Walter Benjamin (July 15, 1892-September 27, 1940) was a German Jewish Marxist literary critic and philosopher. Benjamin was known during his life primarily for his philosophical essays and as a critic. As a sociological and cultural critic he combined ideas of Jewish mysticism with historical materialism in a body of work which was an entirely novel contribution to Marxist philosophy. As a literary scholar, he translated texts written by Marcel Proust and Charles-Pierre Baudelaire, and Benjamin's essay "The Task of the Translator" is one of the best-known theoretical texts about translation.
His most important writings were:
Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (Origin Of German Tragic Drama / 1928),
Einbahnstraße (One Way Street / 1928),
Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility / 1936),
Berliner Kindheit um 1900 (Berlin Childhood around 1900 / 1950, published posthum),
Geschichtsphilosophische Thesen (Theses on the Philosophy of History / 1939, published posthumously).
The Passagenwerk or "Arcades Project," Benjamin's lifelong project, was to be an enormous collection of writings on the city life of Paris in the 19th century, especially concerned with the roofed outdoor "arcades" which created the city's distinctive street life and culture of flaneurie. The project, which many scholars believe might have become one of the great texts of 20th-century cultural criticism, was never completed; it has been posthumously edited and published in many languages in its unfinished form.
Benjamin corresponded extensively with Theodor Adorno and Bertolt Brecht and occasionally received funding from the Frankfurt School under Adorno's and Horkheimer's direction. The competing influences of Brecht's Marxism (and secondarily Adorno's critical theory) and the Jewish mysticism of his friend Gerschom Scholem were central to Benjamin's work, though he never completely resolved their differences. The Theses on the Philosophy of History, among Benjamin's last texts, are the closest approach to such a synthesis, and along with the essay on The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (the proper title is given above, but the commonly read English version appears under this name), are the most often read of his texts.
Benjamin committed suicide in Port Bou at the Spanish-French border, while attempting to escape from the Nazis, when it appeared that his party would be denied passage across the border to freedom. The rest of the group was allowed to cross the border the next day, possibly because their desperation was made clear by Benjamin's suicide.