Baroque Sherlock: Benjamin’s friendship between «criminal and detective» in its fore- and afterlife

Alice Barale


The starting point of this paper is a statement that Benjamin makes in a group of notes he writes for his project of a detective novel (1933). Benjamin writes here that «criminal and detective could be so friends [so befreundet sein] as Sherlock Holmes and Watson». We’ll try to understand the meaning of this statement through the investigation of the detective topic in two moments of its fore and afterlife: its fore life in Benjamin’s meditation on the baroque (why it is so will be apparent shortly) and its after life in Sherlock Holmes’s most recent apparition, in the BBC series Sherlock. One of the most interesting elements of this series is in fact the relationship – which is barely sketched in Conan Doyle’s stories – between Sherlock Holmes and his antagonist, the maths professor Jim Moriarty. We’ll see that in Benjamin’s notes for a detective novel the criminal is not a maths professor but a psychoanalyst. What is the difference, anyway, between professor Moriarty’s knowledge and Sherlock’s knowledge? In fact, we will find out that criminal and detective are closer to one other (more «befreundet») than what we may be induced to think – close but not coincident.


Sherlock Holmes; Walter Benjamin; web; baroque

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