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Article Review: “The Philosopher Stoned” by Adam Kirsch


In his article The Philosopher Stoned, Adam Kirsch describes Walter Benjamin, his way of life, views, ambitions, and the influence of drugs on his mentality. The author explores certain life periods of Benjamin, observes the progression of his character, and also tries to emphasize his book On Hashish. Kirsch shows how Benjamin’s experience with drugs affected his vision on life and its aspects and why his On Hashish book is so important.

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Drug experiments

The author does not deny that there is nothing strange in Benjamin’s encounter with hashish, considering his nature and interests. Kirsch is surprised it took Ben so long to try it. Despite participating in drug sessions, Benjamin still viewed drugs as something worth experimenting with. When Walter wrote On Hashish, he did not treat it as something truly exceptional. On the contrary, it was a simple collection of his various drug experiences and references to drugs. Perhaps this book was important because it served as a start for discovering the significance of Benjamin’s experiments with drugs.

Depiction of Benjamin’s views

Kirsch goes deeper into describing Benjamin’s early years of achievement, noting that those were considered as the dark days of Europe (Kirsch par.6). Born in a rich Jewish family, Benjamin did not want to follow his father’s ways and hoped for a career of academic. He opposed the war and had no shame in finding ways to avoid military service. By simulating a heart attack, Benjamin managed to spend the rest of the war at the University of Bern in Switzerland. His friend, Gershom Scholem, shared his views about war and his academic ambitions, but not about Judaism. The funny thing is that Benjamin’s knowledge of Judaism was no bigger than that of Gershom.

Benjamin’s academic career ended up as a total failure. The examiners rejected his dissertation, stating that they could not understand a single page. His parents were not willing to help him, so it was just a matter of time until he turned from an academic philosopher into a cultural critic.

The author indicates the inability of Benjamin’s criticism to earn a large audience. Nevertheless, his desire for becoming the foremost critic of Germany has not reduced in a slightest. Kirsch also narrates about Benjamin’s acceptance of art without aura and his bizarre interpretation of Marxism. His way of accepting Marxism was welcomed by some of his friends (Brecht), and rejected by others (Scholem). However, Benjamin has never joined the Communist Party, despite being unhappy about it. He projected his visions of Marxism into the book called The Arcades Project. Alas, that book would not be completed even if he had enough time. Various time constraints combined with a rejection from his last sponsor ruined the ideological basis of his creation.


Adam Kirsch explains in what way On Hashish resembles The Arcades Project. Just like The Arcades Project, his On Hashish book served as a placeholder and a reminder of a book he could never finish. The importance of On Hashish lies not in the failure of his drug experiments, but in setting the ground for his further works. Under the influence of hashish, Benjamin’s perception of things drastically changed. He was confident that names and things rhythm together and can reveal new reality to us. His aspiration for discovering such mystic language has probably overridden the likelihood of it being nothing more than a fantasy. What the author tries to explain is that Benjamin was trying to create meanings, rather than perceive them and that despite the bizarreness of his works, they are still beautiful in a way that all of them are parts of one great poem.


Kirsch, Adam. “The Philosopher Stoned.” The New Yorker 2006. Web.

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