STUDYING OUTSIDE THE LAW: KAFKA AND THE QUESTION OF BENJAMIN’S POLITICS

This essay will develop an important thread in Benjamin’s work, namely, a conception of politics capable of resisting the mythical foundation of the authority (or the law). This will be done by arguing that an affinity exists between his early writings on politics and violence (1920-21) and his 1934 essay on Kafka (“Franz Kafka: On the 10th Anniversary of his Death”)—an essay generally not considered relevant in considerations of Benjamin’s political theory. It will be shown that Benjamin reads Kafka as descriptive of the ‘mythical’ foundation of authority, while also elaborating possible modes of resistance to such a foundation. This will be shown as a fusing of theological and materialist domains, more generally a gesture at the heart of Benjamin’s thinking. This can be expressed as a certain ‘cunning of theology’: a ‘practical’ theology by which one is able to reclaim a sense of the political in the present moment, allowing for the ability to ‘study’ or act beyond the law. As will be demonstrated, this relates to Benjamin’s broader attempt to employ theology to political ends, or rather to fuse the influence of Scholem with that of Brecht.

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