Walter Benjamin (1892, Germany – 1940, Spain)
Born into a prosperous Jewish family, Benjamin studied philosophy in Berlin, where he settled in 1920 and worked thereafter as a literary critic and translator. Benjamin eventually settled in Paris after leaving Germany in 1933 upon the Nazis’ rise to power. Upon the fall of France to the Germans in 1940 he fled southward with the hope of escaping to the United States via Spain. Informed by the chief of police at the town of Port-Bou on the Franco-Spanish border that he would be turned over to the Gestapo, Benjamin committed suicide. The posthumous publication of Benjamin’s essays revealed his philosophical reflections, written in a dense and concentrated style that contains a strong poetic strain. He mixes social criticism and linguistic analysis with historical perspective. Benjamin’s originality is evident in the essays posthumously collected in Illuminationen (1961; Illuminations), including “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit” (1936; “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”).