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Walter Benjamin's Concept of Experience and His Literary Practice


This thesis explores Walter Benjamin's development of the new concept of experience and selects key parts of it to develop the significant arguments of this speculative philosophy of experience and why he remains of contemporary interest. This horizon of experience is based on reflecting on the epistemology of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Benjamin sought to expand the concept of experience in Kant's legacy, challenging the limits of philosophy with experience. He tries to provide a solution to the weakening of experience (erfahrung). I look at the sources of his work and find that his theological and historical materialist view of time is an important element that he provides for recasting a new concept of experience. This recasting of the concept of experience is a foundational connotation throughout his research and is also reflected in his literary works.

In the first chapter, I first explore the philosophical background of the concept of experience and provide a separate introduction to the two types of experience erfahrung and erlebnis in the German tradition, which became the inspiration for Benjamin's grasp of modern experience in later years. Then, with a specific analysis of “Program of the coming philosophy” and some other texts, aligned with a review of Kant's theory, I argue that Benjamin inherited and challenged Kant's concept of experience in an epistemological sense. In this challenge, he resorts to religion, language, and the present time to enrich the totality of experience.

In chapter 2, I choose to enter the text of “On the Concept of History” to demonstrate how discontinuous time is, and particularly what his "now-time" can provide for an empirical perspective. Through the standstill, the dialectic of present and past, and the shock of these appeals, Benjamin succeeds in establishing a historical materialist experience of time.

In chapter 3, I analyze the expression of temporal experience in “Berlin Childhood around 1900” as a literary practice for a new conception of experience. Through the analysis of the imagery of rain, I argue that his experience of time is conscious, spatial and in the present. And to this end, I introduce the similarities between the artistic approach of classical Chinese poetry and Benjamin's conception of the subject and object. Mimicking Proust's methodology of involuntary memory, Benjamin's literary practice in Berlin's childhood searched for ways to recover experience as erfahrung.

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