What, for instance, is Benjamin really talking about in his famous essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility?” Is it a theory of art and historical change? Is it a political manifesto about the revolutionary potential of film? Is it a long lament about the loss of that magical quality “aura?” The more you read the essay (in its various versions), the harder it is to decide just what Benjamin is saying.
Benjamin’s lifelong friend, the scholar of Jewish mysticism, Gershom Scholem, once wrote the following in his diary:
Basically, [Benjamin is] entirely invisible … He does not communicate himself; he demands that each person see him, although he hides himself. His method is completely unique … it is really the method of revelation … Surely no one since Lao-Tzu has lived this way…
Goodbye Walter Benjamin, the wounded angel of history. Hello Walter Benjamin, sex-addled abuser of wives and children. But it gets worse. (…) We learn that Benjamin’s ambiguity as a writer cannot be disentangled from his selfishness and dishonesty as a person.