Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 50, Issue 4, pp 493–516 | Cite as

Presentation as indirection, indirection as schooling: The two aspects of Benjamin’s scholastic method

  • Ori Rotlevy


Why does Walter Benjamin claim “indirection” (Umweg) to be the proper method for philosophical contemplation and writing? Why is this method—embodied, according to Benjamin, in the convoluted form of scholastic treatises and in their use of citations—fundamental for understanding his Origin of German Trauerspiel as suggesting an alternative to most strands of modern philosophy? The explicit and well-studied function of this method is for the presentation of what cannot be represented in language, of what cannot be intended or approached in thinking. Namely, of what Benjamin understands as “truth.” Indeed, as Adorno implied, providing a method for presenting an intentionless reality, rather than for re-presenting the world as corresponding to the mind, is revolutionary. However, I claim that beyond its presentational function, the method of indirection has a further, pedagogical function. Benjamin’s concept of truth requires thinking in a manner that does not impose any exterior form, any conceptual or intuitive intention on truth and the materials in which it might be exhibited. The methodological adoption of digressive and intermittent writing is supposed to transform the way we think, or more accurately, the position (Haltung) from which thinking occurs. By examining Benjamin’s use of pedagogical terms against the backdrop of scholastic history and the Urfigure of modern method, that of Descartes, I show that writing and reading in the form of the tractatus serves as exercise in receding from the subject-position—a position of a subject intending an object—and thus conditions the presentation of intentionless truth.


Walter Benjamin Scholasticism Intentionality Method Truth Disposition 



I wish to thank Naveh Frumer, Michael Jennings and the participants of the “Allegory as a Way of Life” workshop in the Minerva Center for the Humanities in Tel Aviv University for their insightful comments on former versions of this paper. I also thank the Minerva Stiftung Gesellschaft für die Forschung m.b.H. and the Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University for supporting the work on this article.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Minerva Humanities CenterTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael

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