Imagining the Nineteenth Century with Benjamin
Walter Benjamin’s Livre des passages, though still neglected, are a brilliant analytical tool to learn about nineteenth century France and Europe. A complex and apparently chaotic collection of fragments, it opens up a vision, different from the prevalent one, that is the idea of the development of European civilization according to a notion of progress that arises exactly from the nineteenth century as the «century of history». Within a mass of quotations is hidden an alternative theory of historical change, together with that different vision. However, both of them are possible, according to Benjamin’s methodology, only by linking together past and present. So dramatic is the experience of the 1930s that it allows Benjamin to shape a different perspective, by reading together, exactly in the light of the 1930s, the «major» e «minor» authors of the recent past. On the other hand, it is our own experience of the transition, between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, another age of crisis, to urge us to rediscover an unknown century and, through its lens, a possible interpretation of our present.