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Wohlfarth - Walter Benjamin's Planetarium

Wohlfarth - Walter Benjamin's Planetarium

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Published by Michael Koolhaas

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Published by: Michael Koolhaas on Apr 03, 2011
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02/15/2013

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Walter Benjamin
and the Idea of aTechnological Eros. A tentative reading of 
ZumPlanetarium
Irving Wohlfarth
 
67 
(…)
my life, as well as my thought, moves inextreme positions. The freedom that it thereby maintains to juxtapose things and ideas that are considered irreconcilable receives its complexiononly through danger. This danger is in general apparent to my friends only in the guise of  
(…)
‘dangerous’ relations 
(II 1369).(A certain ‘logic’)
lies in wait for the calculations or political consequences of political or indeed any discourse. It is as if the possibility of its ownoverturning were ventriloquizing the discourse inadvance, installing within it a quasi-internal war, or still more seriously, an endless one 
(…)
.It consists, in effect, of multiple fronts and frontiers.A finite strategy can never formalize them totally,still less master them. Whence the effect produced by the incessant passage of these fronts or frontiers.It is a paradoxical effect, because the very possibility 
 
of the passage seems to forbid any advance: it seems aporetic 
in itself 
. Now it is precisely in this place and at this moment, I will even go so far as to say on this condition, that all decisions, if there are any, must be taken, and that responsibilities 
aretaken
.
(…) (
What de Man
)
leaves us is the gift of an ordeal, the summons to a work of reading,historical interpretation, ethico-political reflection,an interminable analysis.
(…)
In the future and for the future 
(…)
responsibility, if there is any,requires the experience of the undecidable 
(…).
1
(…)
the task is not to decide once and for all, but to decide at every moment. But to
decide.
2
A
ccording to Benjamin’s
Theses on the Philosophy of History 
, the historical materi-alist blasts (
sprengt 
) a particular epoch out of the course of history, a particularlife out of the epoch and a particular work out of the life’s work.
3
And so on
ad infinitum
(as Benjamin puts it in another, related context
4
). The assumption isthat each fragment contains and preserves
in nuce 
the larger whole from whichit was extracted. Each ‘broken part’ (
Bruchstück 
) is, in Benjamin’s terminology,a Leibnizian ‘monad’, a Messianic ‘shard’ or ‘crystal’; or, in rhetorical terms, asynecdochal
pars prototo
. The ‘Divide and conquer’ practised by imperial power isto be counteracted by an altogether different process of division akin to the het-erodox theological doctrine of 
apokatastasis.
5
All souls are to go to heaven. But they can be ‘saved’ only throught a process of ‘mortification’ — resurrection, as it were,through dismemberment. It isn’t by unrolling the red carpet of historicismthat one gets to the paradise of universal history, but, as Kleist intuited, by analtogether different route.What if one were to try to apply Benjamin’s theory to his own corpus by isolating one piece within his life’s work and one or two sentences within thatpiece? Not necessarily because they had prompted the illuminating shock of mutual ‘recognizability’
6
postulated by that theory, but rather because one wasperhaps at a loss to decide whether or not, in this particular instance, a ‘secret ren-dez-vous’
7
had indeed occurred with and within the text in question.Allow me to take advantage of 
this 
particular rendez-vous — Amsterdam,1997 — in order to submit to you a few sentences from a short, but momentous,piece of Benjamin’s that have always left me, for one, with a decidedly uneasy feeling
68 
Wohlfarth /
Walter Benjamin and the Idea of a Technological Eros

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