Friday, December 16, 2005

Extracts from "Illuminations"

Now grooving with: Dj Tiesto, In My Memory <-- get stub
Note: Link valid only for 21 days.

Hannah Arendt, "Introduction", in Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, tr. Harry Zorn, Pimlico, London, 1999.
(pp. 31-32)
"Moreover, in his attitude to financial problems Benjamin was by no means an isolated case. If anything, his outlook was typical of an entire generation of German-Jewish intellectuals, although no one else fared so badly with it. Its basis was the mentality of the fathers, successful businessmen who did not think too highly of their own achievements and whose dream it was that their sons were destined for higher things. It was the secularized version of the ancient Jewish belief that those who 'learn' - the Torah or the Talmud, that is, God's Law - were the true elite of the people and should not be bothered with so vulgar an occupation as making money or working for it. This is not to say that in this generation there were no father-son conflicts; on the contrary, the literature of the time is full of them, and if Freud had lived and carried on his inquiries in a country and language other than the German-Jewish milieu which supplied his parents, we might never have heard of an Oedipus complex. But as a rule these conflicts were resolved by the sons' laying claim to being geniuses, or, in the case of the numerous Communists from well-to-do homes, to being devoted to the welfare of mankind - in any case, to aspiring to things higher than making money - and the fathers were more than willing to grant that this was a valid excuse for not making a living. Where such claims were not made or recognized, catastrophe was just around the corner. Benjamin was a case in point: his father never recognized his claims, and their relations were extraordinarily bad. Another such case was Kafka, who - possibly because he was really something of a genius - was quite free of the genius mania of his environments, never claimed to be a genius, and ensured his financial independence by taking an ordinary job at the Prague workmen's compensation office. (His relations with his father were of course equally bad, but for different reasons.) And still, no sooner has Kafka taken this position that he saw in it a 'running start for suicides', as though he were obeying an order that says 'You have to earn your grave.' "

"Collecting springs from a variety of motives which are not easily understood. As benjamin was probably the first to emphasize, collecting is the passion of children, for whom things are not yet commodities and are not valued according to their usefulness, and it is also the hobby of the rich, who own enough not to need anything useful and hence can afford to make 'the transfiguration of objects' (Schriften I, 416) their business. In this they must of necessity discover the beatiful, which needs 'disinterested delight' (Kant) to be recognized. At any rate, a collected object possesses only an amateur value and no use value whatever. (Benjamin was not yet aware of the fact that collecting can also be an eminently sound and often ighly profitable form of investment.) And inasmuch as collecting can fasten on any category of objects (not just art objects, which are in any case removed from the everyday world of use objects because they are 'good' for nothing) and thus, as it were, redeeem the object as a thing since it now is no longer a means to an end but has its intrinsic worth, Benjamin could understand the collector's passion as an attitude akin to that of the revolutionary. Like the revolutionary, the collector 'dreams his way not only into a remote of bygone world, but at the same time into a better one in which, to be sure, people are not provided with what they need any more than they are in the everyday world, but in which things are liberated from the drudgery of usefulness' (Schriften I, 416). Collecting is the redemption of this which is to complement the redemption of man. Even the reading of his books is something questionable to a true bibliophile: ' ''And you have read all these?'' Anatole France is said to have ben asked by an admirer of his library. ''Not one-tenth of them. I don't suppose you use your Sevres china every day?'' ' ('Unpacking My Library'). (In Benjamin's library there were collections of rare children's books and of books by mentally deranged authors; since he was interested neither in child psychology not in psyciatry, these books, like many others among his treasures, literally were not good for anything, serving neither to divert nor to instruct.) Closeley connected with this is the fetish charactetr which Benjamin explicitly claimed for collected objects. The value of genuineness which is decisive for the collector as well as for the market determined by him has replace the 'cult value' and is its secularization."


"Have you ever had a dream... that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?"

Early this morning, I dreamt of riding all day in our old 800, with someone who is amongst my favourite thinkers/philosophers. The dream, a day of asking, clarifying, delving; a day of questions, worries, nuances.


Post a Comment

<< Home