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Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht:
The Story of a Friendship, 1924–1940

Here the greatest living German poet met the most important critic of the time’ – Hannah Arendt

This study reveals and explores for the first time the importance of the friendship between Benjamin and Brecht – personally, for their lives as writers, and the effect it had on their other friendships. These two figures, at the height of their creative power in a period of impending political crisis and breakdown, formed part of a brilliant constellation of writers and creators in Weimar Germany, mainly in exile after 1933, which included Theodor Adorno and his wife Gretel, Gershom Scholem, Hannah Arendt, Helene Weigel (Brecht’s wife), Bernard von Brentano, Siegfried Kracauer, Margarete Steffin, among others.

Benjamin’s broad cultural interests, including literature, film, photography, architecture and philosophy, and especially his multi-facetted approach, meant that partisans of different political ideologies tended to claim him jealously as their own. His friendship with the increasingly political Brecht, then discovering Marxism, was seen as a great danger to his own talent by at least two of his closest and most persuasive admirers, Adorno and Scholem, who tended to ignore or play down Benjamin’s own stubborn political commitment.

The book brings alive the force-field of this constellation, both as the Weimar Republic declined into Nazi dictatorship, and as the external opposition to that new regime was being established, with all the vicissitudes of emigration, whether in Paris, Moscow, or Denmark. As the struggle continued, friendships and enmities diminished or increased as circumstances changed. However, the focus of this book remains the relationship, which was above all a working relationship, between Benjamin and Brecht. Some found hard it to accept, but recorded and explored here fully for the first time, it can be seen to throw new light on nearly two decades of European intellectual life in its most crucial period.

Helena Weigel

Helena Weigel, Brecht’s wife

Gretel Adorno

Gretel Adorno (née Karplus)

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt

Asja Lacis

Asja Lacis who introduced Brecht to Benjamin

Scrupulous, scholarly, and written with loving commitment’ – Momme Brodersen, author of Walter Benjamin, A Biography

ERDMUT WIZISLA is Director of the Brecht Archive and the Walter Benjamin Archive (both in Berlin). Besides numerous works on Brecht and Benjamin, he has published on Uwe Johnson and Heiner Müller. He has two daughters and lives in Berlin.

CHRISTINE SHUTTLEWORTH’s other translations include Hilde Spiel’s Fanny von Arnstein: A Daughter of the Enlightenment 1758–1818 and The Dark and the Bright: Memoirs 1911–1989.

reviews

‘[An] invaluable work of scholarship, appreciation and the memory of great and terrible times’

Eric Hobsbawm

‘Wizisla’s story of artistic and political radicalism in the darkest of times is a landmark publication’

Independent

Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht

Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin

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