Figurations and interlocutions: the feminine question in Walter Benjamin’s oeuvre


Even though he was a philosopher, not a poet, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) thought poetically, says Hannah Arendt about his friend and life-long correspondent. Indeed, in his vast and heterogenous oeuvre, published mostly posthumously, Benjamin undeniably operates in a poetic fashion, gathering diverse materials with which he builds metaphors and invents narratives that are intimately intertwined with theoretical-conceptual elements. In his oeuvre, the feminine appears through recurrent images whose meaning may vary according to the context, in different figurations and fictions. In agreement with these fictional figurations, one of his first essays presents the question of what a feminine culture or a feminine language would be (Metaphysik der Jugend, GS, II, I, 1977). However, in spite of playing an important role in many of Benjamin’s texts, this thematic and metaphorical complex has not been sufficiently explored by specialized criticism yet.

On the other hand, if the first reception of Benjamin’s work privileged his friendships with Theodor Adorno, Gerschom Scholem and Bertolt Brecht, the publication of his vast and intense correspondence with Gretel Adorno, as well as recent discoveries of Hannah Arendt’s role in the conservation of important versions of manuscripts, published only posthumously, such as the so-called “Theses on Philosophy of History”, draw attention to the importance of these and other women interlocutors for the constitution and conservation of his thought. In this sense, it seems meaningful to us that Benjamin had dedicated three important texts to women with whom he corresponded throughout his life: to the sculptor and friend Jula Cohn, he dedicates “Goethe’s elective affinities” (1922); to the translator Dora Sophia Pollak, to whom he was married, he dedicates The origin of German Tragic Drama (1925); to the actress and theatrical director Asja Lacis, with whom he fell in love, he dedicates One-way street (1926). Therefore, aiming at broadening the interpretative scope of Benjamin’s oeuvre, we invite researchers within the field to think of the figurations of the feminine question as well as the role of women interlocutors and correspondents in Benjamin’s intellectual life.

Feminine figures such as the prostitute, the mother, the grandmother on the mother’s side, the lesbian, Sappho, among others, appear in Benjamin’s oeuvre since the so-called period of youth, for instance in “The Metaphysics of Youth” (1913/1914), until his later works, as in the essays on Baudelaire (1939), in The Arcades Project (1935-40), and all through One-way street (1926), Berlin Childhood around 1900 (1933-35), and Thought-Images (1925-35). In this perspective, the classes that Benjamin attended during the summer of 1913, taught by the neo-Kantian philosopher Heinrich Rickert, which approached the feminine as an axiological sphere of his System of Values, as well as the contact with Bachofen’s Matriarchy (1861), constitute, no doubt, the historical background for the feminine question in the Benjaminian corpus. On Bachofen – indirectly quoted in the Elective affinities’ essay regarding Goethe’s Otilia and directly quoted in the essay on Kafka (1934) –, Benjamin writes an article in 1935. Moreover, we should not forget the Saint-Simonian Claire Démar, author of My law of the future (Ma loi d’avenir, 1834) who, says Benjamin, anticipates the image of the heroic woman in Baudelaire.

This dossier invites articles that can unfold figurations of the feminine in Benjamin’s work and/or explore the intellectual implications of Walter Benjamin’s friendships and interlocutions with women. If Benjaminian thought gives potency to the past by finding the obliviousness that constitutes ourselves as present, this dossier learns its method from such a thought when it frames what remains in obliviousness in Benjamin’s oeuvre itself: the feminine figures – either historical or metaphorical – and their relationships with language, with the erotic, temporality, arts and politics.


Dossier organizers:


Isabela Pinho, PhD

Patrícia Lavelle, adjunct professor at PUC-Rio


Deadline for submission: 01/07/2020


Norms to be followed in submitted works:

Papers must have a maximum of 20 pages in the following format: A4, Word

document, Times New Roman 12 font, "normal style" or "body text", single line

spacing, justified paragraphs, and margins of 3 cm, avoiding the use of advanced

editing features such as outline and the like.

All papers must present: title and abstract in Portuguese and English, with a maximum of 200 words; keywords in both languages. Authors: should not be identified anywhere in the text of the article (double blind peer-review system).

The author's mini-biography, institutional affiliation and e-mail address must be informed in the submission form, not in the body of the text.

Illustrations: charts, tables, drawings, maps etc. should be numbered and titled as close as possible to the element to which it refers, indicating its source. Image reproduction rights must be obtained by the authors themselves.


Citations: for citations in the text should be adopted the numerical system (NBR 10520: 2002). The indication of the source is made by single and consecutive numbering, in Arabic numerals, with the footnote being referenced by the complete reference in the first mention, and must contain Author's last name (followed by a comma), first names (followed by a period); Title of the work in bold (followed by period); editing (followed by period); local (followed by colon); editor (followed by a comma); year of publication (followed by period); if applicable, indicate the volume or issue) and finally the source page. In the second mention Surname of the author (followed by comma); first names (followed by a comma); op.cit. (in the cited work); source page. When the notes of the same author are in sequence, the Latin expressions can be used, followed by the page number quoted. A) apud: second-hand citation; cf: confronting refers to; ibid in the same work cited (same author, same work, but different pages); id same author (same author, same work, same page); op.cit. in the work cited. Short direct quotes (up to three lines) must be enclosed in quotation marks and incorporated into the text and without changing the font. Long citations (more than three lines) must have a 4 cm indentation of the left margin, with lower letter than the used text (11 point size) and without quotation marks. Indirect citations should come without quotation marks. Quotes of citations may use the expression apud and the original work to which the consulted author is referring must be cited. For other information about the use of citations, the author should consult ABNT (NBR 10520: 2002).


References: must be presented in alphabetical order. Bibliographical references should be elaborated according to the provisions of NBR 6023: 2002, of the Brazilian Association of Technical Standards (ABNT), with only essential elements.


Bibliographic Reference Model of book:

SURNAME, Name of the author; SURNAME, Name of the author. Book title: book subtitle. Edition. Location: Publisher, year. Xx p.

Bibliographic reference model of book available online:

SURNAME, Name of the author; SURNAME, Name of the author. Book title: book subtitle. Edition. Location: Publisher, year. Xx p. Available in. Access in: DD / MM / YYYY.

Bibliographic reference model of article published in periodical:

SURNAME, Name of the author; SURNAME, Name of the author. Title of the article. Name of the journal, City, v.00, n.11, p.111-222, jan. 2012.

Bibliographic reference model of an article published in a periodical available online:

SURNAME, Name of the author; SURNAME, Name of the author. Title of the article. Name of the journal, City, v.00, n.11, p.111-222, jan. 2012. Available in: Access in DD / MM / YYYY.