Walter Benjamin in Moscow

Instructor: Adeola Enigbokan
Dizzy’s Diner
230 5th Avenue
(corner of 5th & President)
Brooklyn, NY 11215

When we think of Walter Benjamin, that consummate urban intellectual, we often picture him between Berlin and Paris, the cities in which his major contributions to critical theory were conceived and written. This course however, is structured around a two-month trip Benjamin took to Moscow in the winter of 1926 – 27. About the icy metropolis Benjamin wrote: “The city is on its guard against [the newcomer], masks itself, flees, intrigues, lures him to wander its circles to the point of exhaustion.” If Paris and Berlin were cities of intellectual transparency for Benjamin, then Moscow was their opposite. Chronicled in his Moscow Diary, the trip at first appears to be a depressing detour in a legendary life, full of misunderstandings, exacerbated by unrequited affections, a lack of fluency in Russian and the fearsome winter. However, Benjamin’s post-Moscow writings about art and the artist’s role in society, aesthetics and politics are some of his most well-known works, expressions of the influence this Russian encounter may have had on his thinking.

This course takes the Moscow trip and its missed connections as a starting point, situating Benjamin in relation to a diverse milieu of artists and thinkers based in, or passing through, the Soviet city in the late 1920s and early 1930s. We will read Benjamin’s Moscow Diary and subsequent works, such as The Author as Producer and One Way Street, along with the diaries, memoirs and sketchbooks of Asja Lacis, Diego Rivera and Aleksandr Deineka and poems, essays and manifestoes by Vladimir Mayakovsky and Sergei Tretyakov drawn from Soviet art journals of the time, films by Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein, and writings of Bertolt Brecht and Viktor Shklovsky on art and estrangement. Together the class will reflect upon the productive effects of travel, encounters with difference and Benjamin’s own disorienting experience of love, art and revolution in Moscow.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm
February 22 — March 14, 2016
4 weeks


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