Practicing and Experimenting: On Walter Benjamin’s Method

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In Walter Benjamin’s “Ibizan Sequence,” we find a Denkbild called “Practice” [Übung]. The term  bung can be translated as practice, exercise or even training, and it is not commonly recognizable as a strictly philosophical concept. The abovementioned Denkbild explores the relation between practice and mastery, exemplified by the juggler Rastelli. In this case, exercising is a form of action that erodes the distinction between the voluntary and the involuntary, thus creating a room-for-play [Spielraum] in which the “body and each of his limbs can act in accordance with their own rationality.” This notion of practice/exercise comprises, in Benjamin’s work, a theory of the body and of the creative processes which points to fundamental questions in aesthetics, and it also illuminates important aspects of Benjamin’s philosophical method. In the “Epistemocritical Prologue” of the book on the Trauerspiel, it characterizes the philosophical thought appropriate to understanding artistic forms. “If philosophy is to remain true to the law of its own form, as the presentation of truth and not as a guide to the acquisition of knowledge, then the exercise of this form—rather than its anticipation in the system—must be accorded due importance.” The canonical form of this non-systematic philosophy is the medieval treatise, characterized as digressive, aimed at constructing a mosaic whose pieces are not linked in a causal and deductive way. The goal of the present paper is to show that the “detoured method” of practicing/exercising—and its link with interruption and repetition—runs through Benjamin’s thinking and also plays an important role in several of his essays on art and aesthetics. In this context, the use of such notions as experiment [Experiment], experimental arrangement [Versuchsanordnung] and play [Spiel] show us that his thinking is an unescapable case of experimental thought in the 20th century.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhilosophy as Experimentation, Dissidence and Heterogeneity
EditorsJosé Miranda Justo, Elisabete de Sousa, Fernando Silva
Place of PublicationNewcastle upon Tyne
PublisherCambridge Scholars Publishing
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)978-1-5275-7235-5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Practice/Exercise
  • Interruption
  • Creative Process
  • Room-for-play
  • Experimentation


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