This essay proposes a reading of Walter Benjamin’s attempt to develop a historical materialist critique of phenomenological theories of time, including those of Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Edmund Husserl. In the Arcades Project, these theories of time—which Benjamin describes as different accounts of “primal history”—are characterized as the historical products of industrial capitalism as a particular mode of production. Drawing on Marx’s analysis of the contradiction between the relations and forces of production, Benjamin identifies factory labor and crises in industrial capitalism as historically determinate forms of experience (Erlebnis) that paradoxically expose the process through which time—and thus history—is originarily constituted or temporalized.

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