Daniel Bensaïd between Marx and Benjamin

in Historical Materialism
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Daniel Bensaïd (1946–2010) was a leading figure of May ’68, a Marxist thinker and an influential French public intellectual. His theoretical and political trajectory is divided into two distinct periods separated by the historical turn of 1989: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the ussr. This also coincided with an existential turn due to his contracting aids, which brought him close to death. After this turn, he played the role of a ‘border-crosser’ between generations, intellectual currents and geopolitical areas within the radical left. In the 1990s, he began a critical rereading of Marx and tried to transcend Trotskyism, confronting its legacy with other currents of critical thought, notably the Frankfurt School. Since this pivotal moment, his writings reveal a permanent and intense dialogue with the work of Walter Benjamin, which he reinterpreted in a contemporary, political perspective, rethinking the political dilemmas of the twenty-first century through a Messianic vision of history. This article emphasises the affinities between two historical constellations – 1939 and 1989 – which, in spite of their obvious differences, were equally shaped by a feeling of defeat, and allowed a fruitful ‘encounter’ between French and German philosophers.

Daniel Bensaïd between Marx and Benjamin

in Historical Materialism

Sections

References

AndersonPerry Considerations on Western Marxism 1976 London New Left Books

AndersonPerry In the Tracks of Historical Materialism 1983 London Verso

ArendtHannah ‘Walter Benjamin, 1892–1940’ Men in Dark Times 1973 Harmondsworth Penguin

BenjaminWalter JephcottEdwardShorterK. One-Way Street and Other Writings 1979 London New Left Books

BenjaminWalter SieburthRichard Moscow Diary 1986 Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press

BenjaminWalter BullockMarcusJenningsMichael W. ‘Critique of Violence’ Selected Writings Volume 1: 1913–1926 1996 Cambridge, MA Belknap Press

BenjaminWalter EilandHowardMcLaughlinKevin The Arcades Project 1999a Cambridge, MA Belknap Press

BenjaminWalter JenningsMichael W.EilandHowardSmithGary ‘Theories of German Fascism’ Selected Writings Volume 2: Part 1: 1927–1930 1999b Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press

BenjaminWalter EilandHowardJenningsMichael W. ‘Theological-Political Fragment’ Selected Writings Volume 3: 1935–1938 2002 Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press

BenjaminWalter BostockAnna ‘Conversations with Brecht’ Understanding Brecht 2003 London Verso

BenjaminWalter JenningsMichael W.EilandHowardSmithGary ‘Surrealism’ Selected Writings Volume 2: Part 1: 1927–1930 2005 Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press

BenjaminWalter EilandHowardJenningsMichael W. ‘Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century’ Selected Writings Volume 3: 1935–1938 2006 Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press

BenjaminWalter ArendtHannah ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ Illuminations: Essays and Reflections 2007a New York Schocken Books

BenjaminWalter ArendtHannah ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ Illuminations: Essays and Reflections 2007b New York Schocken Books

BensaïdDaniel Moi la Révolution: Remembrances d’une bicentenaire indigne 1989 Paris Gallimard

BensaïdDaniel Walter Benjamin: Sentinelle Messianique 1990 Paris Plon

BensaïdDaniel Jeanne de guerre lasse 1991 Paris Gallimard

BensaïdDaniel La Discordance des temps 1995a Paris Les Éditions de la Passion

BensaïdDaniel Marx l’intempestif. Grandeurs et misères d’une aventure critique (XIXe–XXe siècles) 1995b Paris Fayard

BensaïdDaniel Le pari mélancolique. Métamorphoses de la politique politique des métamorphoses 1997 Paris Fayard

BensaïdDaniel Résistances. Essai de taupologie générale 2001 Paris Fayard

BensaïdDaniel Les Trotskysmes 2002 Paris Presses Universitaires de France

BensaïdDaniel Une lente impatience 2004 Paris Stock

BensaïdDaniel Fragments mécréants I: Sur les mythes identitaires et la République imaginaire 2005 Paris Lignes

BensaïdDaniel Éloge de la politique profane 2008a Paris Albin Michel

BensaïdDaniel Fragments mécréants II: Un nouveau théologien Bernard-Henry Lévy 2008b Paris Lignes

BensaïdDaniel Marx mode d’emploi 2009 Paris Zones

BensaïdDaniel Walter Benjamin: Sentinelle Messianique 2010 Paris Les Prairies ordinaires

BensaïdDanielWeberHenri Mai 68 une répétition générale 1968 Paris Maspero

DeutscherIsaac The Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays 1968 London Oxford University Press

EagletonTerry Walter Benjamin: or Towards a Revolutionary Criticism 1981 London New Left Books

FuldWerner Walter Benjamin zwischen den Stühlen: eine Biographie 1979 Munich Hanser

GoldmannLucien ThodyPhilip The Hidden God: A Study of Tragic Vision in the Pensées of Pascal and the Tragedies of Racine 1964 New York Humanities Press

GramsciAntonio GerratanaValentino Quaderni del Carcere 1975 Turin Einaudi

HeilSusanne ‘Gefährliche Beziehungen’. Walter Benjamin und Carl Schmitt 1996 Stuttgart J.B. Metzler

HeringChristoph Die Rekonstruktion der Revolution. Walter Benjamins messianischer Materialismus in den Thesen ‘Über den Begriff der Geschichte’ 1983 Frankfurt Peter Lang

KaplanSteven L. Farewell Revolution: Disputed Legacies: France 1789/1989 1995 Ithaca, NY Cornell University Press

KoselleckReinhart TribeKeith ‘ “Space of Experience” and “Horizon of Expectation”: Two Historical Categories’ Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time 1985 Cambridge, MA The MIT Press

KraftWerner UnseldSiegfried ‘Über Benjamin’ Zur Aktualität Walter Benjamins 1972 Frankfurt Suhrkamp

LeslieEsther Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism 2000 London Pluto Press

LöwyMichael HeaneyHope Redemption and Utopia: Jewish Libertarian Thought in Central Europe. A Study in Elective Affinity 1992 Stanford Stanford University Press

LöwyMichael TurnerChris Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s ‘On the Concept of History’ 2005 London Verso

MarcuseHerbert BulthaupPeter ‘Revolution und Kritik der Gewalt. Zur Geschichtsphilosophie Walter Benjamins’ Materialien zu Walter Benjamins Thesen ‘Über den Begriff der Geschichte’ 1975 Frankfurt Suhrkamp

MarxKarlEngelsFriedrich The Communist Manifesto 2012 London Verso

MosesStéphane HarshavBarbara The Angel of History: Rosenzweig Benjamin Scholem 2009 Stanford Stanford University Press

ScholemGershom ‘Toward an Understanding of the Messianic Idea in Judaism’ The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality 1971 New York Schocken Books

ScholemGershom ZohnHarry Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship 1988 New York Schocken Books

StutjeJan Willem BeckChristopherDruckerPeter Ernest Mandel: A Rebel’s Dream Deferred 2009 London Verso

TraversoEnzo ‘Benjamin und Trotzki’ Das Argument 1997 5 222 697 704

TraversoEnzo À feu et à sang. De la guerre civile européenne 1914–1945 2007 Paris Stock

1

Anderson 1983p. 32.

2

Bensaïd 2004p. 451.

3

Bensaïd 1989.

4

Bensaïd 1991.

5

Bensaïd 2002.

6

Anderson 1976.

7

Bensaïd 2004p. 361.

8

Bensaïd 2004p. 449.

9

Bensaïd 2005 and 2008b.

10

Bensaïd 2004p. 69.

11

Bensaïd 2004p. 449.

12

Bensaïd and Weber 1968.

13

Bensaïd 1995a.

14

Bensaïd 1995ap. 110. See also Gramsci 1975 p. 1403.

15

Bensaïd 1995bp. 187.

16

Koselleck 1985pp. 267–88.

17

Bensaïd 2009Chapter 5.

18

Bensaïd 1990 and 2010. According to the dates ending the book it had been written in Paris between March and June 1990.

20

Bensaïd 2010p. 7.

21

Benjamin 2007ap. 242.

23

Arendt 1973p. 168.

24

Bensaïd 2004p. 364. On Mandel see Stutje 2009.

25

Bensaïd 2010p. 124.

26

Bensaïd 2010p. 39.

27

Bensaïd 1989p. 230.

28

Bensaïd 1989p. 231.

29

Bensaïd 1989p. 230. On the debates raised by this commemoration see Kaplan 1995.

30

Benjamin 1979p. 80.

31

Benjamin 1999ap. 460.

32

Bensaïd 2001pp. 15–16.

33

Fuld 1979.

34

Bensaïd 2010p. 36.

35

Benjamin 1986 and Benjamin 2003.

36

Benjamin 2005. On Benjamin and Trotsky see Kraft 1972 p. 69; Traverso 1997; and Leslie 2000 pp. 228–34.

37

Scholem 1971p. 12.

38

Marcuse 1975pp. 26–7.

39

Benjamin 2007bp. 255.

40

Benjamin 2007bp. 257.

41

Benjamin 1999b.

42

Bensaïd 1995ap. 13.

43

Bensaïd 2010p. 182.

45

Bensaïd 2010p. 169; Benjamin 1999a pp. 388–9.

46

Benjamin 2007bp. 264.

48

Benjamin 1996.

49

Benjamin 2002.

50

Moses 2009.

51

Deutscher 1968.

52

Bensaïd 2010p. 155.

53

Bensaïd 2010p. 275.

54

Bensaïd 2010p. 230.

55

Bensaïd 2010p. 249.

56

Bensaïd 1995bp. 208.

57

Scholem 1971pp. 13–14.

58

Benjamin 2006pp. 33–4.

59

Benjamin 2007bp. 255.

60

Moses 2009p. 108.

61

Marx and Engels 2012p. 74.

62

Bensaïd 2010p. 97.

63

Benjamin 2007bp. 260.

64

Bensaïd 1997 and Goldmann 1964.

65

Bensaïd 1997p. 290.

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