Who Owns Walter Benjamin?

On the Place and Non-Place of Radical Thought

Initiative for an International Walter Benjamin Conference and Workshop in Ramallah, Palestine, Dec. 6-11, 2015

Today Walter Benjamin has arrived in the official pantheon of global humanities. His writings belong to the canon of Modern German and European philosophy and literary criticism. There are countless international conferences celebrating his legacy. But can this academic appropriation of Benjamin’s thought do justice to his ‘critical life’ and to the ‘tradition of the oppressed’ that his writings invoke? Given the uncritical if not ideological role of the humanities in today’s neo-liberal capitalism, a merely academic discourse on Benjamin does violence to his thought. Speaking of the legibility of Benjamin’s oeuvre, the question of time and place matter to both the text and its reader.

Talking about Benjamin in today’s Palestine is a political act. The international conference and workshop “Who Owns Walter Benjamin?” is part of the attempt to break the de facto cultural and academic boycott of Palestine, implemented and enforced by the occupation regime and its multi-layered web of checkpoints, territorial zones and other juridical-administrative measures. It is an intervention into ongoing debates on occupation, statehood, theocracy, binationalism, and anti-colonial struggles for liberation. If in Benjamin’s heterodox Marxism the different strands of Jewish messianic and libertarian-utopian thought form a relationship of “elective affinity” (Michael Löwy), his name and legacy invoke a constant appeal against the arrogance of any state power and representations of victors’ history. In this vein, Benjamin’s texts not only speak to the international community of Benjamin scholars and critical theorists but also to political struggles in Palestine.

A growing number of international Benjamin scholars, critical theorists, artists and writers have agreed to support this initiative. For details, initiators, and support, please write to benjamininpalestine@gmail.com.

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