Sean Franzel’s “Toward an Anti-Monumental Literary-Critical Style: Notes on Benjamin and Jean Paul” appears in Telos 159 (Summer 2012). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.
This essay— modest notes rather than a systematic exploration of the problem of critical style— examines certain striking similarities between the critical vocabularies of Jean Paul and Walter Benjamin. In rejecting heroic conceptions of individual authorship, both writers treat the personal lives of literary figures as phenomena of larger significance, and both seek to undermine metaphors of monumentality. Through readings of Jean Paul’s 1804 Vorschule der Ästhetik (School of Aesthetics) and Benjamin’s pseudonymously published 1936 anthology Deutsche Menschen (German Men and Women), this essay argues that both writers remind us of the decidedly human sides of literary and critical life: of the weaknesses and limitations of this life, that is to say, as well as its potential for ethical direction.