for example, the translation of Freud into Portuguese, will some publishers of future translations opt for the indirect method and propose working from the English version, rather than taking the more rigorous but more difficult route of seeking out parallel experts in French and German? If that happens, how far will the gain in accessibility from the existence of new translations be vitiated by the departure, inevitable in an indirect translation, from Benjamin's own principle of the ontological equality of languages?

Das Passagen-Werk is one of the great books of the twentieth century, and its message of interrelatedness, relayed through Benjamin's crucial image of the constellation, speaks eloquently to our own, networked century. It is crucial that Benjamin's text be made available in as many languages as possible. At the same time, given the importance and influence of Benjamin's own writings (brief though they are) on translation, it seems desirable that his translators should be aware of his theoretical postulates and the relation to them of the text of Das Passagen-Werk itself. The present essay is offered as an initial contribution to a debate which, it is hoped, will be enriched in the future by further translations, into more languages, of Walter Benjamin's vital, eloquent and constellar masterpiece.

Christopher ROLLASON

— The Walter Benjamin Research Syndicate

Bibliografía en español

Ensayos escogidos, traducción de H. A. Murena, Ed. Sur, Buenos Aires, 1967. Versión española parcial de los Schriften. Contiene: Sobre algunos temas en Baudelaire. Tesis de la filosofía de la historia, Franz Kafka, Potemkim, Un retrato de infancia, El hombrecito jorobado, Sancho Panza. La tarea del traductor, sobre el lenguaje..., Sobre la Facultad mimética, Para una crítica de la violencia. Destino y carácter.

"Destino y Carácter". En Eco, Revista cultural colombiana, 1967. Traducción de Carlos Rincón.

Sobre el programa de la filosofía futura y otros ensayos, traducción de Roberto J. Vernengo, Monte Avila, Montevideo, 1971. Contiene: Die Wahlverwandtschaften de Goethe, Sobre algunos temas en Baudelaire, París capital del siglo XIX, Sobre el lenguaje..., Robert Walser, Karl Krauss, hombre universal; El narrador, Consideraciones sobre la obra de Nicolai Leskov, Franz Kafka, "En el décimo aniversario de su muerte"; Para una imagen de Proust.

Angelus Novus, traducción de H. A. Murena, prólogo de Ignacio de Solá-Morales, Edhasa, Barcelona 1971. Selección de textos de los Schriften: Sobre algunos temas en Baudelaire, Tesis de filosofía de la historia, Franz Kafka, La tarea del traductor, Sobre el lenguaje en general y sobre el lenguaje de los hombres, Sobre la facultad mimética, Para la crítica de la violencia, Destino y carácter, con bibliografía.

Iluminaciones I. Prólogo, traducción y notas de Jesús Aguirre. Taurus, Madrid, 1971. Contiene: Una imagen de Proust, El Surrealismo, Sobre la situación del escritor, Tres iluminaciones sobre Green, Dos iluminaciones sobre Gide, El problema de la sociología del lenguaje, Dos iluminaciones sobre Kafka.

Iluminaciones II. Prólogo y traducción de Jesús Aguirre, Taurus Madrid, 1972. Contiene: El Paris del Segundo Imperio en Baudelaire, Sobre algunos temas en Baudelaire, Paris, capital del Siglo XIX.

Discursos interrumpidos I. Prólogo, traducción y notas de Jesús Aguirre, Taurus, Madrid, 1973. Contiene: La Obra de Arte, Pequeña historia, Fuchs, Sombras Breves, El carácter destructivo, Experiencia y Pobreza, Tesis, Fragmento teológico-político.

Reflexiones sobre niños, juguetes, libros infantiles, jóvenes y educación, versión española de Juan J. Thomas, Buenos Aires, Nueva Visión, 1974. Contiene entre otros La vida del estudiante, Calle de mano única (fragmentos).

Haschisch, versión de Jesús Aguirre, Taurus, 1974.

Iluminaciones III. Taurus, Madrid, 1975.

Para una crítica de la violencia. Selección y traducción de Marco Aurelio Sandoval. Plagio parcial de la edición del 71 de Edhasa. Primera edición, 1977, segunda edición, 1978.

Infancia en Berlin hacia 1900. Traducción de Klaus Wagner, Madrid, Alfaguara, 1982.

Para una crítica de la violencia, México, Premia, 1982.

Suite ibicenca, Traducción castellana de Ibizenkische Folge a cargo de Hanna Muck y Osvaldo Lamborghini, recogido en Rafael Pascuet (ed.): Teoria(s) de Ibiza. Libros de La Gorgona, Ibiza, 1983.

Art i Literatura. Tria de textos, traducció i introducció d' Antoni Tous, Vic: EUMO/Reduccions, 1984.

Dirección única. Madrid, Alfaguara, 1987.

Correspondencia 1933-1940 WB/G.Scholem, Madrid, Taurus, 1987.

El concepto de crítica..., 1988. Traducción y prólogo de J.F. Yvars y Vicente Jarque.

Diario de Moscú. Madrid, Taurus. 1988.

Berlín demónico. Barcelona, Icaria, 1988.

Escritos... 1989. Buenos Aires, Nueva Visión (Reedición aumentada del 74)

El origen del drama barroco alemán. Versión de José Muñoz Millanes, Taurus Madrid, 1990.

Para una crítica de la violencia y otros ensayos. Traducción de Roberto Blatt, selección e introducción de Eduardo Subirats, Taurus, Madrid, 1991. Contiene Para una crítica de la violencia, Teorías del fascismo alemán, Sobre el lenguaje en general..., Sobre el programa de la filosofía venidera, La enseñanza de lo semejante, Dos poemas de Hölderlin, El narrador; Franz Kafka.

Cuadros de un pensamiento. Ediciones Imago Mundi. Colección Primera Persona. Buenos Aires, Argentina. Selección, Cronología y Postfacio de Adriana Mancini. Traducción de Susana Mayer, con la colaboración de A. Mancini. Selcción de artículos de los Denkbilder (Gesammelten Schriften IV, págs. 305-438), además de Zentralpark (Gesammelten Schriften I, págs. 655-690.

La metafísica de la juventud. Paidós Ibérica, Barcelona, 1993. Versión de Luis Martínez de Velasco de una selección de los escritos de juventud de WB.

Sonetos. Península/Edicions 62, Barcelona, 1993.

Escritos autobiográficos. Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 1996. Versión española de Teresa Rocha Barco. Introducción y bibliografía de Concha Fernández Martorell.

Dos ensayos sobre Goethe. Gedisa, Barcelona, 1996. Traducción de Graciela Calderón y Griselda Mársico.

La dialéctica en suspenso. Fragmentos sobre la historia. Arcis y Lom Ediciones, 1996. Traducción, introducción y notas de Pablo Oyarzún Robles. Contiene: Sobre el concepto de historia, Apunters sobre el concepto de historia, La Obra de los pasajes (Convoluto N), Fragmentos sobre teoría del conocimiento y teoría del progreso y Fragmento teológico-político.

Tentativas sobre Brecht. Taurus, Madrid, 1998.

Correspondencia 1928-1940. Editorial Trotta, Madrid, 1998.

Poesía y capitalismo. Taurus, Madrid, 2000.

Dirección única. Alfaguara, Madrid, 2002.

La obra de arte en la época de su reproductibilidad técnica. Ítaca, Barcelona, 2003.

Libro de los pasajes. Traducción de Isidro Herrera, Luis Fernández y Fernando Guerrero. Madrid, Akal, 2005.

Historia y relatos. El Aleph, Barcelona, 2006.

Atlas W.B. Constelaciones. Ed. Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid, 2010.