“Rosa’s Casket: Walter Benjamin’s ‘Toward a Critique of Violence’”

Friday, September 15, 2023 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Sterling Library, 301 York Street, Room CTL 120-A


This presentation argues that Walter Benjamin’s 1921 essay, “Toward a Critique of Violence,” is organized around the missing body of Rosa Luxemburg. Benjamin’s entire reflection on violence takes the form of an afterimage of her murder. Her body and work get dispersed across other names and figures—minimally, she appears in the guise of the “great criminal,” Sorel, Niobe, and, in another kind of plurality, the company of Korah and a counterpoint to Kurt Hiller—and, in doing so, she becomes a shifting frame through which we can read Benjamin’s simultaneously abstract and concrete, but always elusive treatment of violence.

Eduardo Cadava is Philip Mayhew Professor of English at Princeton University. He is the author of Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of HistoryEmerson and the Climates of History, and, most recently, Paper Graveyards. He has co-edited Who Comes After the SubjectCities Without Citizens, and The Itinerant Languages of Photography.

Sara Nadal-Melsió is presently Writer-in-Residence at the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia. She is co-author of Alrededor de / Around, and the editor of two special issues on cinema, The Invisible Tradition: Avant-Garde Catalan Cinema under Late Francoism and The Militant Image: Temporal Disturbances of the Political Imagination. Her book Europe and the Wolf: Political Variations on a Musical Concept is forthcoming from Zone Books.