Walter Benjamin’s distinction of truth from knowledge in his “Epistemo-Critical Prologue” marks a fundamental break with the truth claims of the empirical sciences, as well as those of any system of philosophy—phenomenological, neo-Kantian, or otherwise—that would be based on conscious cognition. Instead he renders the truth of philosophy as a question of presentation, beginning with one of the most famous propositions of his oeuvre: “It is proper to philosophical writing to stand, with every turn, before the question of presentation anew.” Many commentators have cited this passage, yet few pursue the way Benjamin situates philosophical writing before the question of presentation, thereby suggesting that this question cannot be asked. In this essay, I elaborate the epistemological and ontological consequences of the displacements Benjamin stages between presentation and writing, through an attentive reading to the idioms of his own writerly presentation.
Before Truth: Walter Benjamin’s “Epistemo-Critical Prologue”
kristina mendicino is Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of Humanities and German Studies at Brown University. She is author of Prophecies of Language: The Confusion of Tongues in German Romanticism (2016). She has also published articles on writers such as Bertolt Brecht, Paul Celan, Friedrich Nietzsche, and G. W. F. Hegel.