Presentation as indirection, indirection as schooling

the two aspects of Benjamin's scholastic method

Ori Rotlevy

pp. 493-516

Why does Walter Benjamin claim "indirection" (Umweg) to be the proper method for philosophical contemplation and writing? Why is this method—embodied, according to Benjamin, in the convoluted form of scholastic treatises and in their use of citations—fundamental for understanding his Origin of German Trauerspiel as suggesting an alternative to most strands of modern philosophy? The explicit and well-studied function of this method is for the presentation of what cannot be represented in language, of what cannot be intended or approached in thinking. Namely, of what Benjamin understands as "truth." Indeed, as Adorno implied, providing a method for presenting an intentionless reality, rather than for re-presenting the world as corresponding to the mind, is revolutionary. However, I claim that beyond its presentational function, the method of indirection has a further, pedagogical function. Benjamin's concept of truth requires thinking in a manner that does not impose any exterior form, any conceptual or intuitive intention on truth and the materials in which it might be exhibited. The methodological adoption of digressive and intermittent writing is supposed to transform the way we think, or more accurately, the position (Haltung) from which thinking occurs. By examining Benjamin's use of pedagogical terms against the backdrop of scholastic history and the Urfigure of modern method, that of Descartes, I show that writing and reading in the form of the tractatus serves as exercise in receding from the subject-position—a position of a subject intending an object—and thus conditions the presentation of intentionless truth.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11007-016-9404-2

Full citation:

Rotlevy, O. (2017). Presentation as indirection, indirection as schooling: the two aspects of Benjamin's scholastic method. Continental Philosophy Review 50 (4), pp. 493-516.

This document is unfortunately not available for download at the moment.