Walter Benjamin and filmmaker Jia Zhangke both use the trope of silence to register a critique of the effects of capitalist development on their respective societies that is fundamentally romantic. For Benjamin and Jia, the strength of the romantic sensibility is its break with more systematic or traditional methods of capitalist critique. Their work is therein more open to the contingencies and possibilities of their historical moments. That silence is a principal trope in their critiques corroborates the open-endedness of their work’s deeply skeptical messages about capitalist modernity. The article examines several texts on silence by Benjamin, including his dispute with Theodor Adorno over critical method in The Arcades Project. Similarly, it considers silence’s role in several key Jia films.

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