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Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship
Gershom Scholem is celebrated as the twentieth century’s most profound student of the Jewish mystical tradition; Walter Benjamin, as a master thinker whose extraordinary essays mix the revolutionary, the revelatory, and the esoteric. Scholem was a precocious teenager when he met Benjamin, who became his close friend and intellectual mentor. His account of that relationship-which was to remain crucial for both men-is both a celebration of his friend’s spellbinding genius and a lament for the personal and intellectual self-destructiveness that culminated in Benjamin’s suicide in 1940.
At once prickly and heartbroken, argumentative and loving, Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship is an absorbing memoir with the complication of character and motive of a novel. As Scholem revisits the passionate engagements over Marxism and Kabbala, Europe and Palestine that he shared with Benjamin, it is as if he sought to summon up his lost friend’s spirit again, to have the last word in the argument that might have saved his life.
Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) was born in Berlin, educated at the universities of Jena and Bern, and emigrated to Palestine in 1923, where he devoted himself to the study of the Jewish mystical tradition and the Kabbala. One of the greatest scholars of the twentieth century, admired both for his philological prowess and his philosophical insight, Scholem was the author of many books, including Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, and On Jews and Judaism in Crisis, a collection of autobiographical writings and essays on Zionism. The Correspondence of Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem: A Life in Letters were published posthumously.
Lee Siegel is the author of four books, including Against the Machine: How the Web Is Reshaping Culture and Commerce-and Why It Matters and Are You Serious: How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly. He is also the author of the essay “Harvard Is Burning,” just published as an e-book. He has written essays and reviews for many publications, including Harper’s Magazine, The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times. In 2002, he received the National Magazine Award for Reviews and Criticism.
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