What is Walter Benjamin’s Idea of Revolution?

This presentation outlines Walter Benjamin’s highly idiosyncratic conception of “revolution.” Despite its significance for his philosophical outlook, the concept of revolution receives no systematic or perhaps even consistent treatment in his heterogeneous writings. However, in contrast to the way the term is usually understood in political philosophy, Benjamin conceives of revolution primarily as a category of experience, a type of emphatic experience of meaning. This presentation defends this interpretation in three main steps: first, I argue that Benjamin’s idea of revolution refers specifically to revolutionary experience; second, I contend that the distinguishing characteristic of this experience is expressed in the value he ascribes to transparent perception; finally, I claim that the main problem in Benjamin’s conception, and one he is unable to resolve, is to come up with an adequate notion of collective revolutionary experience.

Alison Ross is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Australian Research Council Future Fellow at Monash University. She is the author of The Aesthetic Paths of Philosophy: Presentation in Kant, Heidegger, Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy (Stanford UP, 2007) and Walter Benjamin’s Concept of the Image (Routledge, 2015).