The essay begins by showing that Benjamin had a diffuse yet intense interest in Chinese thought and literature during his student years, when he read and discussed a range of Chinese texts, from Laozi’s to Gu Hongming’s. The culmination of his youthful studies of China occurs with his critical reception of Jan de Groot’s Universism, which provides him with the nucleus of his later essay “Doctrine of the Similar.” The essay concludes with an analysis of Benjamin’s 1934 essay on Kafka, in which he sketches the outlines of a revised “universism” that gains historical density insofar as the “universe” is assaulted by a “pre-universe.” The essay concludes with the suggestions that Benjamin’s work on technical reproducibility is directed to a radically revised “universism.”

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