This article gives a critical account of the prevailing interpretation of Walter Benjamin's “Critique of Violence” essay. It argues that the position Benjamin's essay defends regarding violence is not cogent within the terms of the essay itself and that the opaque formulations of this essay can be explained only when more substantial works of Benjamin are taken into account. Benjamin's contemporaneous essay “Goethe's Elective Affinities” is used to elucidate the reasoning behind his view that divine violence provides an escape from myth's forces of totalization. Recent scholarship on Benjamin's essay on violence replaces the category and functions of divine violence with an amorphous conception of language. Under the category of “infinite language” recent commentators defend the very characteristics of formless totality that the essay on violence excoriates, and they do so as if Benjamin venerated these characteristics. This article shows that the presuppositions of such readings are antithetical to the concerns of Benjamin's early work.

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