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Über Dichter, Proletarier und Apachen

Walter Benjamin über die Sozialliteratur

Gérard Raulet    Université Paris-Sorbonne, France    



It is somewhat surprising that Walter Benjamin, who has been very much involved with French literature, has shown so little interest in the most prestigious social novelists and in the great social romance cycles. Unlike Lukács, Benjamin evaluates the form of the novel negatively: the novel is not, or no longer, the modern epic. The contemporary novelist differs from the epic narrator in that he has lost the collective dimension. Instead of complaining about this loss, Benjamin accepts it and looks critically for authors and works that experiment new narrative means and at the same time explore new social worlds. But most novels to which Benjamin attributes experimental, or even avant-garde, value have met this challenge the least. They betray their breakthrough either by a purely private social criticism (Julien Green), by a kind of “infantile disease” of commitment (Malraux), or by a mere “cry of indignation” (Céline), which at least has the merit of reintroducing the voice of the Lumpenproletariat into the realm of the novel without mobilizing the “mimicry” of belonging to the proletariat. This essay is part of a larger project on Benjamin and the French intelligentsia of the interwar period.

Sept. 26, 2019
Feb. 18, 2019
Jan. 21, 2019

Keywords: Walter BenjaminSocial romanceIntellectual history

Copyright: © 2019 Gérard Raulet. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.