Walter Benjamin‘s Journalistic Networks
After his hopes for an academic career were dashed in the mid-1920s, Walter Benjamin threw himself into the career of a freelance journalist and writer. A large proportion of his subsequent texts were written for newspapers and magazines, ranging across many genres and formats, from reviews and travelogues to aphorisms, opinion pieces, and short prose fiction. But his professional reorientation was not simply the response to a professional crisis, just as his journalism became far more than a means to a (financial) end. This type of writing allowed Benjamin directly to respond to the changing media landscape of the Weimar Republic, as he experimented with new modes of writing and of intellectual agency, and began to address new audiences. In the present age, Benjamin declared in his collection One-Way-Street (1928), writing should abandon the old format of the book and instead use more ephemeral formats such as the poster, brochure, and leaflet. His journalism allowed Benjamin to formulate, in an exploratory fashion, far-reaching ideas about the transformation of the media and associated technologies, while at the same time creatively engaging with this shift by experimenting with literary form.
For a long time, Benjamin’s journalistic texts have lingered in the shadow of his more famous, ‘canonical’ works. With the publication of the German Critical Edition, this body of work has now become accessible together with drafts and contextual material. Yet it continues to be understood within the limiting framework of Benjamin’s own ‘oeuvre.’ Journalistic texts, however, do not exist in isolation. They form part of a complex network of authors, editors, and media, all of which impose their own particular constraints, thereby shaping the resulting texts.
Funded by the Oxford-Berlin Research Partnership, the project was the first to explore Benjamin’s journalism systematically, while at the same time situating this body of work within the dynamic networks of Weimar journalistic culture.