Shut Up About Walter Benjamin Already

A request

Photo: Robert Agthe

Here’s the thing: We think you’re terrific, and really smart, and we’re very impressed by how well-read you are. Your ability to reference both the great works of antiquity and up-to-the-minute pop performances clearly marks you out as someone who has his finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist and can seamlessly integrate it with the larger cultural conversation to demonstrate a flawless fluency in all forms of expression up and down the historical chain. No one doubts just how much you know and how adept you are at adapting that knowledge into a perspicacious evaluation of what we’re searching for in these troubled times. But do us a favor, please: Stop talking about Walter Benjamin so much.

We get it: Walter Benjamin was an incredibly impressive figure. It’s hard to appreciate, even now, just how far-seeing he was, how relevant his insights are to today. No one is arguing that. We could sit here all day and talk about how the themes of “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” resonate down to this very moment and still be able to continue the conversation into next week. But that doesn’t mean we want to. Or need to. For the thousandth time. As if we had never heard about it before. From you or someone exactly like you.

Look, you’re a great kid. You’re remarkably articulate in the language of theory that we have decided signifies profundity in our era, particularly when you apply it to something seemingly unable to support such interpretation, like a Beyonce birth announcement or a sophisticated soap opera set in the Sixties. Really, you’re amazing at it. We can tell you did all the work. And we know it’s a lot to get through — even Berliner Kindheit um 1900 makes reading Judith Butler seem like reading Judy Blume. We’re very clear: Walter Benjamin was a genius, and you want us all to know that (and know that you know that). But give it a rest already, okay? Jürgen Habermas is still with us. Why don’t you let him have a little time in the sun? Thank you.