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Monday, 17 September 2012

Benjamin on Mescaline: The Secret of Struwwelpeter, or What Happens to Bad Little Boys


File:Struwwelpeter 1.jpg

Der Struwwelpeter [Shock-headed Peter / Slovenly Peter], title page illustration: Heinrick Hoffmann (1809-1894), 1844

Fritz Fränkel: Protocol XI: Protocol of the Mescaline Experiment of 22 May 1934

Walter Benjamin. 22.5.34.

At 10 o'clock receives 20 mg. Merck Mescaline subcutaneously in the thigh.

The first reaction time is characterized, above all, by the prevailing mood. After 10 minutes an alteration in the mood of the subject's situation occurred, in the sense of dissatisfaction. F[ränkel] leaves the room, which has been darkened, for a brief period of time, and W[alter] B[enjamin] remains alone by the open window.

At F[ränkel]'s return, he describes his impression from the window with the following words: "Were one, like a dead man, to feel a longing for any beloved object from one's earlier life, this window for example, then it would appear as it does so now to me. The lifeless objects in one's presence can awaken a longing which one ordinarily recognizes only at the sight of a person one loves."

In the following period of time the subject's displeasure becomes, first of all, considerably more aggravated. This was outwardly expressed in seemingly irregular motor symptoms like restless wallowing in self-reproach [sich-umher-wälzen], erratic movements of the arms and legs. B[enjamin] crumples into the couch of himself [gibt ein Knautschen von sich], bemoans himself and his state of affairs, and the indignity of it. He speaks of it as "impertinence". Attempts a psychological diversion of the impertinence; characterizes it as the "misty world of the emotional states" ["Nebelwelt der Affekte], meaning that the emotional states [Affekte] in an earlier stage of life have not been sharply distinguished yet, and that what one later characterizes as ambivalence constitutes the rule; he also speaks about the wisdom of impertinence in an attempt to draw closer to the same phenomenon, explaining that the true foundation of impertinence is the child's displeasure that it cannot conjure. The first experience that the child has with the world is not that the adults are stronger, but rather that it cannot conjure.

During this time, subject develops a terrific degree of sensitivity to acoustic and optical stimuli. At the same time, criticism is expressed that the experimental conditions are unfavorable. Such an experiment ought to be successful in a palm grove. Otherwise, the dosage he received was said to be too negligible for B[enjamin]: a train of thought that surfaces again and again throughout the course of the experiment, and which eventually allowed irascible indignation to become expressed.

In the course of checking his pulse, B[enjamin] reveals himself to be terrifically sensitive to the slightest touch. (Pulse itself unchanged.) In the course of the discussion about sensitivity, the phenomenon of tickling acquires a powerful significance. Attempt to explain tickling as approaching a person a thousandfold, laughter as defense.

An observation that is connected to other innervations and to another world of objects makes its relationship to a deeper stage of the rausch known. Otherwise it becomes continually modified throughout the course of its duration. This transformation of the subject's constitution makes itself apparent primarily in observations about caressing, hemming and combing. This mode of behavior becomes more or less connected to the essence of the mother. Caressing: to undo what's been done, to cleanse life in the river of time. It is the proper rule of the mother. Combing: the comb in the morning is alone what drives the dreams out of the hair. Combing is also a mother's work. (The stepmother combs with a poisoned comb: Snow white.) There is also solace in the comb, and an undoing of what's been done. Then the hemming: here the mother's observation devolves upon the child: the hemming of the child, its dalliance: it unravels the fringe from personal experience, plaits it; hence the child dallies. One could well name dalliance the best part of his feeling of happiness. Eventually the masculine comes to the fore in contrast to this world, becoming symbolized as a trellis. "For the hem lies flat, and the trellis stands."

With eyes shut tight, subject denies seeing the appearance of colorful images. Instead, B[enjamin] sees something ornamental before him, which is described as ornamentation fine as hair. It recalls somewhat the ornamentation which can be found on Polynesian oars. Ornamental tendencies also make themselves evident in the conversation. Test subject gives a brief example of this: in this context the refrain was characterized as the patterned hem of a song.

B[enjamin] himself draws attention to the fact that when he lights a match, his hand looks thoroughly waxen to him.


"Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher" (The Story of the Thumb-Sucker): a mother warns her son not to suck his thumb. However, when she goes out of the house he resumes his thumb sucking, until a roving tailor  appears and cuts off his thumbs with giant scissors: illustration in Der Struwwelpeter [Shock-headed Peter / Slovenly Peter]:, Heinrick Hoffmann (1809-1894), 1845

Renewed darkness. Peculiar hand positions occur in the course of the next test period, which marks the deepest stage of the rausch. The reclining subject stretches out his forearm, his hand spread out with the fingers slightly bent. Now and then the position alternates with the hand held upright. These respective positions are often held for long periods, up to ten minutes. B[enjamin]'s important discussion about understanding catatonic behavior is related to the observation of this phenomenon. Test subject interprets the nature of catatonia on the one hand and elucidates it on the other with respect to particular constellations of mental images present at the time. He next calls attention to the fact that, upon opening his eyes, he was surprised to discover that his hand was actually in a different position than he had supposed. He adds to these words a very curious explanation of his more or less magical influence upon the V.L. [Versuchsleiter, test director]. He says, to wit: "The actual position of my hand is completely different from what I am conscious of, which you can read from the expression on my face. There arises for you such a terrific tension between my facial expression and my body posture that this tension exerts a magical power over you." A brief example from the catatonic's constellation of mental images [Vorstellungskreis, also "ideational sphere"] follows: "My hand," says the test subject, "is now just as much a town fountain as it is the Queen of Sheba. It has a pedestal where one can write whatever one wishes as a memorial:

Diese Hand ist allerhand.
Meine Hand ist sie genannt."
[This hand is out of hand.
My hand is what it's called.]
The actual interpretation of catatonia is now the following: the test subject compares the fixed position of his hand to the outline of a drawing, which a draftsman has plotted once and for all. Just as it is possible for the draftsman to continually change his figure into something new, or give it new nuances by making innumerable alterations in the hachure, by the same token it is possible for the catatonic person to change the constellation of mental images associated with the catatonic behavior by making miniscule alterations in the innervation. The extraordinarily economic nature of this procedure represents a gain in pleasure. This gain in pleasure is a matter of importance to the catatonic person.
A particular gesture made by the test subject sparks F[ränkel]'s attention. Subject lets his raised hands, which are not touching, glide from a distance very slowly over his face. The test director explains later that he has simultaneously had the convincing mental image of flying. B[enjamin] explains this to him: these hands draw together the ends of a net, but rather than it being a net just covering his head, it was a net covering the cosmos. Hence F[ränkel]'s mental image of flying.

Discourses on the net: B[enjamin] proposes a variation on the seemingly insignificant Hamlet-question, to be or not to be: net or mantle, that is the question here. He explains that the net represents the night side and everything in existence that makes us shudder. "Shuddering," he explains, "is the shadow of the net upon the body. In shuddering, the skin imitates a network." This explanation was connected to a shudder that traversed the test subject's body.

When the question was raised whether F[ränkel] could go home, a state of doubt and despair arose. Subject's breathing becomes heavier, there is frequent moaning, violent jerking movements of the shoulder, symptoms which had appeared before in a similar context. F[ränkel] decides to stay, though that changes nothing regarding the test subject's inconsolable sorrow. He calls sorrow the veil that hangs unmoved, longing after a breeze that will lift it.

A joke is introduced: Elizabeth will not be able to rest in peace until a Förster House has been made out of the Nietzsche Archive. The image of the Förster House is extraordinarily vivid to the test subject. In the course of his report it sometimes appears as school, other times as hell or bordello. The test subject is a hardened and marred post on the wooden railing of the Förster House. In this context he reflects on some sort of wooden carving with animal and ornamental forms, which he explains as the decadent descendants, as it were, of the totem pole. The Förster House resembles something like those red brick structures which adorn the pictorial broadsheets of model [houses] with an especially dark, bloody red. Then, too, it also recalled those structures which are made with stone block-anchors [Anker-Steinbaukasten]. Between the cracks of the bricks grow tufts of hair.

Besides the net, the Förster House was the most vivid of the mental images. Chamois foot in the Förster House: with the greatest energy, test subject refers to the cockerel and the little hen on the Nußberg ("Nut Mountain"), and to the riffraff where, to be sure, the Förster House would be located.

Incidental remark: that children can be trusted best with sweets. These sweets reappear to subject's consciousness in the course of a catatonic hand position when subject's hands are described as coated with sugar. In addition to this, the secret of Struwwelpeter [Shock-headed Peter] is to be revealed, but is forever withheld from the test director by ever more solemn pronouncements. (Punishment for the meager dosage.)

The secret of Struwwelpeter: all these children are impertinent only because no one gives them any gifts. The child who reads him [Struwwelpeter], though, is well-bred because it has received so many gifts already on the first page. A little shower of gifts falls on the first page there from the dark sky. In showers [Schauer, both "shower" and "shudder"], like the shower of rain, gifts fall to the child which veil the world from him. A child must get gifts or else it will die like the children in Struwwelpeter or go kaputt or fly away. That is the secret of Struwwelpeter.

Among the other observations: Fringe is very important. One discerns weaving according to the fringe. Woolly nonsense.

File:Struwwelpeter 2.jpg

"Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp" (The Story of the Fidgety Philip): a boy who won't sit still at dinner accidentally knocks all of the food onto the floor, to his parents' great displeasure
: illustration in
Der Struwwelpeter [Shock-headed Peter / Slovenly Peter], Heinrick Hoffmann (1809-1894), 1845

The Naughty Drummer Boy: Nicolaes Maes, c. 1655, oil on canvas, 62 x 66 cm (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid)

Fritz Fränkel: from Protocol XI: Protocol of the Mescaline Experiment of 22 May 1934, in Walter Benjamin: The Rausch Protocols, 1927-1934, translated by Scott J. Thompson, 1997

Dr Heinrich Hoffmann (1809-1894), physician in Frankfurt, wrote and illustrated mock cautionary verses about Struwwelpeter (Shock-headed Peter), 1844.
Dr Fritz Fränkel (1892-1944), psychiatrist and neurologist in Berlin; specialist in study of addiction; completed his doctoral dissertation on war neuroses, 1919; founding member of the Communist Party, 1919. 


Susan Kay Anderson said...

From the Fringe on Nut Mountain

Give me some of those
I will behave in a manner
quite unknown
as I comb my hair
with the poisoned comb
everything a nightmare
under the coconut palms.

It is not very good
to let them make a joke.
It is taken too far
and not very funny
fun fun after all.

I and it had a history
it was to burn the pages
of that book of nightmares
scissors and all.
The words scientifically formed
spell out excuses
that's the big problem
it was undiscovered
yet uncovered.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Found: the minds
F, B, and W
their hands
the hems
at the fringe
they comb
strange hands
in a strange time
so it wouldn't be
their war
not to claim it
not their hand
in it. Most
attention on scissors
long hair, nails, gifts
the table. Its cloth.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Not all the nuts get along
on Nut Moun
for example,
the tufts of hair
growing blood red
their cracks
are almost as disturbing
as hair & nails
on that slob, Peter.
They tell a story
nobody understands
but poets
other riffraff
a decadent descendant.

Wooden Boy said...

I remember seeing Struwwelpeter for the first time at Kindergarten. It was a Mrs. Mueller, a small and very delicate Austrian woman, who first opened the pages of the book to me. I kept coming back for a taste of those delicious horrors - the searching hair and nails. I didn't read the text till I was all growed up.

"There is also a solace in the comb, and an undoing of what's been done". This is a terribly affecting line. That it should come from Walter's head; impossible hope.

Wonderful stuff. And very funny in places too. It's at such a far remove from all the McAcid tales I've had to suffer over the years from a variety of schmucks.

TC said...

During this mescalin "experiment" Benjamin made some doodles.

TC said...


I must admit I can't help finding the super serious investigative paraphernalia and rambling perspicuities of cerebral/intellectual drug "experimenters" in any epoch hilarious.

But of course, as this is Walter Benjamin... not MEANT to be funny.

Struwwelpeter, though...

Angelica recalls her mother (who was Viennese) reading Struwwelpeter to her as a child. But not for the customary purpose of cautionary instruction. "Her attitude was ironic; she wasn't a disciplinarian herself."

Wooden Boy said...

Angelica's mother knew the best way in to all that grim delight.

I love Flying Robert best.

What an elegant hand Benjamin has!

TC said...

In the interests of brevity I have edited out Benjamin's responses to Rorshach images shown him during the "experiment".

However: for you Rorshach fanatics out there, here they are.

The Pelican-lamb, aww... and the Yakut women touching each other.

(The Dialectic never seemed so ticklish before!)


The light is switched on and Rorschach blots are laid out. For the time being, they are rejected out of hand as insufferable.

"That is the same ticklishness."

In the meantime, the mood of sulkiness and disinclination arises ever anew. B[enjamin] himself now calls for the Rorschach blots again in order to get over it.

VII is interpreted as a 7 standing on a 0. (As before, the images are once again rejected with the remark: "I've already rejected that earlier." VII is described as having aesthetic value. As F[ränkel] draws it somewhat closer, test subject says: "Not any closer! I dare not touch it. If I touch it, I can't say anything more." To clarify his interpretation of the 7 standing on the 0, B[enjamin] takes a sheet of paper and writes "7 stands upon the 0." A long period of time unconnected to the Rorschach blots now follows. There is a creative writing game which begins with the subject's observation that his handwriting is childlike.

The interpretation of II is given next as: Yakut women who are touching one another; I is seen as two poodles, the one in the foreground disappearing as a third poodle comes into view.

VII, a grey-blue: Pelican-lamb, a woolly little sheep. The lullaby sketch is connected to this interpretation. B[enjamin] draws attention to the embryo form. Embryo forms recur within the drawing.

III is interpreted as four Fates [Parzen]. The written sketch illustrating the essence of witches in separate words is connected to this interpretation.

Hazen said...

Homage to catatonia.
The hand the arm
held just so
the skin netting the body
caresses flowing
like a river

Susan Kay Anderson said...


All that was missing was the story about the seven goats sewing stones the into the wolf, Peter's hair catching on fire, and Max and Moritz, those funny round brothers. I saw them all in the ink blot. Numbers made my blot exact. Proof that I was sleeping the sleep of the insane. Once I started, I could not seem to stop.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

To reach true Catatonia
one had to be on the journey
to Catalonia
desperate the state
of things
all too real
out of hand
dictated by a Catatonic Satanic.
his cru.

Crime language
bad monkey
idea topsy-turvy
but that was only
the drug talking
in an attempt to understand
the present
without speaking
so directly
about it
with language.
Now there are
equal signs
in order
to solve mind-boggling
unequal equations
or ditch that--
rely on Patagonia
its power.

TC said...

A journey scary enough even without having had a childhood like this one.

Elmo St. Rose said...

Fidgety Phillip pictorial is
sometimes used to depict the
treatment for attention deficit
disorder during that historical
period in the Germanic culture...
the pictures following show
Phillip's father administering
a switch

Eve Preus said...

Hello. I'm wondering what translation you used for this excerpt. I'm following along in Benjamin's book On Hashish, and am specifically interested in the net-mantle paragraph on page 93. In my translation by Howard Eiland, he writes:

"Elaborating on the net, B proposes a variation on Hamlet's rather anodyne question, “To be or not to be”: Net or mantle — that is the question. He explains that the net stands for the nocturnal side of existence and for everything that makes us shudder in horror. “Horror, ” he remarks, “is the shadow of the net on the body. In shuddering, the skin imitates the meshwork of a net." This explanation comes after a shudder has traveled over the test subject’s body.

In your translation here, which I prefer, you have:

"Discourses on the net: B[enjamin] proposes a variation on the seemingly insignificant Hamlet-question, to be or not to be: net or mantle, that is the question here. He explains that the net represents the night side and everything in existence that makes us shudder. "Shuddering," he explains, "is the shadow of the net upon the body. In shuddering, the skin imitates a network." This explanation was connected to a shudder that traversed the test subject's body."

The question of horror doesn't enter in your translation. It seems critical whether shuddering itself or horror is the shadow of the net upon the body. I'm working on a piece right now that is using this passage, so I'd love to be able to find your source/translation. Thanks so much!