More from Walter Benjamin’s ‘Illuminations’: Hannah Arendt’s Introduction

From the Introduction by Hannah Arendt to Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations (Schocken, 1969, 2007 printing):

“For him the size of an object was in an inverse relationship to its significance. And this passion, far from being a whim, derived directly from the only world view that ever had a decisive influence on him, from Goethe’s conviction of the factual existence of an Urphänomen, an archetypal phenomenon, a concrete thing to be discovered in the world of appearances in which ‘significance’ and appearance, word and thing, idea and experience, would coincide. The smaller the object, the more likely it seemed that it could contain in the most concentrated form everything else…” (11-12)

“Metaphors are the means by which the oneness of the world is poetically brought about. What is so hard to understand about Benjamin is that without being a poet he thought poetically and therefore was bound to regard the metaphor as the greatest gift of language. Linguistic ‘transference’ enables us to give material form to the invisible – ‘A mighty fortress is our God’ – and thus to render is capable of being experienced.” (14)

Benjamin on the discovery of the modern function of quotations (p. 38):
“Quotations in my works are like robbers by the roadside who make an armed attack an relieve an idler of his convictions.” (Schriften I, 571)

Back to Arendt:

“I have already mentioned that collecting was Benjamin’s central passion:. It started early with what he himself called his ‘bibliomania’ but soon extended into something far more characteristic, not so much of the person as of his work: the collecting of quotations. Not that he ever stopped collecting books…)” (39)

“Collecting springs from a variety of motives which are not easily understood. As Benjamin was 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 beautiful, which need ‘disinterested delight’ (Kant) to be recognized.” (42)

“For Benjamin to quote is to name, and naming rather than speaking, the word rather than the sentence, brings truth to light.” (49)


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