Walter Benjamin Chronology

11 Ara

1892 Walter Benjamin is born on 15. July in Berlin.

1902-1905 Attends the Kaiser Friedrich-Wilhelm Gymnasium in Berlin.

1905-1907 In Haubinda, a country boarding school in Thüringen, Benjamin becomes deeply influenced by Gustav Wyneken.

1907 Benjamin returns to the Kaiser Friedrich-Wilhelm Gymnasium.

1912 School-leaving examination [Abitur] in Berlin and commencement of the study of philosophy at the Albert Ludwig University in Freiburg im Breisgau. Friendship with the poet C.F. Heinle.

1912/13 Continuation of studies in Berlin.

1913 At Whitsuntide, Benjamin undertakes his first journey to Paris. He returns to Freiburg to study during the summer semester, and then continues his studies in Berlin during the winter.

1914 Elected President of the Berlin “Free Student Group”. He becomes acquainted with Dora Sophie Pollak.

1914/15 Composition of the essay “Two Poems by Friedrich Hölderlin” (first published in 1955). On 8. August 1914, Benjamin’s friend, Heinle, commits suicide with his fiancée in the ‘Sprechsaal’ of the house which Benjamin and Ernst Joël rent on behalf of the Free Students’ Union. Heinle’s suicide devastates Benjamin, and the memory of the young poet stays with WB for the rest of his life.

1915 Makes the acquaintance of Gerhard (Gershom) Scholem. The friendship and correspondence between Benjamin and Scholem is to become decisive for both men.

1915/17 Studies in Munich. Benjamin makes the acquaintance of Felix Noeggerath, the ‘genius’ (in WB’s correspondence), whose ideas about ‘experience’ will lead Benjamin toward the posthumously published essay “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy.” Through Noeggerath, Benjamin becomes further acquainted with the Stefan George circle and the work of the Americanist, Walter Lehmann, in whose classes on Ancient Mexican culture WB first meets Rainer Maria Rilke.

1917 Benjamin marries Dora Sophie Pollak and emigrates to Bern, Switzerland.

1918 Birth of son, Stefan. Acquaintance with Ernst Bloch.

1919 Under the sponsorship of Richard Herbertz in Bern, Benjamin takes his doctor’s degree with the work The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism.

1920 Returns to Berlin.

1921 Friendship with Florens Christian Rang.

1921/22 Benjamin writes the treatise on Goethe’s Elective Affinities.

1923 First encounter with Theodor W. Adorno. Benjamin’s closest friend, Scholem, emigrates to Palestine. Benjamin publishes his translation of Baudelaire’s Tableaux Parisiens and begins working on Origins of the German Trauerspiel [mourning play].

1924 Between May and October, Benjamin is on the island of Capri working on the Trauerspiel book. He makes the acquaintance of Asja Lacis and becomes involved with Marxism.

1924/25 The work on Goethe’s Elective Affinities is published by Hugo von Hofmannsthal in Neue Deutsche Beiträge [New German Contributions].

1925 Benjamin’s attempt to qualify as lecturer at the University of Frankfurt with hisTrauerspiel book as Habilitationsschrift is unsuccessful. Benjamin and the writer-translator, Franz Hessel, begin to translate Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, only one volume of which is published in 1930.

1926/27 In December and January, Benjamin visits Moscow. The posthumously published Moscow Diary kept by WB during this visit is now considered not only one of the most revealing personal documents he ever wrote, but also an invaluable eyewitness account of life in Moscow during this period.

1927 Begins the Passagen-Werk [The Paris Arcades project]. At the end of May, WB makes his debut as a raconteur of “Hörspiele” [Radio Models or Plays] on the Südwestdeutscher Rundfunk [Southwest German Radio]. In December, Benjamin begins a series of investigations in experimental psychopathology as a test subject of Drs. Ernst Joël and Fritz Fränkel of the Berlin Gesundheitshaus. Extant protocols from these experiments, which continue up to May of 1934, record investigations into the use of hashish, opium and mescaline as psychotomimetic agents. Some of these protocols will make their way verbatim into Benjamin’s Passagen-Werk.

1928 Origins of the German Trauerspiel and One-Way Street are published by Ernst Rowohlt.

1929 The important essay “Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia” is published in four installments in Die Literarische Welt.

1930 Walter and Dora Benjamin are divorced

1932 First stay on Ibiza from April to July.

1933 In March, Benjamin goes into exile in Paris. From April to September he recuperates on Ibiza. Begins working on Berlin Chronicle, the first version of the later A Berlin Childhood Around 1900.

1934 From July to October he visits Brecht’s place of exile, Skovsbostrand in Denmark.

1934/35 Stays in San Remo from October to February. Benjamin becomes a member of the Institute for Social Research. The essay”The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” appears in a French translation in the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung.

1936 Visits Brecht in Denmark for a second time. Under the pseudonym Detlef Holz, Benjamin publishes the collection of letters, Deutsche Menschen (German People), with the Swiss publisher Vita Nova.

1938 Last stay with Brecht in Denmark.

1938/39 Around New Year’s Benjamin meets Adorno for the last time in San Remo

1939 From September to November Benjamin is interned in the Camp des travailleurs volontaires in Nièvre. “Some Motifs in Baudelaire” is published by the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung.

1940 Works on the “Theses on the Philosophy of History” Through the intercession of Max Horkheimer, Benjamin receives an affadavit and visa for the USA. He leaves Paris in June and makes his way to Lourdes. An attempt to flee across the Pyrenees fails. In the border town of Port Bou, Benjamin takes his life with a lethal dose of morphine on 27. September.

1942 Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno edit the omnibus volume Walter Benjamin zum Gedächtnis [To the Memory of Walter Benjamin] in which the Theses on the Philosophy of History first appears.

1955 Theodor W. Adorno and Gretel Adorno edit the two-volume selection of Benjamin’s Schriften for the publisher Suhrkamp.

1972 Publication of the six-volume critical edition of Benjamin’s Gesammelte Schriften [Collected Writings] is begun by Suhrkamp. The final book, Vol. 7: 2, was completed in 1989.

1990s Harvard University buys the copyright from Suhrkamp Verlag for all future English translations of Walter Benjamin’s oeuvre.

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