Author(s): Walter Benjamin
Provides an intimate portrait of Walter Benjamin, venturesome at the end of the Weimar Republic, and of his unique form of thought. This English-language edition features a section of supplementary materials - drawn from Benjamin's essays, letters and sketches - relating to hashish use, as well as a reminiscence by his friend Jean Selz.
Fascinating...On Hashish gives the reader a sense of Benjamin's philosophical method and a tour through the library (and the staggering erudition) that supported it, but also provides some insight into the man himself--his drives, his fears, and his creative process. -- Michael Berk Nextbook 20060516 In search of heightened awareness, Benjamin would eat hashish, smoke opium and get injected with mescaline...Some of his notes (such as the part about giggling) will be familiar to any contemporary stoner, but even when dealing with drugs he surprises his readers...Everything Benjamin wrote, even when the subject is less than pleasant, exudes an almost euphoric spirit. It was as if he wrote as a form of worship, out of gratitude for the chance to live and discover. -- Robert Fulford National Post 20060530 During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the radical thinker and cultural critic Walter Benjamin made a series of experiments with hashish, mescaline and opium...This very welcome collection is the first in English to round up his better-known drug pieces, such as his elliptical account of a hashish-intoxicated evening stroll around the port of Marseilles, and to place them in the context of the related notes, drafts and marginalia that track the course of his elusive and constantly evolving project. This is a very worthwhile venture, and one that produces a book much greater than the sum of its parts. Benjamin's scattershot approach to recording his drug experiences means that there are as many nuggets of brilliance (and as many incomprehensible rambles) in his notes and journal entries as in his finished prose. -- Mike Jay Fortean Times 20060901 [On Hashish is] a miscellany, gathering the protocols of [Benjamin's] drug experiments, two accounts of his experiences, and a handful of references to drugs culled from his other works. It can only begin to suggest the true importance of drug experiences for the development of Benjamin's thought. Yet for this very reason On Hashish stands in the same relation to a more conventional essay on drugs as Benjamin's literary essays do to conventional criticism...What makes On Hashish an important book is that Benjamin's drug experiments not only were a failure in themselves but also shifted the ground beneath his other work in a way that he never fully acknowledged. -- Adam Kirsch New Yorker 20060821 [Benjamin's] drug experiences show once again how singularly committed he was to the program of the avant-garde: overcoming the limitations of the self by subjecting it to an array of pulverizing, Dionysian, ego-transcending influences. -- Richard Wolin The Nation 20061016 Drugs did, mostly, make Benjamin smile, and what could bring smiles to the lips of this proud, gifted and doomed man can't but bring smiles to the reader. There is wonderful writing in this book, much of which illuminates Benjamin's better known, equally suggestive, and no less enigmatic texts. Plus, here, we catch him tapping his foot. And smiling. -- Harvey Blume Jerusalem Report 20061016 Harvard's pocket-sized On Hashish, edited by Howard Eiland, brings together everything that Benjamin ever wrote on the subject. It includes notes by him and his friends about the drug protocols and two essays. One of Benjamin's solitary experiments ended up as the basis for 'Hashish in Marseilles,' an essay that begins with him sitting in his hotel waiting for the drug to hit and then follows him around the streets. At points along the way, he giggles at his own jokes, has paranoid thoughts, feels the immensity of his solitude, and gets hungry. A piece of ice brings enormous pleasure; Pate de Lyon reminds him of the words 'Lion paste'; the name of a boat in the harbor makes him think of aerial warfare; and he passes two men on the street who remind him of Dante and Petrarch. -- Eric Bulson Times Literary Supplement 20070420 Benjamin's work continues to fascinate and delight because it has something for everyone: the literary critic, art historian, philosopher, urban theorist and architect. Whether he is talking about children's toys, Mickey Mouse, Surrealism, photography, or Kafka, Benjamin has a knack for figuring out what they can tell us about the wider world that produced them. -- Eric Bulson Times Literary Supplement 20070420
Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was the author of many works of literary and cultural analysis. Howard Eiland teaches literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Marcus Boon is Associate Professor of English, York University, Toronto.