I had a look at Hannah Arendt's introduction to Illuminations - a collection of essays by Benjamin translated into English - for the first time today, and was shocked to find what, in my view, must be one of the worst interpretations of Benjamin I've ever seen. It's quite legitimate to start, as she does, with a criticism of Adorno's misunderstanding of Benjamin's intentions in the essay on Baudelaire. Part of Adorno's well-known criticism is that Benjamin's attempt to relate elements of the superstructure directly to “corresponding elements in the substructure” was crude and "undialectical", too reminiscent of vulgar Marxism, and failed to do justice to Benjamin's own insights. By immersing himself in the "wide-eyed presentation of mere facts" - such as barricades or the duty on wine - his study ended up "at the crossroads of magic and positivism", a "bewitched" spot from which the way the elements were "mediated" disappeared from view (letter from Adorno to Benjamin, 10 November 1938).
Arendt defends Benjamin, saying that, yes, he was truly not a good Marxist (“the most peculiar Marxist ever produced by this movement”). She then proceeds to explain that Benjamin’s thinking was “poetical” and “metaphorical”, and that that was why he delighted in material facts. Such facts were metaphors which served to bring out truth.
He had no trouble understanding the theory of the superstructure as the final doctrine of metaphorical thinking – precisely because without much ado and eschewing all ‘mediations’ he directly related the superstructure to the so-called ‘material’ substructure, which to him meant the totality of sensually experienced data. He evidently was fascinated by the very thing that the others branded as ‘vulgar-Marxist’ or ‘undialectical’ thinking. (p.20)So she rebuts Adorno by claiming that Benjamin’s way of seeing the relationship between superstructure and substructure was a metaphorical one. “Metaphors", she explains, "are the means by which the oneness of the world is poetically brought about”. She then proceeds to compare Benjamin to Heidegger, stressing how "close" they were or how much they had “in common” (p. 50, 53). For instance, they both shared the view that truth resided in language and “understood language as an essentially poetical phenomenon” (p. 54).