Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Theory and Criticism


Mooney, Kevin

2nd Supervisor

Calcagno, Antonio



This dissertation presents the theory of ideas developed by Walter Benjamin in the “Epistemo-Critical Prologue” of his Trauerspiel book and thereby seeks to fill an existing gap in English-language Benjamin literature. On the one hand, it performs its task by closely reading this thinker’s early, epistemo-linguistic writings up to and including the “Prologue”: most prominently, “On Language as Such,” “The Program of the Coming Philosophy,” “The Concept of Criticism,” and the theoretically inclined sections of “Goethe’s Elective Affinities.” On the other, it does so by positioning Benjamin’s theory of language within existentialist philosophy and by applying his theory of ideas to post-war literary theory. It thus furnishes both a pre-history and a post-history of Benjamin’s theory of ideas. In the course of justifying its approach to Benjamin, the dissertation develops a methodology of “existential writing” and “second reading” whose emphasis falls on the ethical, political, epistemological, and metaphysical dimensions proper to the acts of writing and reading-while-writing. Making use of the Platonic concepts of “bastard reasoning” and “khora” alongside Kant’s transcendental ideas of Soul, Cosmos, and God, the dissertation reaches its end in defining Benjamin’s “idea” as a “non-synthesis” between concept and phenomenon, one accessible only to a linguistic operation of “virtual translation” which is itself a “non-synthesis” between the methods of induction and deduction. Finally, the dissertation argues that art, philosophy, and critique can function as forms of “virtual translations” or “bastard reasonings” only insofar as they have a transcendental, ultimative, and revelatory character.