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Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Walter Benjamin: Ariadne's Red Thread


Encirclement: Valie Export, 1976 (Charim Gallery, Vienna)

7/8 June 1930. Extremely deep hashish depression. Felt passionately in love with Gert. Left completely forlorn in my armchair; agonized at her being alone with Egon. And on top of everything, he is unusually jealous as well; continually threatened to throw himself out the window were Gert to leave him. But that is just what she didn't do. Certainly the solid foundations of my sorrow were already there. Two days ago, a fleeting chance occurrence at becoming better acquainted which revealed just how much my sphere of activities has in fact narrowed, and not long before that (a piano upstairs is bothering me) the noteworthy night with Margarete Köppke, who insisted so much on my being a child that I distinctly gathered how much she intended the opposite of man with the word, and who impelled me so much towards my own kindred. I found at least three of the components in Bloch's formula: poor, old, sick and forsaken to be applicable to myself. I have doubts whether things will turn out well for me. As for country, locality and position, means of living, the future holds only the most uncertain prospects for me. Many friends, but I pass from one hand to the next. Many accomplishments, but none to make a living from and many which are a hindrance to my work. It was as if these thoughts wanted to hold me captive; and this time they did so, too, with ropes, so to speak. How inclined I was to see revelations behind all of the insulting things Gert said, which she read from my face, and to make Köppke's riddles with dates and warnings my own. I am so sad that I must practically indulge myself uninterruptedly in order to live. However, I was also quite determined to let Gert indulge me. As she danced I drank in every line which she set into motion, and what all couldn't I say about this dance and this night if Satan himself were not playing piano upstairs there. I spoke while I was watching her with the conscious sense of borrowing much from Altenberg; words and figures of speech of his, perhaps, which I myself had never read in his writings. While she was in the midst of her dance I tried to describe it to her. The most exquisite thing was that I saw everything in this dance, or rather, such an infinite amount that was clear to me; everything would be inconceivable. What is the inclination of all the ages for hashish, of the Kaffir himself or many words, thoughts, sounds -- of Africa or of the ornament, for example, compared with the red Ariadne's thread which offers us the dance through its labyrinth. I allowed her every opportunity to transform herself in essence, in age, in gender. Many identities spread over her back like fog over the night sky. When she danced with Egon she was a slender boy in black attire. Both of them cut an extravagant figure through the room. Apart, she was quite in love with herself in the mirror. The window in her back stood black and empty. In its frame the centuries receded in a backwards motion while with each of her gestures -- so I said to her -- she either took up a fate or let it fall, twisted it around her, coiling herself tightly into it, or strained after it, let it lie there or leaned amiably close to it. What odalisques do when they dance before Pashas, Gert did for me. But then this flood of insulting words erupted from her which she seemed to have pent up just before the final wildest outpouring. I had the feeling that she was restraining herself, holding back the worst, and in so thinking I would certainly not have deceived myself. Solitude then followed, and hours later the attempt of brow and voice to console, but by that time my grief within the recesses of the sofa bastion had intensified too much and I was not to become rescued. Thereupon the most unspeakable faces drowned along with me, [and] nothing, almost nothing [would have] made it across to safety were there not floating on the surface of this black flood the peak of a gothic church spire made of wood; wooden spire trimmed with colorful, dark green and red panes.

Walter Benjamin: Protocol VI: On the Session of 7/8 June 1930, from Über Haschisch (On Hashish), 1927-1934, trans. Scott J. Thompson, 1997

“The malleability, with which his production, being journalistic, has to fit the economic situation [Konjunktur], makes it difficult to ensure the continuity and growth of its existence.”

--Benjamin, from draft of unsent suicide note, referring to himself in the third person, addressed to Gert and Egon Wissing, Ibiza, 1932

Circus sideshow billboards, Santa Monica, California: photo by Walker Evans, August-September 1967 (Walker Evans Archive/Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

File:Conímbriga minotauro.jpg

Minotaur in labyrinth: Roman mosaic at Conîmbriga, Portugal: photo by Manuel Anastácio, 22 August 2005




Thanks for this, Benjamin remembering those events "Two days ago, a fleeting chance occurrence. . . ."


grey whiteness of fog moving across top
of shadowed ridge, song sparrow calling
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

concealed what is happening,
forgets the forgotten

event, looking at the world,
the way back which is

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
cormorants flapping across toward point

TC said...

"When she danced with Egon she was a slender boy in black attire..."

"...concealed what is happening..."