Cover of Walter Benjamin and the Idea of Natural History by Eli Friedlander
Walter Benjamin and the Idea of Natural History
Eli Friedlander


January 2024
350 pages.
from $32.00

Hardcover now $65.00 (50% off)
Paperback now $16.00 (50% off)

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503636552
Paperback ISBN: 9781503637702
Ebook ISBN: 9781503637719

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In this incisive new work, Eli Friedlander demonstrates that Walter Benjamin's entire corpus, from early to late, comprises a rigorous and sustained philosophical questioning of how human beings belong to nature.

Across seemingly heterogeneous writings, Friedlander argues, Benjamin consistently explores what the natural in the human comes to, that is, how nature is transformed, actualized, redeemed, and overcome in human existence. The book progresses gradually from Benjamin's philosophically fundamental writings on language and nature to his Goethean empiricism, from the presentation of ideas to the primal history of the Paris arcades. Friedlander's careful analysis brings out how the idea of natural history inflects Benjamin's conception of the work of art and its critique, his diagnosis of the mythical violence of the legal order, his account of the body and of action, of material culture and technology, as well as his unique vision of historical materialism.

Featuring revelatory new readings of Benjamin's major works that differ, sometimes dramatically, from prevailing interpretations, this book reveals the internal coherence and philosophical force of Benjamin's thought.

About the author

Eli Friedlander is Laura Schwarz-Kipp Professor of Modern Philosophy at Tel Aviv University. His previous books include Walter Benjamin: A Philosophical Portrait (2015).

"Friedlander's interpretative lens offers his readers a genuinely illuminating and deeply convincing way of appreciating both the local detail and the overarching significance of Benjamin's texts."

—Stephen Mulhall, University of Oxford

"Friedlander's highly original study resituates the interpretation and evaluation of Benjamin's immensely fecund work within the context of the most advanced contemporary thinking on first and second nature. The book will have a considerable impact across the humanistic disciplines."

—David E. Wellbery, University of Chicago

"Friedlander succeeds beautifully and convincingly in presenting Benjamin's seemingly heterogeneous oeuvre as a coherent philosophical effort. Timely reading for philosophers, Benjamin scholars, and all readers interested in the question of the human as a life-form in trying times."

—Eva Geulen, Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung

"Friedlander's book resembles a work of origami, comprised of separate pieces folded together to create the illusion of a single, intricate form. And, just as complex origami sometimes requires glue, Friedlander's distinctive readings of Benjamin turn out to be an essential adhesive. In particular, the insights he offers about Benjamin's influences, from Schopenhauer to Goethe, contextualize the philosopher's work as only retrospective critique can do."

—Sarah Moorhouse, Los Angeles Review of Books

"[Walter Benjamin and the Idea of Natural History] may allow us to reread Benjamin with new clarity and exactness and... displays Friedlander's great attention to detail and rigorous scholarship."

—Michael Villanova, Contemporary Political Theory

"There has never been any doubt about the brilliance of Benjamin's individual works.... Yet heretofore no one has undertaken to make the corpus cohere. This is Friedlander's task, and the result is revelatory and reinvigorating.... Highly recommended."

—M. Uebel, CHOICE