How to read Walter Benjamin today? This book argues that the proper way is through an approach which recognizes and respects his own peculiar theorization of the act of reading and the politics of interpretation that this entails. The approach must be
figural, that is, focused on images, and driven by the notion of
actualization. Figural reading, in the very
sui generis Benjaminian way, understands figures as
constellations, whereby an image of the past juxtaposes them with an image of the present and is thus actualized. To apply this method to Benjamin’s own work means first to identify some figures. The book singles out the Flâneur, the Detective, the Prostitute and the Ragpicker, and then sets them alongside a contemporary account of the same figure: the Flâneur in Juan Goytisolo’s
Landscapes after the Battle (1982), the Detective in Paul Auster’s
New York Trilogy (1987), the Prostitute in Dacia Maraini’s
Dialogue between a Prostitute and her Client (1973), and the Ragpicker in Mudrooroo’s
The Mudrooroo/Müller Project (1993). The book thereby, on the one hand, analyses the politics of reading Benjamin today and, on the other, sets his work against a variety of contemporary aesthetics and politics of interpretation.
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2009. 387 pp.
Contents: The four «constellations of reading» – The Art of Straying: Walter Benjamin and the Dialectics of Flânerie – Flânerie
after the Battle: Juan Goytisolo and the Return of the Flâneur – The City as Crime Scene: Walter Benjamin and the Traces of
the Detective – Spectres of Detection: Paul Auster and the Metaphysical Detective – The Decay of Love: Walter Benjamin and
the Silent Whore – Paradoxes of the Unruly Commodity: Dacia Maraini and the Talking Whore – The Trash of History: Walter Benjamin
and the Dialectical Ragpicker – The Past as Future: Mudrooroo and the Indigenous Ragpicker.