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Howard Eiland

February 13, 2020 @ 7:00 pm

City Lights in conjunction with the Program in Critical Theory at the University of California at Berkeley present an evening with Howard Eiland

celebrating two new books

Origin of the German Trauerspiel – by Walter Benjamin – (Tr. Howard Eiland) – published by Harvard University Press


Notes on Literature, Film, and Jazz – by Howard Eiland – published by Sputen Duyvil

about Origin of the German Trauerspiel

Origin of the German Trauerspiel was Walter Benjamin’s first full, historically oriented analysis of modernity. Readers of English know it as “The Origin of German Tragic Drama,” but in fact the subject is something else―the play of mourning. Howard Eiland’s completely new English translation, the first since 1977, is closer to the German text and more consistent with Benjamin’s philosophical idiom.

Focusing on the extravagant seventeenth-century theatrical genre of the trauerspiel, precursor of the opera, Benjamin identifies allegory as the constitutive trope of the Baroque and of modernity itself. Allegorical perception bespeaks a world of mutability and equivocation, a melancholy sense of eternal transience without access to the transcendentals of the medieval mystery plays―though no less haunted and bedeviled. History as trauerspiel is the condition as well as subject of modern allegory in its inscription of the abyssal.

Benjamin’s investigation of the trauerspiel includes German texts and late Renaissance European drama such as Hamlet and Calderón’s Life Is a Dream. The prologue is one of his most important and difficult pieces of writing. It lays out his method of indirection and his idea of the “constellation” as a key means of grasping the world, making dynamic unities out of the myriad bits of daily life. Thoroughly annotated with a philological and historical introduction and other explanatory and supplementary material, this rigorous and elegant new translation brings fresh understanding to a cardinal work by one of the twentieth century’s greatest literary critics.

about Notes on Literature, Film, and Jazz

Weaving through a host of “classic” texts—literary, cinematic, and musical—these notes of a close reader set up echoes and reflections across signature moments.

Howard Eiland’s Notes on Literature, Film, and Jazz is a highly erudite and courageous inquiry into the arts. It addresses a dissident force in art while discussing an impressively diverse range of works and ideas in literature, film, and jazz. For instance: Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Jane Austen mix with Dickens and Kafka; Carl Dreyer intersects with Mizoguchi, Bresson, Lynch, and Madden; Eric Dolphy and Cecil Taylor process Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. In a quasi-musical way, Notes interweaves elements within and between works—elements that open onto the unknown in an utterly questioning and self-questioning way. Eiland’s eloquent writing itself exemplifies this “aesthetic,” if it may be called that; the writing is enthralling in its capacity to challenge both the works examined and those who would assess them. Notes focuses on those energies in art that enact image spaces and spatiotemporal alterations in which life is never quite what it seems to be. This extraordinarily original book will interest all concerned with broad implications of developments in literature, film, and jazz.

Howard Eiland is a critic and translator. He received the 2011 James A. and Ruth Levitan Prize for Excellence in Teaching. He is the co-author, with Michael W. Jennings, of the first English-language biography of Walter Benjamin, an influential German writer who died in 1940 while in flight from the Nazis. He co-edited three volumes of Benjamin’s Selected Writings and co-translated Benjamin’s massive Arcades Project, and he has also translated Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood around 1900, his On Hashish, and his Early Writings: 1910-1917. His recent publications include work on film and jazz. Current projects are “Walter Benjamin’s Jewishness” and “Education as Awakening.”


February 13, 2020
7:00 pm


City Lights Bookstore
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City Lights
261 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94133 United States
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