Consolation of philosopy

Exemplarity of character and objects as a source of comfort in the works of Walter Benjamin and Maria Zambrano


  • Karolina Enquist Källgren Institutionen för kultur och estetik, Stockholms universitet


Consolation of philosophy, Walter Benjamin, Maria Zambrano, letters of consolation, exempla, exile


This article examines a part of a modern history of the consolation of philosophy, as it is expressed in the works of German philosopher Walter Benjamin and Spanish philosopher María Zambrano. It is argued that both belonged to an emotional community that was formed around the experience of exile from WWII and the Spanish Civil War, and in which the consolation of philosophy was thematized. Against interpretations of consolation in modern literature that emphasizes the unspeakability of sorrow, and the reemplacement of consolation for ongoing mourning, I argue that in the works of the two authors we find a notion of consolation of philosophy that places redemption in the future, but consolation in the now. Through an analysis of their letters from exile, as well as essays and other publications, I show how consolation was connected to certain therapeutic devices such as philosophizing, publishing, representing the exemplarity of character and collecting, and how these connected individual and present suffering with a universal history allowing for redemption in the future. It was this connection that allowed for the transformation of emotional state involved in consolation. Finally I argue that consolation in the now was possible because of a fundamental conviction of the possibility of communication beyond historical and personal circumstance.