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Radical literary, cultural and political critic Walter Benjamin died by his own hand on this date in 1940 in Portbou, Spain, after being refused passage across the border from Nazi-occupied France. A native of Berlin born in 1892, Benjamin combined Jewish mysticism and Marxist analysis in his work (he was friends with both Gershom Scholem and Bertolt Brecht) to try to perceive how art, technology, class, and consciousness — including the drive for transcendence — intersect. Benjamin was one of the first serious analysts of the media of photography and film, and was a translator of Baudelaire and Proust. Much of his writing was published posthumously and discovered by the baby-boom generation of Marxist academics and activists in Europe and the U.S.
“To be happy is to be able to become aware of oneself without fright.” —Walter Benjamin
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.