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Walter Benjamin, or Nostalgia Author(s): FREDRIC JAMESON Source: Salmagundi, No. 10/11 (FALL 1969-WINTER 1970), pp. 52-68 Published by: Skidmore College Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40546514 . Accessed: 27/09/2011 12:23
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Indeed. as in religiousmeditation.discontinuous graspedas an allegorical model to thatultimate resemblance whichis notwithout of meditation describedby Dante in his letter to Can of allegoricalcomposition Grande delia Scala.Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels . and Bert Brecht. into discharge In finds it: the Germanyof It relief. the mind can stare humorsand know morbid its it can which itselfout. Nostalgia BY FREDRIC JAMESON So the melancholy that speaks fromthe pages of Benjamin's essays . T. W. which. Gershom Scholem.became a Marxist. theoutsider.His Orifins of German Tragedy was however refused in 1925. is itself alreadyallegoricalavant la lettre.searchesthe past foran adequate object.After1933. only an esthetic. and the of the latteris the phenomenologyof the former.privatedepressions. to Unfitforservicein World War I. of allegory. and. Adorno. nineteenth the thirty century years war.D. in the Paris of the late century").the baroque and the modern. and returning to found a literaryreview there. he had begun of Frankfurt as a Ph. he emigrated to Paris and pursued work on his unfinishedproject Paris: Capitol of the NineteenthCentury. presentation . as a set of parallel. under the influenceof Lukncs*History and Class Consciousness.* or Walter Benjamin. at various moments of his life.in theirveryessence allegorical. It seems to me that Walter Benjamin's thoughtis best levels one. he studied for a time in Bern.visitingMoscow in 1926-27. Everyfeelingis attached to an a prioriobject.For theyare both ("Paris . Meanwhile. the dejectionof professional discouragement. and theymatchthe thought processof the theorist disembodied intention searchingforsome externalobject in which to takeshape. He numbered among close friendsand intellectualacquaintances. thesisat the University to translate Proust. Ernst Bloch. He committedsuicide at the Spanish borderafteran unsuccessful attemptto flee occupied France in 1940.the capitolof the nineteenth . if momentary.beforeturning Berlin in 1920 triedunsuccessfully to academic lifeas a career. where he speaks of the fourdimensionsof his ♦ Walter Benjamin was born in 1892 of a wealthy Jewishfamily in Berlin. forsome emblem or Image at which. thedistress In the faceof a politicaland historical nightmare .
if finally the incarnation itself. if for the dominantarchetypalpatternof the life of Christ we substitute some more modernone (and formyself. and forallegoricalethical." .these arc some of the images that consciousness overwhelming seem to recur.eitherin Benjamin himselfor in your own mind as you read him. Benjamin'sworkseems to me to be markedby a painfulstraining sitwhich the historical towardsa wholenessor unityof experience at everyturn. where the human race findsits salvation. in the shape satisfaction biographical part of his mind findssymbolic of ideas abstractly. if I may so put it. in objectiveguises. a more familiarand less intimidating proposed by Benjamin himself. with politics. replacingreligionwith the religionof art.Benjaminis unique attachesitself in that he wants to save his own life as well: among these thinkers not only of his writings. specialist it persists. progress not be hard to adapt this schemeto twentieth century reality. the general of the divisionof labor and of specialization. hence the peculiarfascination incomparable for their noreven forthe poeticsensibility dialecticalintelligence. perhaps.in a letterto Max Rychncr:"I have never been able to inquire and thinkotherwisethan. to someoneelse's future. The idea of wholenessor of unity is of course not have described originalwith him: how many modernphilosophers the psychological the"damaged existence" we lead in modernsociety.if for literalwe read simplypsychological. where the dream of wholeness. the moral (in which the encounters of the main resumeone aspector anotherof the lifeof Christ).expressed.and make of Dante's eschatologyan earthly theology but one. . to his owti maimedprosrnt.or Nostalgia 53 poem: the literal (his hero's earthlydestinies). determines Genuinememory withthepast and withmemory. Λ visionof a worldof ruins uationthreatens to shatter an ancientchaos of whatevernatureon the point of and fragments. impairment forms of modernlife and the specific alienationand dchumanization remain such alienation takes?Yet for the most part these analyses of the intellectual and throughthemspeaks the resignation abstract. in a theologicalsense . the allegorical (the fate of his soul). at least.not in eternity. in Historyitself.Walter Benjamin.name!) levels of in conformity with the Talmudic prescription regardingthe forty-nine meaningin everypassage of the Torah. they but above all. obsession * It model than that is. thiswill be the cominginto being of the workof art we replace of meaningin Language). the drive towards unity takes the form of an Psychologically. and the character the anagogical (where the individualdrama of Dante foreshadows It will of the human race towardsthe Last Judgement)*.for the manner in which the autoexpress.
consciousness in place of the memory perception traceare withinthesame system mutually leavingbehindof a memory is the defense of consciousness For Freud.54 FREDRIC JAMESON whetherhe "whetherthe Individualcan have a pictureof himself." "Every passion borderson chaos. giveonlyone example. forexample.are ways in which the repetitions. subjects of Sartre's acid commenton his orthodoxMarxist contemporaries: "materialism is thesubjectivity of thosewho are ashamedof theirown subjectivity")."Strange refora Marxist(one thinks these.with Freud's distinction was for which conscious and theconsciousact of recollection.of isolated existence records sketches. hysterical to make its way throughto shock attempts assimilated incompletely and hence to ultimate appeasement In Benjamin's consciousness a of historicaldescription. stands as a shock-absorber the newspaper numbingus to overwhelm what mightperhapsotherwise us. memory what the former or eradicating Freud basicallya way of destroying was designed to preserve:"consciousnessappears in the systemof and the traces.whom he translike Proustalso."Memoryforgesthe chain of tradition that passes events on fromgenerationto generation. he also began the task of recovering withshortessayistic of dreams. he his own discovery of communism.long after saw in his favorite poet Baudelairean analogous obsessionwith remmaster his literary and involuntary and he followed iniscence memory.Yet Benjaminkeptfaithwith Proust." in this environment: the external of theorganism againstshocksfrom sense traumas. which howeverhe was unable to carry and experiences. . on thechaos of memory" but thepassionof thecollector borders (and it was in the image of the collectorthat Benjamin foundone of his mostcomfortable identities). can masterhis own experience. in the fragmentary evocationof his own childhood called Berliner his own Kindheitum 1900.strange of reflexion flexions. this idea becomes an instrument the of account on in modern how of perhaps society.yet at the same consciousness what happens to us or us of any way of assimilating timedepriving to to any genuinely Thus. . of novelty. impressions to the greater writer's ultimatenarrative unity. intervenesbetween ones: a whole series of mechanicalsubstitutes and its objects shieldingus perhaps. personalexperience. but at the same time . dreams. lated.the function incompatible. assimilatus from He was perhapsmoreconsciousof what prevents life a such form than of the perfected would ing our life experience between untake: fascinated. way showing increasing quantityof shocksof all kinds to which the organismis are no longerpersonal mechanisms thesedefense henceforth subjected. hands.
and of influence of the determining the modernidea of pure historicity.or latentin the paris based on a ticularstage in the individual'sgrowth. This Lehensweisheit human nature.who lived in relatively societies. itself:and whereforthe lattera generalmeaning therealmof history for Goethe in was immanentto the particularmomentof history. description psychological of the reconciliation a vision into into moral judgement. Thus even of likenessin eventswhich are properly in Proustand Baudelaire. in the ceremoniesof salon life in correspondences Proust. whichexpressed to of its historictriumph). But for the westernreader the whole ethical dimensionof Benjamin's work is as it docs a kind of ethical incorporating likely to be perplexing. in the hauntingsignificance which Baudelaire lent that word. rendering makingof themwhat by definition has no commondenominator with our privateexistences.gives deeplyinfluenced' moment at the individualism class middle ofthisethic.Walter Benjamin. in the domain of the As a compromise the situationor environment. but rathersees modern with most ethics.such rhythms societyincreasingly less available. its and of of the the overall some sense development personality goal is built into the particular emotionin question. ritualistic devices. writer the of (a visionof the fulldevelopment personality reflexion narcissistic and a but pale by Goethe. .as in Kafka. which. Yet as of experienceare less and decays. it neitheraims to bend the personality Chriswith case is the as standardof discipline." have merelybeen forgotten. as is the case psychology.passions.the mystery in the eventsseems to inherent present resultnot so much fromtheirnoveltyas fromthe feelingthat they that they are in some sense "familiar. by psychology in the German rooted and language. but forwhich deeply Germany is indeed a kindof halfwe have no equivalent. seems to pass over At thispoint. insensibly of past and presentwhich is somehowan ethical one. and the themin the "vie antérieure" struction of form:we recognize of Baudelaire. fragmented in the conelements are primary oftenunconscious. in that it depends on sociallyconditioned Experienceis moreover on certaincategories and similarities. And where the modernwritertries to create a perpetual .with fixed a of idea classical the between way house its psychology of the humors.however.or Nostalgia 55 its eventsneutraland impersonal.sins or charactertypes. of recurrences a certainrhythm culturalin origin. of Hegel in it is not unlike the compromise individualpersonality. some purelyexternal accidentsof empirical nor to abandon it to the meaningless tianity. has become traditionalin codified Goethe.For the system like Gide.
of but ratherat a consecration at a rationalanalysisof the irrational it through language.a kingdom!" of Benjamin that in his mostcomplete It is howevercharacteristic of thisGoetheanethic. In this. it if overcome must which consciousness that genuine individuality. forwhom seems not to aim thisconcept. speaks the languageof Goetheanlifeforcesin German societywhich made a critiqueof the reactionary it is at with the conceptof myth. is to attain any real autonomy to see in this human level of existence. theirown: working thispsychology the same time an attackon the obscurantist ideologieswhich made the notionof myththeirrallying cry.natural. undialectically.the polemicpostureof all for those of us who. is at the same time psychology. one given over to the dark mythicalforcesof a proto-fascist tradition. of Benjamin'sthoughts guisedexpression its masters consciousness image of the way in which a remembering in the lost be to lightwhatwould otherwise prehistory past and brings that the essay on Elective of the organism?Nor should we forget the past. forexample. Is it far-fetched properly oppositionbetweenmythicalforcesand the individualspirita disan about past and present. no doubtone of the mosteccentric with symbolsof binationof an eighteenth centuryceremoniousness a strangely artificial. earlier as some itself: theworkseeksto free of as that which is destructive inchoate. a mythical But forBenjaminElectiveAffinities may be considered which from that element ns understand we work. this time a cultural is itselfa way of recovering Affinities past. like relatedones of magicor charisma. mythis expressed in its comof Westernliterature. to accede if is to it its of any own.the long essayon ElectiveAffinities. something as a kindof interiorized Providence. expression on the dangersthat menace the personality he should lay morestress For thisessay.56 FREDRIC JAMESON which includes the individualpsychological experienceas something withinitself in whichethicalgrowth seedsof development.which of its ultimate thanon the picture development.on condition myth instinctual of chaos forces. instructive can be Benjamin on are temptedsimply to reject the concept of myth altogether. instead.So. allegoricalquality: objectswhich appear in the .pre-individualistic.the is inherent closinglines of Wilhelm Meister:"You make me thinkof Saul. the son of Kish. uses to whichit is ordinarily accountof the ideological put. Benjamin's dialecticalskill can be seen in the way this idea of throughattentionto the formof Goethe's novel. who went forthto seek his father'sasses and found.
or an inconsistency. in its claim to universality. analogies. too symmetrical significance. interpretations and the blank failureto see what it means on the other: Elective but as a is to be read. as though fatefulwith a kind of geometrical meaning not to have cautiouslyselecteddetail of landscape. not as a novel by a symbolic writer. "It is clear that these Goetheancharacterscome beforeus not so much as figures shaped from but externalmodels.it is not because theywerechosento underline theme of the in some decorative manner. accessible members:and no doubt onlyto thosewho are thatculture's the Goethean systemdoes project itselfin some such way. The originality of Benjamin is to cut across the sterileopposition betweenthe arbitrary of the symbolon the one hand."We are required to read these symbolicobjects to the second power: not so much as to sense that to deciphera one-to-onemeaningfrom them. and istically psychologically thisis not so much a flaw.If objectsof a symbolic loom nature large in thiswork. Affinities novelabout symbolism.Gundolfquite rightly ofobjectsin thisstory.such as the chemicalone that gives the novel its title. even the life of apparently lifeless the crucialrole underlined things growsstrong. And as with the objects.or Nostalgia 57 blankncssof the non-visualnarrative styleas thoughisolatedagainst a void. "When people sink to this level.like a sheet of instructions supplied inside the box along with the puzzle pieces.is somehow fromthe other.so also with the characters: it has for exampleoftenbeen remarkedthat the figureof Ottilie. Here we feelthe burdenof guiltlaid upon us as readers.and it is this which the ratherexternal and visual mode of characterization conveys. directly of which the veryfactof symbolism is itself symptomatic.Walter Benjamin.as thoughunder a spell.nor wholly Imaginaryin theirinvention.more realdifferent in its mode of characterization For Benjaminhowever drawn characters.Yet the intrusion intohuman of the thing-like lifeis precisely a criterion of the mythical universe. everywhere but in general the symbolism is built into the work.too amply developed not to be emblematic. the rather saintlyyoung woman around whom the drama turns.The reader is of course familiar with symbolism in the modernnovel. Hence a kind . rather entrancedsomehow.but ratherbecause the real unadultery over into the power of derlyingsubject is preciselythe surrender symbolsof people who have lost theirautonomyas human beings. that we lack what strikesus almost as a culturallyinheritedmode of thinking. as a clue: Ottilie is not realitybut appearance.
studioof allegoricaldecoration The Origins. when it seeks to make under the laws of genuinehuman morality. characterized be best that is initially might something playwrights. like Goethe's own. to paintingforinstance.not so muchof German tragedy ("Tragödie) . German and Calderonas well as the 17thcentury Elizabethans erally. The mind cannot long be satisfied of fateful. mythical "that the conclusion himself is to forced express length Benjamin the writer shroudsin silence: namely. For appearance is in this worknot so muchpresented as a theme in theverynature as it is rather implicit and modeof the presentation itself. just as the above conclusionwas articulated by the analysisof thoseaspectsof Elective that best have been describedas allegoricalrather might Affinities than symbolic.and his mostsubstantial which is the Baroque. But a pact with wealthymiddle-class security. explanation.is crucial to Benjamin's interpretation. is a sacrificial which he limitsto ancientGreece as a phenomenon. which encompasses Trauerspiet. of the eventsof the book as the triumph ethicaldescription and at and social it strains historical for forces. courtiers. withall the finery dance of death produced in the modernsense: "No matter For chronicle is not yethistoricity .and which is characteristic only of that whose veryessence is pure appearance. and the esthetic the psychological with this purely on the other. For in one sense Benjamin'slifeworkcan be seen as a kindof vast of allegorof all shapes and varieties a passionatecollection.as for which English has no of German Trauerspiel: the distinction. museum.a and poisoners.58 FREDWTCJAMESON of obscurity about them which is foreignto the purely visual." characand politics. as a pageant: a funerealpageant . by attentionto the qualities of the work of art. turning across the stage of the world's mighty." equivalent. teristic of all modernthought. of a Renaissancetriumph. that enormous on workcenters ical objects. drama in which the hero is offered up to the Gods for atonement. as as chronicle. empressesin .work. For "tragedy. the baroque genon the otherhand. into history this inevitableslippageof morality is revealed is mediated by esthetics. the baroque vision of history As a formit reflects a succession ceaseless wheel of the of the relentless fortune.popes. momentbetween an uneasybalance. maskeraders theirsplendidcostumes. a transitional clearlyrepresents or the historical on the one hand. princes.thatpassionloses all its rights." This moral dimensionof Benjamin's. in Benjamin'swork.so might the word be most adequatelyrendered.
motivations:"The indecision Contentin thesenseof thecharacters' of the princeis nothing of Saturn acedia.* makespeople 'apathetic. The courtier is fluctuation itself:betrayalis his veryclement. through relatively emotion triesto manifest itself. charnor to insufficient to hastiness neither of composition attributed need that in acterization the parasites these plays scarcely any time forreflection over to the and at all before their lords going betraying of in their evident actions.Yet it is at least ambiguouswhetherthis intellectualand metaphysical positioncauses the psychological experiencethat is at the heart of or whether it is not itselfmerely one of the various baroque tragedy.the lack character .and Hamlet is his mostcompleteexpression. in the posture immobilized of a Christianmartyr. is in realitysecretly spatial.For the keyto the latteris the central enigmaticfigureof the prince himself.Walter Benjamin. At first glance.Not a breathof genuinerevolutionary himself thecountless rebelswho appear before the baroque sovereign.theGerman knewa worldin whichbeliefwas utterly separate baroqueplaywrights from works. Benjaminsays. Melancholyin a stricken world. expressions.anothertraitof the preof the courtier is markedby faithlessness 's mind. .Discontent such is the classic motiveforaction. it would appear that this visionof life as chronicle is in The Originsof GermanTragedy.partly enemy. Baroque of condrama knowshistorical eventsonly as the depravedactivity in conviction any of spirators. its microscopicanalysis never ceases to search painstakinglyfor political calculation in a substanceseen as pure intrigue. Rather.or Nostalgia 59 how deeply the baroque intentionpenetratesthe detail of history. as the shell of an object divestedof any visiblefunction.in which not even the Calvinisticpreordained harmony a littlemeaningto the successionof emptyacts intervenes to restore thatmake up human life. It is to be tragedies.In the same fashion. and takes the court (and the stage) as its privileged spatial embodiment. indecisive. and concrete an acute which abstract." And such historical time.theworldthusremaining as a bodywithout a soul.a pre-Marxist work. The influence but saturnine falls account on 7hc slow.mere successionwithoutdevelopment.halfway between a tyrant his passion: interpreted justly assassinatedand a martyr suffering he stands as of the embodiment allegorically.accounted forin an idealistic manner: as Lutherans.This interpretation of the funerealpageant as a basic expressionof pathological has the advantageof accountingboth forformand conmelancholy tentat the same time. as portrayedin these dominance of Saturn. tyrant of thesluggishness the character of his emotions.
for all eternity. existence. readerof omenswho returns heroesof Poe and Baudelaire.a conjunction all are in the last character. Hamlet thosevicesofmelancholy from we recognize in the lesserElizabethans.dead. thing-like of the tragedy of fate. given over to preserved is henceitself the In other ill. object it can its on own.in Websterfor sadism. "Allegoriesare in the realm hysterical what ruinsare in the realmof things".scepter. human from genuine spirit. into the baroque playwright himself. . the of the center at play himself figure ing melancholy transformed becomes little little funereal the the hero of by pageant in the excellence.himselfdescends to inhabit it: and this but in an ontologicalsense.thatmelancholy which of baroquetragedy content and thefamiliar ." is for those momentsin which Once again Benjamin'ssensitivity human beings findthemselves given over into the power of things. allcgorist par that Grübler: the overparticular superstitious. has beneaththe brooding life hps flowedout of it.which is to say of allegoryitself. His faithlessness faith he keeps with to the deeper.more contemplative corresponds thesematerialemblems. only forth any meaning incapable of projecting wishesto lend it. the object itselfremainsbehind. or him utterly. forgood words.veersabout slowlyinto a questionof form.lust.For allegoryis preof a world in which things ciselythe dominantmode of expression from sunderedfrom reasonutterly have been forwhatever meanings.royal purple. He instills whichtheallegorist takeon thatmeaning it with his own meaning. to be sure. point altersin focus. "Once the object people hyperconscious once look of Melancholybecomeallegorical.treason.almost lations. of the baroque fromthe And in the lightof thisnew examination littleby littlethe broodof than rather view form of of content. Benjamin'sterminology modernguise In the In a morenervous. into the probInstance lem of objects.so predominant .Crown. becomesforhim the key to some realm of hidden .60 FREDRIC JAMESON desan inconsolable. reflects consciousMachiavellianism of balefulconstelto an impenetrable conjunction pondentsurrender thatseems to have takenon a massive.and they carryabout analysis the properties to submit theman aura of destinyto which the courtier is the first to his fellow men as to some portent of disaster.and it is clear that of thoughts among these depressedand Benjamin is himselffirstand foremost his who visionaries pages. mustbe understood not psychologically becomes In his hands the thingin question somethingelse. speaks of something else. yet it lies beforethe allegorist.
morethnn Allegory is on the contrarythe privilegedmode of our own life in time.the baroque. aspects much in commonwith a writer like T.what is expressed of a riddle is not only the natureof human life in general. And as true as it may be that such an allegoricalmode is utterlylacking in any of feature.Walter Benjamin. a to moment.not as a gothicmonnor as in C. expoorganicallycorrupted . disconnected a continuity to heterogeneous. and this temporallimitationexpressosperhnpsthe historical to last in the modernworld forgenuine reconciliation impossibility in time.in allegoryit is the fades hippocratica like a frozenlandscape beforethe eye of the beholder.nay ratherin thatdeath's head.expresses everything itself in that face . in any classical harmony of expression. enrthbound form.the single momentin time.abortive.is the very as the storyof the world's suffering sitionof history essence of allegoricalperception. the lyrical.The usefulness as well: distinction in his lies insistence on a however temporal alysis the symbol is the instantaneous. S. strosity but ratheras a pathology the medievalhealthof the (religious) spirit. perhaps.or Nostalgia 61 as whose emblemhe honorsit.the expressionof a value rather than a descriptionof existingpoetic betweensymboland allegoryis that phenomena: forthe distinction between a completereconciliation between object nnd spiritand a of Benjamin's anmere will to such reconciliation.are moreproperly allegoricalin his in as in of other this. Eliot).History in that it has of unseasonable.a processionmovingslowly across time In thissense. This is what constitutes knowledge. S.painful.into this the baroque worldshatters. historytakes on meaning only in the stationsof its agony and decay. accidentalpresent. it seems to me that allegoryis restored to us .The tendhas been to exalt symbolat the expenseof ency of our own criticism the objectsproposedby thatcriticism privileged allegory(even though .forthe first a stage. withwhichin the modernworldwe are only too familiar. the painful moment of meaningfrom clumsydeciphering instants. nature. legible signs and emblems strangely naggingat the too curious mind.but also of the individualin its mostnatural and the biographical historicity This . to restore attempt "Where thesymbolas it fadesshowsthe faceof Nature in the lightof that lies of history salvation." Scriptratherthan language. Lewis a sign of of purelyhistorical interest. Benjamin has sensibility. It is. 'symbolic'freedom in the form hereportentously in anything human.the letterratherthan the spirit. to be anything a lyricnl.laden withoccultsignificance.Englishmannerism and Dante . The amount of meaning is in . the natureof allegoryas script.
engineis thecause of theindustrial formin the modernistic ly been rehearsed yet again.It is importexpositions.In commemoration is the complement alienationof human beings. characteristic the and the advertising)." thepast whichare euphemistically a new preoccupation Yet in theselate essayson modernliterature appears.we find that afterthe evocationof Baudafter the discussionof elaire's physicaland stylistic characteristics.his meditation the crowd in Baudelaire. tories oftheir century pastas of lifeless abandonstheoutsideworld.for Baudelaire as well: only in the latter it is interiorized: "Baroque allegorysaw the corpse fromthe outside only.who take invenpressionthe increasing In the nineteenth merchandise." of modern holds forthe allegory And what marksbaroque allegory times. Indeed it seems to me that such theories(of the kind forwhich the steam and whichhave recentrevolution.thepassageways.This is to the historical antlyesthetic whichcharacterto mechanicalinventions. since death is that which tracesthe surestline betweenPhysis and meaning. . in the studyof itself in realm of esthetics the first istically appears the movies ("The ReproduceableWork of Art") and only later is in general(as in the essay "Paris extended to the studyof history Capitol of the 19th Century.Relics allegory of fromthe dead occurrences come fromthe corpse.commemoration knownas experience.62 FREDRIC JAMESON exact proportion to the presenceof death and the power of decay. and of the socinlorganization in history seems with the role of inventions Benjamin'sfascination or estheticterms.theDaguerofit."in which the feelingof life in this of the new objectsand inventions periodis conveyed by a description theuse ofcast iron. such an approachto history materialistic ant to pointout thathowever on invenfrom Marxismthan the stress is farther may seem. .only to colonizethe inner. the attention to machines. If we in psychological to me mostcomprehensible on the role of the passerbyand follow.which signals the passage in Benjamin fromthe predominand politicaldimensionitself.forinstance. rotype panorama. in streamlined for Marxist as substitute worksof Marshall McLuhan) function a a of in the way in which theyoffer feeling concretehistoriography at the same time that ness comparableto economicsubject matter.nothing cause of historical as the primary tion and technique chnnge."Or again: "Commemoration sees it from [Andenken] is the secularized version of the adorationof holyrelics. of classes of the human factors theydispensewith any considération of production. . Commemoration therefindsexto experience. Baudelaire within.
'a kaléidoscopeendowed with singlingout the experience consciousness'/1 And Benjamin goes on to complete this catalogue with a description of the workerand his psychological subjectionto the operationof the machinein the factory. And beside paratuslendsthe instant tactileexperiences of this kind we findoptical ones as well. Thereupon he calls him. in a big city.At through like charges the pedestrian crisscross dangerousintersections. and that is to serve as a concreteembodiment forthe state of mind of Baudelaire. impulses in a battery. where in place of the continuousmovement with which the crank of the older model had to be turneda single of the receiver now suffices.Baudelairedescribes theman who plungesintothecrowd as a reservoir of electricalenergy.so to speak.The apfinger a posthumous shock. This development goes on in many different spheresat the same time: it is evidentamong othersin the telephone.the list of inventions. thus of shock.Walter Benjamin.Yet it seems to me that alongsidethe value of thispassage as an analysisof the psychological effect of machinery. the inner logic of Benjamin'smaterialleads him to materialinvention:"Comfort isolates. and ciselysuch as in sidersuch a passage. numbness shocks with and faced the greatcity perceptual increasing of daily life.To move or the traffic the latterinvolvesa whole seriesof shocksand collisions. such as the classified ads in a newspaper. conreader that we an it will clear to the be image. it it has for Benjamin a secondaryintention. he "rendered11: but somehowhe seems to feel themas insufficiently them cannot cannot possess themspiritually. The machine. These phenomenaarc intensely familiarto Benjamin.Pressing the once is enough to freezean eventforunlimited time.or Nostalgia 63 shock and organicdefensesoutlinedearlierin this essay. therebegins a.in appearancea historical reality analysis. he adequately. the middle of the century. times. in some satisfiesa deeper psychological ways perhaps requirement even more important than the official intellectual one. . express until he findssome sharper and more concretephysical image in is prewhich to embodythem. whole series of novelties which have this in commonthat they replace a complicatedset of operationswith a single strokeof the hand. And at the same timeit shifts its possessor closerto the With theinvention of matchesaround powerof physicalmechanisms. disembodied The essay indeed beginswith a relatively psychological of language in modern state: the poet facedwith the new condition of the the inhabitant facedwiththe debasement of journalism. lifting Amongthe variouselaborategesturesrequiredto preparethe photographic apparatus.that of 'snapping1 the photographwas particularly consequential.
in the notionof "aura. a kind of plenitudeof existencein the instant. unrepeatable how close it may be. genuine endow the starswith a new kind of personalaura of theirown off thescreen). the objectsof aura represent human autonomy perhaps not shorn of the the setting of a kind of utopia. of the branch. . looks back at us in return." Aura forBenjamin is the equivalentin the call the forwhat anthropologists modernworld. easierto locateat themoment of human perception thereplacement is in generaltechnical invention. Thus it is easy to see how in the movies. the intelligence relathe onto reaction of a social aura is based on the transposition or of nature to man.rather it findsits completion elsewhere.whereit still persists.Yet thisUtopiancomifonlyforthe briefest worldof things. it is in the world of things what is in the world of human events. in thatin it a mysterious a sense theopposite of allegoricalperception.64 i FREDRÎC JAMESON in the locatingof some fitting artexercisein allegoricalméditation.what "charisma" is in "mystery" the world of human beings. past but having absorbedit. a Utopianpresent. thehorizon. emblemin whichto anchorthe peculiarand nervousmodernstate of mindwhichwas his subject-matter. experience to followthe outlineof a mountainagainst on a summer afternoon. And wherethebrokenfragments ofobjectsbecomes wholeness forcesin which of destructive a thing-world of allegoryrepresented was drowned." And elsewherehe definesaura thus: "The single. which of physicalpresence Yet in theworldofobjects. with machines and inventions For this reason the preoccupation of historical in Benjamindoes not lead to a theory causality. with those substitutes for and mechanical extensionsof perception which are machines. "sacred" in primitive societies. While resting no matter of distance. thisintensity can perhaps best be expressedby the aura of something constitutes of returned:"The experience the image of the look. replaced. the personwho believeshimself means to endow it with the the aura of a phenomenon To experience powerto look back in return." that aura which originally the "reproduceable fromthe physical presenceof actors in the here-and-nowof the theateris short-circuited by the new technicaladvance (and then to in Freudian by the attempt symptom-formation. tionshipof the lifeless looked at. In a secularizeduniverseit is perhaps the cause of which of itsdisappearance. means or of a branchthatcastsitsshadow on the viewer.in a theoryof the modernobject.in resulted workof art. visible. The personwe look at." Aura is thus in to breaththe aura of the mountain.
and by numbing the organismto them to sap their intensity. as it is by the mechanized portent put to flight of history. which neverin the freedom of its own presentfeelsitselfas fate. his essay on Nikolai Leskow. . always to constructed around some novelty. similarin some ways.or Nostalgia 65 of Benjamin'sthought.but natural to consciousness. and yet so different For both.Walter Benjamin.so (and its implieddistinction in its ultimateemphasis. apprehension But what appeals of theirown destinies.and the tale springing from collective life. indeed. of the newspapers is to absorbthe shocksof novelty. communicathe older word-of-mouth ing quantities tion is that whichrecommends itselfto memory. simplified representatives to his sensitivity what Sartrecondemnsas to the archaic is precisely inauthentic: namelythe violenceto genuinelived human experience.for which fate and destinyare always characteristic of other people's . that which allows the storyto be remembered." which is perhapshis masterpiece.Yet the tale.the two forms arc opposednot only in theirsocial origins solitude.The function systems.the novel from not only in theirraw material."The Teller of Tales.but also and primarily in therelationship and highlyindividualistic to death and to eternity. as the anti-psychological. so also with the tale in the face of moderncommunications and in particular of thenewspaper. was designed on the contrary its force. It is instructive to compare this analysis by Benjamin of the tale fromthe novel) with that of Sartre.Its reproduceability is not mechanical." increasing any with the disappearanceof the genuine storyis the inConcurrent of death and dyingin our society:forthe aucreasingconcealment of death. As with actorsfacedwith the technicaladvance of the reproduceable art-work. wherethe mechanicalform "exhausts"ever increaspreserve of new material. to seem "memorable"is at the same timethe means of its assimilation of to the personalexperience the listeners as well.the talc using what everyonecan the novel that which is uncommon recognizeas commonexperience. is available to the thinker cultural present only in a simpler past. is at everypoint in his life a man who died at the age of thirty-five is going to die at the age of thirty-five": so Benjamin describesour the of characters in the tale. Benjamin quotes Valéry: "It is almost as were relatedto the the though disappearanceof the idea of eternity of of for kind work distaste long durationin time. Thus it is his one evocationof a non-allegorical art. of derivesfromthe authority thority the storyultimately who "A man whichlends everyeventa once-and-for-all uniqueness.
present: but for him it does justice to our experience so is to be seen as a mode of commemoration. with of way Benjaminis as aware as Sartre in the lived our to does violence its appearanceof destiny. ness of whichSartreis here a theorist: forwhere nothingis irrevocable(in the absence of death in Benthereis only a seriesof jamin's sense) thereis no storyto tell either. expressed century in which he chances and opportunities.as one about to become this destiny. economic in thissense: hence the is everreallyirrevocable is such thatnothing of consciousliterature hence the modernistic of freedom. philosophy hence also. at the forus. irreparable on a single roll of the dice. the decay of plot.in Western prosperity Europeand theUnitedStates). facedsingle-shot. ratherthan the optical illusionof fate.The twinsourcesof story-telling on the one hand and the seain "the settledcultivator embodiment of life have in fact proforms Both other. indeed the classical nineteenth a social life in which the individual novel as well.we always thinkof him. Its "inauthenticity" man the that it does not really matterany longer whether young dead in his primewas aware of his own lived experienceas fate: him. and it is and the in this correlationbetween the activityof story-telling of mode determinate form of a certain production concrete historically at criticism that Benjamin can serve as a model of Marxistliterary findtheirarchaic its mostrevealing. is order whose of indiscriminately experiences equal weight the which in the tale. seen from the outsideas something experience. to a hisThere can be no doubt that this oppositioncorresponds torical experience: the older tale.66 FREDRÎC JAMESON closed and thing-like. experience the of past." we which about a death upon mode of relatingto the past. Whereas in the modernworld (which is to say. reversible.ratherthan to the relatively anonymousfolk productof which Benjaminspeaks) to the novel. the on merchant faring . A genuineexof duced theirown characteristic type story-teller . of For thisreasonSartreopposesthetale (it is truethathe is thinking a to catered which well-made the late-nineteenth story.. in which his life had to play everything tendto takeon theappearanceof fateor destiny. century middle-class audience. of consciousness ciselyto renderthisopen experience of freedom. The tale is not only a psychological it: it is forBenjaminalso a mode of contactwith of commemorating a vanishedformof social and historicalexistenceas well.. whose task is prein the present. henceforth remembering variousstages of his life.and " our own chillyexistence the tale thusgivesus thehope of warming read. did therefore properly of a storythatcan be told.
by not so much to the contentof the work of art.in technique." with the proletariat .he maintains.ambiguous attitudetowards modern industrialcivilizahim. the guild system provedto be the place of itshighest The tale is thusthe product of an artisan development. The sedentary worked together in the same room. objectsof the past. as a technician. him: for was of courseluckyin the artistic examplewhich lay before of theater the with his thesis he illustrates Brecht." which he opposed to the "politicalisation fascist of the machine.whirhfascinated The problemof propagandain art can be solved.Walter Benjamin. . In his ultimate statement of the relationship of the Benjaminseems to have triedto bringto bear on the problems presentthis method. economy given art and the generaldevelopment work of advanced and difficult it is difficult to see how a technically but a "mediated"effect art can have anything Benjamin politically. con neverbe anything This communist of art. particularly unresolved. as to its attention. can no of realm of the history art the historian But althoughin the in a advances technical between doubt show a parallelism specific a as the of whole. in shortof Historyitself.and throughthis technicalwork findsa unity of of the specialist worker." of literature to politics. If peasants and sailors were the inventors of story-telling. such a hand-made object." a hand-madeproduct. (Lukacs. instance) as a his experience radical first came to a politicsthrough Benjamin his of within the domain his awareness. specialist: through growing work the on influence crucial the of own specializedartistic activity. indeed. form: a progressive workof artis one whichutilizesthe mostadvanced the artistlives his activity artistic one in which therefore techniques. . wanderingapprentices been a wandering before settling everymasterhad himself apprentice down at home or in some foreign city."the touch of the story-teller clings to it like the traceof the potter's hand on the glazed surface.which had known success in dealing with the is not withoutits difficulties.or Nostalgia 67 tension of thepossibilities ofstory-telling historical to itsgreatest range is howevernot possiblewithout fusion of the themostthorough-going two archaictypes. like a cobbler'sshoe or a pot."was designedto harnessto "estheticalisation to whichotherMarxistcritics thatmodernism the cause of revolution therecan be no doubt that for And were hostile."The solidarity purposewith the industrial but a mediatedone. and like culture. perhapsindeed epic . him as muchas it seemsto have depressed tion. Such a fusion was realizedduringthe middleages in the artisanalassociations and the master and guilds. Yet the transposition in his and Benjamin'sconclusionsremainproblematical. of artof changesin the public.
is divestedof its sacred power.68 FREDRIC JAMESON the only modernartistic innovationthat has had directand revolutionarypoliticalimpact. to GershomScholem the last he ever wrote: "Surely Time was felt who inquired noras homogeneous neither as empty by the soothsayers forwhat it hid in its womb. preferred in in as the according paragraph. we plungeagain into the distantpast of psychological obsession. As is well known.On the contrary. on the of time: a pure present. however. furnish as cannot some remembered of adequate grounds plenitude. So at its and thenat once to vanishback into uncreated nothingness. For their in time becomesimply every eyes. mostpoignantBenjamin'sexperience on in meditation it averted threshold of the future eyes honoring by the past.the future. emptyand homogeneous second of the futurebears within it that littledoor throughwhich Messiah may enter. in reality toemerge intothehistorical Thus.the Jewswere forthe Thora and bidden to search into the future. following destiny religious imagery. assois most frequently But if nostalgia as a politicalmotivation thereis no reason why a nostalgiaconsciousof ciated with fascism. stimulusas any other: the example of Benjamin is a revolutionary his to contemplate thereto proveit. wherewe thought present. on the with the present dissatisfaction a lucid and remorseless itself. to give voice. But even here the situationis ambiguous: an astutecritic(Rolf Tiedemann) has pointedout thesecretrelationforBrechton the one hand and ship betweenBenjamin's fondness "his lifelong fascination withchildren's books"on theother(children's books: hieroglyphs: simplifiedallegorical emblems and riddles). He himself. So for themin commemoration the act of prayer instruct remains in to which the clienteleof soothsayers them. all that for not it does Yet thrall. . of the past. Whoever keeps this in mind is in a in commemoration: to graspjusthow past timeis experienced position in just exactlythe same way." image of the angel that exists Angélus novus: Benjamin'sfavorite only to sing its hymnof praisebeforethe face of God.