Speculative experience and history : Walter Benjamin's Goethean Kantianism
My thesis explicates and defends what I term an implicit Goetheanism present in the philosophy of Walter Benjamin. It begins by examining Benjamin’s early critique of the Kantian and neo-Kantian concept of experience and argues that a Goethean theory of the primal phenomenon provides the phenomenological model for Benjamin’s radical transformation of the neo-Kantian Idea. I analyse the importance of Goethe’s aesthetics of science for Benjamin’s critical development of Early German Romanticism and suggest that Goethe’s tender empiricism provides the intellectual backdrop to Benjamin’s later materialism. The chromatic-linguistic model of experience which informs Benjamin’s earliest writings is shown to develop into a dialectics of refractive expression, one that has import consequences for his concept of history and his unorthodox version of cultural materialism. My final chapter examines the influence of Goethe upon what it argues is Benjamin’s quasi-Jungian criticism of Marxism, defending the importance of Jung’s semiotic critique of Freud’s theory of dream symbolism and its relevance for a materialist interpretation of ideology. The relationship between the Goethean and Jungian concepts of synthesis explains Benjamin’s proximity to a Jungian concept of the unconscious, it is argued, which is justified on the condition that a critique of Jung distinguishes the archaic image from Benjamin’s dialectical image. This is performed in the final chapter through a consideration of the allegorical and the technological in Jung and Benjamin’s differing receptions of Goethe’s Faust. The existential component of Goethe’s speculative concept of experience provides Benjamin with the resources for thinking of a dialectic of historical completion and incompletion, it is concluded, which is necessary for a philosophical informed cultural materialism.