Moscow – Berlin – Paris: Walter Benjamin’s “Neue Optik”

In the second half of the 1920s, Walter Benjamin lived in and traveled to various cultural and political centers in Europe: Berlin, Moscow, and Paris. After his return from the Soviet Union in 1927, he named his output “Neue Optik,” a kind of inverted or double perspective on Western Europe. Here, Benjamin tested the method, strategies, and style of an intercultural criticism. On the one hand, this approach takes shape in thematic reference to phenomena of transfer of knowledge and cultural practices. On the other hand, it forms through a methodical situation between cultural practices out of their ongoing alternating illumination. It is thus a critique of (nationally localized) cultures of critique. Benjamin observed, examined, and criticized forms of writing, media, and institutions as well as individual actors of intercultural mediation processes between the Soviet, German, and French spaces: propaganda cards, French travel reports on the Soviet Union, publishing and translation programs, friendship associations, academic knowledge transfer, and national literary histories, film reviews, feuilleton style landscapes, and (national) field definitions of intellectuals.

This dissertation project is based on Benjamin’s articles on cultural politics, reviews, city images, notes, and diaries. Benjamin will be examined less as an intercultural mediator, but rather as a critic of intercultural mediation processes. The methodological-political positioning of his intercultural critique or transnational optics turn into a case study on how the politicization of intellectuals and intellectual positions of the time intertwined with the renegotiation of cultural, political, social, and institutional practices and imaginaries of a European space. What needs to be clarified are the ways in which interculturality, political dimensions, or cultures of critique as well as imaginaries of the European interact for Benjamin and how, starting from the traces of his Moscow experiences in his critique of Surrealism, become the basis for his cultural-theoretical and historical-philosophical theorization in the 1930s.

Fig. above: Detail from the map “The Victory of October and its Importance in the World” [Победа октября и его мировое значение], Moskva: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo, Otdel voennoj literatury, 1928.
Source: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division,

Oxford Fellowship 2021–2022
Head researcher(s): Sophia Buck


07 Jul 2022 – 09 Jul 2022

Walter Benjamin in the East – Networks, Conflicts, and Reception

Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Aufgang B, 3. Et.

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25 Mar 2022 · 3.30 pm

Sophia Buck: Journalistische Form. Walter Benjamin als Produzent einer Europa-Kritik

Freie Universität Berlin, Otto-von-Simson-Str. 26, 14195 Berlin, Seminarzentrum, Raum L115 (Silberlaube)

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12 Nov 2021

Sophia Buck: Moskau – Berlin – Paris: Walter Benjamin als Kritiker interkultureller Vermittlungsprozesse

Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Haus der Universität, Schadowplatz 14, 40212 Düsseldorf

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