Tag: Walter Benjamin

I am a Communist, not an Idiot

1. “The trouble with intellectuals is that what starts as feelings ends in a hangover.” —Bertolt Brecht to Edwin Piscator 2. When Walter Benjamin asked Brecht, who was fleeing the Nazis, if he’d take refuge in Moscow, Brecht is supposed to have replied: “I am a Communist, not an idiot.” 3. In 1945, just after he had retired from UCLA with a meager pension, Arnold Schoenberg applied for a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. He was rejected. H/t this essay by George Steiner.

In Defense of Taking Things Out of Context

Lately, I’ve had the feeling that the push to contextualize and historicize in the humanities and some of the social sciences has become a stumbling block to thought itself, to new ideas and original thinking. This is on my mind, I suppose, because next year, I’ll be giving the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Society for US Intellectual History; I’m thinking of titling it “Against Context, Against History” or perhaps just “In Defense of Taking Things Out of Context.” That needn’t be the case: ideally, historicism and contextualism should alienate us from a familiar past, should push us beyond conventional interpretations. They should force us to grasp the past in its pastness, and thereby render our present strange. […]