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German ExpressionismDer Blaue Reiter and its Legacies$
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Dorothy Price

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781526121622

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7765/9781526121639

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Type/Face: Wassily Kandinsky and Walter Benjamin on language and perception

Type/Face: Wassily Kandinsky and Walter Benjamin on language and perception

(p.123) 6 Type/Face: Wassily Kandinsky and Walter Benjamin on language and perception
German Expressionism

Annie Bourneuf

Manchester University Press

This chapter wagers that situating Walter Benjamin's early writings on language in conversation with Wassily Kandinsky’s in Der Blaue Reiter and Concerning the Spiritual in Art may elucidate Benjamin's hermetic and fragmentary texts. It therefore constructs a dialogue between Kandinsky's writings, which Benjamin read and admired, and Benjamin's rethinking of the relation between language and perception in the late 1910s and early 1920s. It argues that Benjamin's philosophy of language may draw on procedures Kandinsky proposed for defamiliarizing words – for perceiving them as if they were incomprehensible, divorcing them from what Kandinsky calls their ‘practical-instrumental meaning’. Kandinsky speaks of two methods for this: saying a word repeatedly and viewing the form of a letter as a ‘thing’, an arrangement of lines. However, whereas Kandinsky argues for the expressive power of the visual shape of written language, seeing it as something like a living human body communicating emotion through its gestures, Benjamin sees what he calls the word's ‘skeleton’ as expressionless in the extreme. Benjamin both takes on Kandinsky's ideas and turns them upside down: like Kandinsky, Benjamin too imagines the graphic shapes of letters as anthropomorphic, but does so in order to emphasize their deathly expressionlessness.

Keywords:   Wassily Kandinsky, Walter Benjamin, philosophy of language

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