The Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought, Goldsmiths University of London

Research Centre based in Sociology and run jointly with the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths University, London

On Justice: Variations On a Theme Borrowed From Benjamin in 1916 (I)

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Variation One: Peter Fenves (Northwestern) discusses Benjamin’s concept of justice in relation to whether there can ever be a thing rightfully possessed.

20 Apr 2016
1:00pm – 6:00pm
Lecture Theatre, Ben Pimlott Building

In the first of this two-part event, Peter Fenves discusses the provenance of Benjamin’s notes on justice in Kant’s Doctrine of Right, and asks, with Benjamin, whether there can ever be a thing rightfully possessed.

Peter Fenves, Joan and Sarepta Harrison Professor of Literature, is professor of German, Comparative Literary Studies, and Jewish Studies as well as adjunct professor of Philosophy, Political Science, and English. He is the author of A Peculiar Fate: Metaphysics and World-History in Kant (Cornell University Press, 1991), “Chatter”: Language and History in Kierkegaard (Stanford University Press, 1993), Arresting Language: From Leibniz to Benjamin (Stanford University Press, 2001), and Late Kant: Towards Another Law of the Earth (Routledge, 2003), which was translated into German in 2010; and most recently The Messianic Reduction: Walter Benjamin and the Shape of Time (Stanford University Press, 2010).


In October 1916, Gershom Scholem copied into his diary a passage “from a notebook Walter Benjamin lent [him]” under the heading, “Notes Toward a Work on the Category of Justice.” Never included in either the two-volume or the seven-volume collected works and only reappearing upon publication of Scholem’s diaries, these “Notes” nonetheless represent a crucial juncture in the development of Benjamin’s thinking on the political. From one direction, the “Notes” are the culmination of intense discussions between Benjamin and Scholem on the concept of historical time, which issued into a number of important reflections on tragedy, time-reckoning, and language. In the other direction, the “Notes” inaugurated a series of objections and responses between the two friends that include Scholem’s own set of theses on the category of justice from 1919 and 1925, Scholem’s writings on Jonah, and texts surrounding Benjamin’s discussion of law and violence that come to a head with a number of fragments on lying circa 1923.

Using the “Notes Toward a Work on the Category of Justice” as its point of departure, this two-part event takes up the invitation to read together a “convolute” of shorter or lesser-known texts that contribute to a larger theme that Benjamin did not perhaps execute fully, but therefore provides a new context for understanding better known writings such as the Language essay or “Towards the Critique of Violence.” Each day will pivot around a variation on the theme, with presentations and seminar-style discussion based on pre-circulated texts.

For more information on the schedule and for a copy of the texts please visithttps://benjaminonjustice.wordpress.com/

Click here for further information.

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