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Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Walter Benjamin: A Map of Hell (1938)


Paradise and Hell
: Hieronymus Bosch, c. 1510 (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

March 6. On recent nights I've had dreams that remained deeply engraved in my day. Last night I dreamed I had company. Friendly things came my way; I believe they consisted primarily in women taking an interest in me -- indeed, even commenting favorably upon my appearance. I think I remember remarking aloud that now I probably wouldn't live much longer -- as if this were the last display of friendship among people bidding one another farewell.

File:Enamel setting MNMA Cl23411d.jpg

Plique-à-jour enamel setting, cloisonné enamel on gold: Guillaume Julien [?], Paris, late 13th/early 14th century: Musée National du Moyen Age, Paris (image by Jastrow, 2006)

Later, just before I awoke, I was in the company of a lady in Adrienne Monnier's rooms. They were the setting for an exhibition of objects which I can't quite recall. Among them were books with miniatures, as well as plates and intricately wrought arabesques which were colorfully overlaid as if with enamel. The rooms were on the ground floor facing the street, from which one could look in through a large windowpane. I was on the inside. My lady had obviously already treated her teeth according to the technique that the exhibition was advertising.


Front of dental office "Next Appointment" notice, advertising Chlorodont toothpaste:
VEB Elbe-Chemie, 1969 (Archiv der Firma Dental-Kosmetik GmbH und Co KG, Nachfolgerin der Leowerke und späteren VEB Elbe-Chemie; image by Freak1972, 2010)

She had polished them to an opalescent shine. The color of her teeth ran to dull green and blue. I took pains to make her understand most politely that this was not the correct use of the product. Anticipating my thoughts, she pointed out that the inner surfaces of her teeth were inlaid in red. I had indeed meant to say that, for teeth, the brightest colors are scarcely bright enough.

Datei:Blender3D Zahnpastatube.jpg

Toothpaste with wood-texturing: Blender3D image by SoylentGreen, 2006

I've been suffering greatly from the noise in my room.

Datei:Blender3D WoodTextureBand.jpg

Wood-Texture, Band type: Blender3D image by SoylentGreen, 2006

Last night my dream recorded this.

File:Blender3D LoopingParticleFire.gif

Looping Particle Fire: Blender3D image by SoylentGreen, 2006

I found myself standing in front of a map and, simultaneously, standing in the landscape which it depicted. The landscape was terrifyingly dreary and bare; I couldn't have said whether its desolation was that of a rocky wasteland or that on an empty ground populated only by capital letters. These letters writhed and curved upon their terrain as if following mountain ranges; I knew or learned that I was in the labyrinth of my auditory canal. But the map was, at the same time, a map of hell.

File:Aerial Hollywood Sign.jpg

The Hollywood Sign, shot from an aircraft
: photo by Jelson, 2009

Walter Benjamin: Diary Entries, 1938 (excerpt), translated by Gerhard Richter and Michael W. Jennings in Selected Writings, Volume 3 (1935-1938), 2002


Ed Baker said...

is THAT Encino Valley over and beyond that barren hill?

I was in Hollywood once.... my cousins still live there

... if you can call it "living"

your today's/this entry reminds me of one of my longer poems:
"What's a Phantasy?"

South by Southeast published it.... about 10 years ago....
an image of my little character "mu" was with the line

WB .... a "gas"

several versions and reversions de:veloped..

Anonymous said...

This is delightful, exactly the sort of thing that makes life worth living. I'm wondering whether Benjamin's words and these images came to you in a dream. The Hollywood sign photos are both wonderful and it's amazing to see them put to such good use. That being said, I have to say that I have only positive feelings about the Hollywood sign and, putting any number of stressful professional memories aside, of Hollywood and Los Angeles. It IS like a dream there, I think, and that has softened blows for me any number of times.

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TC said...

The real-life apprehensions and anxieties pressing in upon the personal world historical moment make this dream of Benjamin's very interesting indeed, pivoting as it does on

...miniatures, as well as plates and intricately wrought arabesques which were colorfully overlaid as if with enamel...

-- to leap from decorative enameling to tooth enameling, with the sexual undertones flowing along murkily throughout the metaphorical transformation -- one of those "dream puns".

The large block letters in the dream made me think of the Hollywood sign, as did Gavin Lambert's Hollywood Dreaming (posted here 1/19).

stevef said...

Nice piece. Also a little wistful over the Hollywood sign...I used to live a block and a half south of Paramount Studios. You could look straight up the road, over the buildings, and onto the hill and the sign.

TC said...


That's almost like looking at it for most of eternity (though is eternity divisible into parts?).

(Speaking of inescapable fates & c.)