Volume 24, Issue 1, Fall 2019
Walter Benjamin's Theory of Fortune
This study of Walter Benjamin’s ‘theory of fortune,’ understood as a contribution to the ‘theory of events,’ focuses on a detailed reading of a notebook entry from 1932, published under the title ‘Practice.’ In that note Benjamin cites one ordinary example of a ‘fortunate event’: you lose an object, look for it, fail to find it, forget about it; later on, you look for a second object and find the first one. Benjamin describes this event, the finding of an object that you are no longer looking for, as an event that can be attributed to your hand. The concept of a “remnant volition” determines the singular sense in which, in this example, you still wanted to find the first object, although the volition to do so was not active when you were looking for the second object. A volition can be remnant, generally speaking, when it is disjoined from the agent’s anticipation of its fulfillment. Thus, a fortunate event is the fulfillment of a remnant volition by an agent’s body, and practice is a form of activity that makes this possible, for it allows an agent’s will to “abdicate in favor of the body.” In my reading of this notebook entry I contrast Benjamin’s account of practice to Aristotle’s; I argue (by way of Benveniste) for a reactivation of the concept of ‘lucre’; and I determine the relevance of this account to Benjamin’s (and our) understanding of Proust’s theory of ‘aesthetic commitment.’ I also consider some implications of this odd conceptual construction for the philosophy of action.