chapter  10
26 Pages

Fatalities: Freedom and the Question of Language in Walter Benjamin’s Reading of Tragedy

BySimon Sparks

In his essay on Goethe’s Elective Affinities of 1921, Benjamin stresses the importance of deciding on the place of truth with respect to myth. ‘There is’, he states, ‘no truth, for there is no unambiguity and so not even error in myth’ (I 1:162; SW, 326). Rather, he continues, myth is essentially indifferent to truth. In this essential and destructive indifference-seiner vernichtenden Indifferenz, Benjamin writes-myth comes to be withdrawn from any relation to truth, so much so, in fact, that it altogether destroys the possibility of there even being anything like a truth of myth. ‘As far as the spirit of myth is concerned,’ Benjamin insists, ‘there is properly only a knowledge of it.’ And such knowledge is nothing other than that of myth’s destructive indifference to truth. In this regard, ‘authentic art, authentic philosophy-as distinct from their inauthentic stage, the theurgic-begin [hebt…an] in Greece with the closure [Ausgang] of myth, since neither is any more nor any less based on truth [auf Wahrheit beruht] than the other’ (ibid.). To say that authentic art and authentic philosophy begin with the closure of myth thus means that this closure is also the opening of that upon which the very possibility of such art and such philosophy rests, namely truth itself. To the authentic artists and to the authentic thinkers falls, then, the task of safe-guarding truth against the threat of a disastrous turn back into myth.