walter benjamin’s archive. images, texts, signs. apuntes

Resúmenes y apuntes de lectura

Verso publicó Walter Benjamin’s Archive. Images, Texts and Signs (en inglés) por primera vez en 2007. Compuesta por 13 ensayos breves, la reedición en formato de bolsillo de 2015 ofrece una visión panorámica del archivo del autor alemán, de sus manuscritos, notas, cartas, diagramas, fotografías y otros documentos. Debido a que —extrañamente— la publicación no indica el número de las páginas, aquí se optó por presentar los fragmentos recuperados, agrupados en cinco categorías, con una letra entre paréntesis que identifica el capítulo al que originalmente pertenecen.

Chapters
p: Preface
a: Tree of Conscientiousness. Benjamin as Archivist
b: Scrappy Paperwork – Collecting and Dispersal
c: From Small to Smallest Details – Micrographies
d: Physiognomy of the Thingworld -Russian Toys
e: Opinions et pensées – His Son’s Words and Turns of Phrase
f: Daintiest Quarters – Notebooks
g: Travel Scenes – Picture Postcards
h: A Bow Being Bent – Composing, Building, Weaving
i: Constellations – Graphic Forms
j: Rag Picking – The Arcades Project
k: Past Turned Space -Arcades and Interiors
l: Hard Nuts to Crack – Riddles, Brainteasers, Word Games
n: Sibyls – Mosaics in Siena

History
“Epic and rhapsodic in the strictest sense, genuine memory must therefore yield an image of the person who remembers, in the same way a good archaeological report not only inform us about the strata from which its findings originate, but also gives an account of the strata which first had to be broken through”. (p)

Archive
“Benjamin’s concept of the archive, however, differs from that of the institutionalized archives (…). Order, efficiency, completeness, and objectivity are the principles of archival work. In contrast to this, Benjamin’s archives reveal the passions of the collector”. (p)

“On the basis of this inventory, the life and writing of Benjamin can be traced in model form.
The inventory comprises thirty groups. Predominant amongst them is correspondence but there are also headings for manuscripts by others, personal and business documents, and his own writings. His writings are classified according to thematic aspects relating to content, as well as partly in relation to their written format (‘printed’, ‘only in handwriting’, ‘type-written’). The arrangement is systematic, ‘but according to a surprising coherence that is incomprehensible to the profane’.
Measured against any conventional system, Benjamin’s ordering appears distorted, affected by subjective memories and meanings”. (a)

“Through all of this careful ordering and classification of his papers, the compilation of bibliographic catalogs, the list of themes and books, the collection of excerpts and notes, a mode of work is documented, which aims at something more than mere securing and stock-taking of knowledge. Benjamin’s archive represents a reserve of drafts, thoughts, and quotations. And yet what is collected is not only supposed to be held is safekeeping: it is also to be used productively and grounded in the present”. (a)

Rag picking – rubbish collector – Marginal, homeless thoughts
“Benjamin’s sympathy for the figure of the of the rubbish collector permits a view of the great unfinished Arcades Project as ‘Rag Picking’, a practice committed to salvaging everything that is disregarded by history”. (p)

“Peculiar to the collector is a ‘relationship to objects which does not emphasized their functional, utilitarian value —that is their usefulness— but studies and loves them as the scene, the stage of their fate’. Benjamin designates the true passion of the collector as ‘anarchistic, destructive’. He affiliates fidelity to the thing with ‘the willfully subversive protest against the typical, classifiable’”. (p)

“Everything is held together by the genius of the collector, who regarded being at home in marginal areas as the characteristic of the modern research”. (p)

“The world of experiences and things familiar to childhood, including his own memory of these, apparently trivial and marginal themes, the small format of the gloss, thesis, miniatures, puzzles, reports, and aphorisms -all these are manifestations of the small thematized over and over again in Benjamin’s work (…). His aesthetics of the small is aimed at the particular, which ‘carries the whole in miniature form’. Only ‘in the analysis of the small individual moment’ might the ‘crystal of the total event’ be discovered”. (c)

“‘Here we have a man whose job it is to gather the day’s refuse in the capital. Everything that the big city has thrown away, everything it has lost, everything it has scorned, everything it has crushed underfoot he catalogues and collects. He collates the annals of intemperance, the capharnaum of waste. He sorts things out and selects judiciously: he collects like a miser guarding a treasure, refuse which will assume the shape of useful or gratifying objects between the jaws of the goddess of Industry.’ This description is one extended metaphor for the poetic method, as Baudelaire practised. Ragpicker and poet: both are concerned with refuse”. (j)

“And Benjamin also recognized himself in the figure of the ragman o ragpicker. Benjamin underlined the words ‘everything it has crushed underfoot he catalogues and collects.’ (…). The archival work of the ragpicker is related to his own: The Arcades Project wishes to picked up the refuse of history. Like a poor or burdened man cleverly picking through the rubbish of the previous day, the materialist historian selects from amongst all that is disregarded and from the residues of history”. (j)

Design
“Graphic forms are considered here as ‘Constellations’; spatial, bi-polar, or elliptical ordering, in which concepts or figures of thought exist in charged relationships with each other”. (p)

“In exile, it would seem, economic need dictated that everything he got his hands on be used (or re-used): the reverse sides of letters sent to him, postcards or an invitation to review, library forms, travel tickets, proofs, an advertisement for ‘S. Pellegrino’, prescription pads discarded from his friend Fritz Fränkel, doctor and drugs connoisseur. The formats are fascinating: some scraps are no bigger than 4.5cm x 9cm. But Benjamin was able to utilize every last square millimeter. And he left behind a wealth of compressed sheets, notes, scraps, on which his great work unfolds richly detailed”. (b)

“Benjamin’s handwriting does not develop in a uniform way. It varies. It is almost always precise and fine; even in notes that were intended only for his own eyes he rarely renounce ‘definition or accuracy’. In spite of density of the script, the compressing together of signs in the smallest space, he hardly ever wrote carelessly”. (c)

“The spatial density of what is written corresponds to the economy of expression, a precise, laconic style. In this is expressed and ethic of ‘creative modesty typical of the person who lives wholly inside his subject and who is utterly incapable of viewing it complacently from the outside’”. (c)

“The inclusion of images changes the status of the text, prompting a reciprocal effect. The interplay of text, documentary images, and image captions was an important element of the publication for Benjamin”. (d)

“Benjamin often applied much care to the graphic form, the physical arrangement, of his manuscripts. While he worked extremely carefully on the structure and layout of his essays and books, equally important to him were the proportions and the structure of the page. Part of the writing’s sense of form involved the need to create something for the eye to do. Topographical relationships, spatial organization, optical alignments and divisions are not only apparent on the drafts and the pages that include calligraphic elements. Countless scraps and sheets in bequest are evidence of sensibility attuned to graphic elements, spatial dimensions, and design. Such deployment of graphic figurativeness is one of the characteristics of Benjamin’s writings”. (i)

Writing
“Benjamin’s mode of working is marked by the techniques of archiving, collecting, and constructing. Excerpts, transpositions, cuttings-out, montaging, sticking, cataloguing and sorting appear to him to be the true activities of an author. His inspiration is inflamed by the richness of materials. Images, documents, and perceptions reveal their secrets to the look that is thorough enough. Benjamin was interested in the incidental. He loved to think in marginal areas, in order to push out from there to the center; he liked to use the phrase ‘most central’. His capacity for immersion and his preparedness to make connections allowed him to discover essential things in details. Fragments recombined into new things; this researcher converted them into something distinctive”. (p)

“When an idea occurred to him he did not delay its writing down by seeking out the right piece of paper, but rather used the nearest suitable thing at hand. In this way key thoughts are fixed in passing, “scrawled down”, often on the margins of other works or directly interleaved in them”. (b).

“Benjamin repeatedly treated the elements of his texts according to the principle of building blocks: he copied them out, cut them out, stocked them on new sheets of paper, and arranged the anew, long before such procedures became established in electronic word-processing under the name “copy and paste”. (b)

“Benjamin’s notebooks are a special case. Their owner devoted an unusually great amount of attention to them. Indeed, he promoted a cult around them. First and foremost this applied to the high value that he assigned to their features (format, cover, binding, paper, etc.). But it was also true of their mode of usage and their wandering possession, both of which were not without extravagant traits”. (f)

“‘If you can, make me another book just like it and, in exchange, I will give you the one I have written in, which holds just all about all of the drafts that I have completed recently’. In this way the notes accrued and addressee, a potential reader, whom the author could obligate not only to store the notebook, in which there was a lot of unpublished material, but also, at the same time, to allow him access to it at any time”. (f).

“Benjamin always utilized several notebooks is parallel. Alongside the booklets in which he wrote his diary, described his travels, fixed ideas, drafted texts and letters and compose literature, he kept up recordings of entries in a little book that was a ‘Catalogue of items I read”. (f).

“The notebooks are a medium that connects author and work. They are stages where thinking and writing take place, quarries, fields for experimentation, on which thoughts can be gathered, structured, discarded, formed anew -creatively and sometimes chaotically. The notebooks hold up a mirror to the author’s face. In it Benjamin’s preferences and peculiarities can be discerned. He worked on several texts simultaneously. He had weakness for small forms, quotations, and aphoristic diminutions. And he did not want to carry out this work in enclosed conditions, sealed from reality. Rather, he loved to write while on the move, on the street, in the café, on his travels -wherever he happened to find himself. Could he have found a more faithful companion for all that than his notebooks?” (f)

The Author

autor, investigador y docente de temas vinculados con la fotografía y el pensamiento contemporáneo. buenos aires, argentina. buzon.jpg@gmail.com