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SELECTED WRITINGS
VOLUME 2
1927-1934
Translated by Rodney Livingstone
and Others
Edited by Michael W. Jennings,
Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith
THE BELKNAP PRESS OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS
Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Landen, England 1999
Copyright 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
This work is a translation of selections from Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, Unter Mit-
wirkung von Theodor W. Adorno und Gershom Sholem, herausgegeben von Rolf Tiedemann und
Hermann Schweppenhuser, copyright 1972, 1974, 1977, 1982, 1985, 1989 by Suhrkamp Ver-
lag. Some of the pieces in this volume were previously published in English, as follows: "On the
Image of Proust," "Unpacking My Library," and "Franz Kafka" apppeared in Walter Benjamin,
Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt, English translation copyright 1968 by Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, Ine. "Moscow," "Surrealism," "Marseilles," "KarJ Kraus," "The Destructive Charae-
ter," "A Berlin Chronicle," "Hashish in Marseilles," "On the Mimetic Faculty," and "The Author
as Producer" appeared in Walter Benjamin, Reflections, English translation copyright 1978 by
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. Published by arrangement with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Ine.
"From the Brecht Commentary" and "A Family Drama in the Epic Theater" appeared in Walter
Benjamin, Understanding Brecht (London: NLBNerso, 1973). "Little History of Photography" ap-
peared in Walter Benjamin, "One- Way Street" and ather Writings {London: NLBNerso, 1979,
1985}. "Theories of German Fascism" and "Doetrine of the Similar" appeared in New German
Critique 17 (Spring 1979). "Goethe" appeared in New Left Review 133 {May-June 1982}. "Left-
Wing Melancholy" appeared in Sereen 15, no. 2 {Summer 1974}. "The Rigorous Study of Art" ap-
peared in Oetober 47 (Winter 1988), translation 1988 by October Magazine Ltd. and the Mas-
sachusetts Institute of Technology.
Publication of this baok has been aided by a grant from Inter Nationes, Bonn.
Frontispiece: Walter Benjamin, Berlin, 1929. Photo by Charlotte Jod. Courtesy of the Theodor W.
Adorno Archiv, Frankfurt am Main.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Benjamin, Walter, 1982-1940.
[Selections. English. 1999)
Seleeted writings I Walter Benjamin; edited by Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary
Smith
p.cm.
"This work is a translation of selections hom Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften.
copyright 1972 ... by Suhrkamp Verlag"-T.p. verso.
Includes index.
Contents: v. 1. 1913-1926.-v. 2. 1927-1934.
ISBN 0-674-94585-9 (v. 1: alk. paper) ISBN 0-674-94586-7 (v. 2: alk. paper)
I. Jennings, Michael William. TI. Tide.
PT2603.E455A26 1996
833'.91209-ck20 96-23027
Designed by Gwen Nefsky Frankfeldt
Contents
MOSCOW, 1927
Dream Kitsch 3
The Political Groupings of Russian Writers 6
On the Present Situation of Russian Film 12
Reply to Oscar A. H. Schmitz 16
Introductory Remarks on aSeries for L'Humanite 20
Moscow 22
Review of Gladkov's Cement 47
Journalism 50
Gottfried Keller 51
Diary of My Journey to the Loire 62
Review of Soupault's Le coeur d' or 66
The Idea of a Mystery 68
Review of Hessel's Heimliches Berlin 69
AState Monopoly on Pornography 72
IMAGE IMPERATIVES, 1928
Curriculum Vitae (III) 77
Andre Gide and Germany 80
Main Features of My Second Impression of Hashish
85
298 . 1950
innervations (inspiration), Of else he knew them in. advance but was
to discover (reveal, make manifest) this knowledge ill terms of motor stlmuh.
Hence the feeling that the number was hiding.-When a winning number
is clearly predieted but not bet on, the man who not in the know wtll
conclude that he is in excelleut form and that next tIme he Just needs to aet
more promptly, more boldly. Whereas anyone familiar with the game will
know that a single ineident of this kind is sufficient to tell rum that he must
break off instantly. For it is a sign that the eontaet between his motor stimuli
and "fate" has been interrupted. Only then will "what is to came" enter
his consciousness more or less clearly as what it is.-Also established is the
fact that no one has so many chances of betting on a winning number as
sameone who has just made a significant win. This roeans that thc correct
sequence is based not on any previous knowledge of the future but on a
corrcet physical predisposition, which is increased
and uninhibitedness by every confirrnation, such as IS provlded by a Will.-
The happiness of the winner: the winner's highly remarkable feeling of
elation, of being rewarded by fate, of having seized control of destiny.
Comparison with the expression of love by a woman who has been truly
satisfied by a man. Money and property, normally the most maSSive and
eumbersome things, here come directly from the hands of fate, as if they
were thc caressing response to a perfeet embrace.-Furthermore, one should
note the faetor of danger, which is the most irnportant factor in gambling,
alongside pleasure (the pleasure of betting on the right number). It anses
not so much from the threat of losing as from that of not wtnnzng. The
partieular danger that threatens the gambler lies in the fateful category of
arriving "toD late," of having "missed thc opportunity."- We cDuld learn
something from this about the charaeter of the gambler as a type.-Last,
the best that has thus far been written about gambhng foeuses on the factor
of acceleration, acceleration and danger. What Anatole has said on
pages 14ff. of Le jardin d'Epicure [The Garden of EPICurUS] must be
eombined with what has been noted here: gambling generates by way of
experiment the lightning-quick proeess of stimulation at the ,-",oment of
danger, thc marginal case in which presence of mmd becomes divmatlOn-
that is to say, one of the highest, rarest in "..
See, on this subject, "The Path to Success, rn Thlfteen Theses . [rn thls
volume]; and Alain, Les idees et les ages (Paris, 1927), under "Le Jeu."
Fragment written in 1929 cr 1930; unpublished in Benjamin's lifetime. Gesammelte
Schriften, VI, 188-190. Translatcd by Rodney Livingstone.
The Crisis of the Novel
A1fred Dblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz: Die Geschichte von Franz Biberkopf [Berlin
Alexanderplatz: The Story of Franz Biberkopf] (Berlin: S. Fischer Verlag, 1929), 530
pages.
Frofi the point of view of epic, existence is an ocean. Nothing is more epic
than the sea. One can of course reaet to the sea in different ways-for
example, lie on the beach, listen to the surf, and colleet the shells that it
washes up on the shore. This is what the epic writer does. You ean also sai!
on the sea. For many purposes, or none at a11. You can embark on a voyage
and then, when you are far out, you can cruise with no land in sight, nothing
but sea and sky. This is what the novelist does. He is the truly solitary, silent
person. Epic man is simply resting. In epics, people rest after their day's
work; they listen, dream, and co11ect. The novelist has secluded hirnself from
people and their activities. The birthplace of the novel is the individual in
his isolation, the individual who can no longer speak of his concerns in
exemplary fashion, who hirnself lacks counsel and can give none. To write
a novel is to take that which is incommensurable in the representation of
human existence to the extreme. Simply to think of the works of Homer
and Dante is to sense what separates the novel from the genuine epie. The
oral tradition, the stuff of epic, is different in kind from what forms the
stock-in-Irade of Ihe novel. Whal distinguishes the novel from a11 olher
forms of prose-folktale, saga, proverb, comie tale-is that it neither origi-
nates in the oral tradition nor flows back into it. And this is what distin-
guishes it above all from storytelling, which in the prose tradition represents
the epie form at its purest. Indeed, nothing contributes more to the danger-
300 . 1930
ous falling silent of the inner human being, nothing kills the spirit of
storytelling more thoroughly, than the outrageous proportions that the
reading of novels has undergone in all our lives. It is therefore the voiee of
the born story teller that makes itself heard here, in opposition to the nov-
elist: "Nor do I wish to mention that I eonsider the emancipation of the
epie from the book ... to be advantageous-advantageous above all for
language. The book spells the death of reallanguages. The most important,
ereative energies of language elude the epie author who only writes."
Flaubert eould never have written this. This thesis is Dblin's. He has given
a very eomprehensive aeeount of it in the first yearbook of the Seetion for
Literature of the Prussian Aeademy of Arts; his" Strueture of the Epie Work"
is a masterly doeument of the erisis of the novel, whieh was initiated by the
reinstatement of epic that we now encounter everywhere, even in drama.
Anyone who thinks earefully about this leeture of Dblin's will have no need
to cancern himself with the external signs of this crisis, this reinforcement
of radieal epie. The flood of biographieal and historieal novels will eease to
astonish him. The theoretieian Dblin, far from resigning hirnself to this
crisis, hurries on ahead of it and makes its cause his own. His latest baok
shows that his theory and praetiee are one.
Nothing is more illuminating than to eompare Dblin's position with
the one that Andre Gide has reeently revealed in his Journal des "Faux-
monnayeurs" Oournal of The CounterfeitersJ, whieh is equally magisterial,
equally preeise, and equally spirited in its praxis, but nonetheless opposed
to Dblin's on every point.! In the dash of these two eritieal minds the
eontemporary situation of epie finds its sharpest expression. In this auto-
biographieal eommentary to his latest novel, Gide develops the doetrine of
the roman pur. With the greatest subtlety imaginable, he has set out to
eliminate every straightforward, linear, paratactic narrative (every mainline
epie eharaeteristie) in favor of ingenious, purely novelistie (and in this
eontext that also means Romantie) deviees. The attitude of the eharaeters
to what is being narrated, the attitude of the autbor toward them and to
his teehnique--all this must beeome a eomponent of the novel itself. In
short, this roman pur is actually pure interiority; it acknowledges uo exte-
rior, and is therefore the extreme opposite of the purely epie approaeh-
which is narration. In strict contrast to Dblin's nations, Gide's ideal is the
novel as pure writing. He is perhaps the last to uphold Flaubert's views.
And no one will be surprised to discover that Dblin's speech eontains the
sharpest repudiation imaginable of Flaubert's aehievement. "They will
throw up their hands in des pair when I advise their authors not to shrink
from introducing lyrical, dramatic, and even reflective elements iuto their
narratives. But I insist on it."2
His lack of inhibition in implementing this program is revealed in the
perplexity of many of the readers of this latest book. Now, it is true enough
The Crisis of the Novel . 301
that narrative has seldom been handled in such a manner as this. It is rare
indeed for the waves of ineident and reflection to sweep over the reader and
destabilize his eomfort to this degree, and the spray of actual spoken speech
has never given him such a soaking as here. But this does not mean that we
must operate with technical terms, such as dialogue interieuG or refer the
reader to James Joyee. In reality, something quite different is at work. The
stylistic principle governing this book is that of montage. Petty-bourgeois
printed matter, scandalmongering, stories of accidents, the sensational inci-
dents of 1928, folk songs, and advertisements rain down in this text. The
montage explodes the framework of the novel, bursts its limits both stylis-
tieally and strueturally, and dears the way for new, epic possibilities. For-
mally, above all. The material of the montage is anything but arbitrary.
Authentie montage is based on the document. In its fanatical struggle with
the work of art, Dadaism used montage to turn daily life into its ally. Ir was
the first to prodaim, somewhat uneertainly, the autoeraey of the authentie.
The film at its best moments made as if to accustom us to montage. Here,
for the first time, it has been placed at the service of narrative. Biblical verses,
statistics, and texts from hit songs are what Dblin uses to confer authen-
tieity on the narrative. They correspond to the formulaic verse forms of the
traditional epic.
The texture of this montage is so dense that we have difficulty hearing
tbe author's voice. He has reserved for hirnself the street-ballad-like epi-
graphs to each chapter; otherwise, he is in no great hurry to make his voice
heard. (Even though he is determined to have his say in the end.) It is
astounding how long he trails behind his charaeters before risking any
challenge to them. He approaches things in a relaxed way, as befits an epie
writer. Whatever happens-even when it happens suddenly-seems to have
been prepared well in advance. In this attitude, he has been inspired by the
spirit of Berlin dialeet-a dialeet that moves at a relaxed pace. For the
Berliner speaks as a connoisseur, in love with the way things are said. He
relishes it. Whether he is swearing, moeking, or threatening, he takes his
time, just as he takes his time over breakfast. Glassbrenner dramatically
highlighted the qualities of Berlinish.
3
Here we see it in its epie profundity.
The ship of Franz Biberkopf's life is heavily laden, yet never runs aground.
The book is a monument to the Berlin dialect because the narrator makes
no attempt to enlist our sympatbies for the city based on any sort of regional
loyalty. He speaks from within Berlin. It is his megaphone. His dialect is
one of the forces that turn against the reserved nature of the old novel. For
this book is anything but reserved. It has its own morality, one that is
relevant even to Berliners. (Tieek's "Abraham Tonelli" had earlier unleashed
the power of the Berlin dialeet, but no one had previously attempted to find
a eure for it.)4
It is rewarding to follow the eure that is preseribed for Franz Biberkopf.
What happens to him?-But first, why is the novel called Berlin Alexander-
platz, with The Story of Pranz Biberkopf only a subtitle? What is
derplatz in Berlin? It is the site where for the last two years the most vIOlent
transformations have been taking place, where excavators and Jackhammers
have been continuously at work, where the ground trembles under the
impact of their blows and under the columns of omnibuses and subway
trains; where the innards of the metro polis and the backyards around
Georgenkirchplatz have been laid bare to a greater depth than anywhere
else' and where districts built in the 1890s have managed to survive more
than elsewhere in the untouched labyrinths around Marsilius-
strasse (where the secretaries of the Immigration Police are crammed into a
tenement block) and around Kaiserstrasse (where the whores make their
rounds in the evening). It is no industrial district; commerce above all-petty
bourgeoisie. And then, there is its sociological negative, the crooks who
obtain their reinforcements from the unemployed. One of these is Biberkopf.
He is released from Tegel prison, and finds himself without work; he remains
respectable for a time, starts selling goods on street corners, gives it up, and
joins the Pums gang. The radius of rus life is uo more than one thousand
meters. Alexanderplatz governs his existence. A cruel regent, if you like. An
absolute monarch. For the reader forgets everything else around him, leams
to feel his life within that space and how litde he had known about it before.
Everything turns out to be different from what the reader expected to find
in a book he has taken out of the mahogany bookcase. lt did not seem to
have the feel of a "social novel." No one sleeps under the trees. They all
have a room. Nor do you see them looking for one. Even the first of the
month seerns to have lost its terrors in the area around Alexanderplatz.
These people are certainly miserable [elend]. But they are miserable in their
rooms. What does this mean, and how does it come about?
It has two meanings. A broad one and a limiting one. A broad one, for
misery is in fact not what little Moritz had imagined. Real misery, at
least-in contrast to the kind imagined in your nightmares. It is not just
people who have to cut their coat according to their cloth, and cope as best
they can; this is something that holds good for poverty and misery, too.
Even its agents, love and alcohol, sometimes rebel. And nothing is so bad
that you cannot live with it for a time. In this book, misery shows us its
cheerful side. lt sits down at the same table with you, but this does not put
an end to the conversation. You adjust to the situation and keep on enjoying
yourself. This is a truth that the new low-life Naturalism refuses to acknowl-
edge. This is why a great story teller had to come and help it gain credence.
lt is said of Lenin that he hated only one thing more than misery: making
a pact with it. There is in fact something bourgeois about this-not just in
the mean, petty kinds of slovenliness, but also in the large-scale forms of
The Cri,i, of the Novel . 303
wisdom. In this sense Dblin's story is bourgeois, and it is so in its origin-
that is to say, in a much more limiting way than in its ideology and intention.
What we find here once again, in a beguiling form and with undiminished
force, is the reemergence of the magie of Charles Dickens, in whose works
bourgeois and criminals fit each other like a glove because their interests
(however opposed to each other they may bel inhabit one and the same
world. The world of these crooks is homologous with the world of the
bourgeoisie. Franz Biberkopf's road to pimp and petty bonrgeois is no more
than a heroie metamorphosis of bourgeois consciousness.
The novel, we might reply to the theoty of the roman pur, is like the sea.
Its only source of purity is its salto Now, what is the salt in this book? Salt
in the epic is hke amineral: it makes things last when it is alloyed with
them. And duration is a criterion of epic writing far more than of other
types of literature. Duration not in time, but in the reader. The true reader
reads an epic in order to "retain" it. And it is quite certain that he will retain
two incidents from trus book: the story about the arm and the events
conceming Mieze. How does it come about that Franz Biberkopf gets
thrown under a car and thus loses an arm? And that his girlfriend is taken
from him and killed? The can be fonnd as early as the second page.
"Because he wants more from life than bread and butter." In this instance,
not rich food, maney, ar warnen, but samething far worse. His big mouth
longs for something less tangible. He is consumed by a hunger for destiny-
that's what it iso This man is always asking for tronble in a big way; no
wonder it keeps coming to hirn. The way in which this hunger for destiny
is satisfied for the whole of his life, and the way he learns to be content with
bread and butter-in short, the way in which the crook becomes a sage-is
the nature of the sequence of events. At the end, Franz Biberkopf loses his
sense of destiny; he becomes "clear-headed," as the Berliners put it. Dblin
made this great process of maturation unforgettable by means of a great
artlstlC devlce. Just as at a Bar Mitzvah Jews reveal to the child his second
name, wruch up to then has remained a secret, so too Dblin gives Biberkopf
a second name. Fram now on, he is Franz Karl. At the same time, something
strange has happened to this Franz Karl, who is now working as assistant
doorman in a factory. And we would not swear that this has not escaped
Dhlin's attention, even though he keeps a pretty sharp eye on rus hero. The
point is that Franz Biberkopf has now ceased to be exemplary, and has been
whisked away into the heaven for characters in novels. Hope and memory
will console hirn in this heaven, the little porter's lodge, for his failure in
hfe. But we do not follow hirn into his lodge. This is the law governing the
novel: scarcely has the hero discovered how to help hirnself than he ceases
to be capable of helping uso And if this truth becomes manifest in its grandest
and most inexorable form in Flaubert's L'education sentimentale, we may
304 . 1930
think of Franz Biberkopf's history as the "sentimental education" of the
crook. The most extreme and vertiginons, the last and most advanced stage
of the old bourgeois Bildungsroman.
Published in Die Gesellschaft, 1930. Gesammelte Schriften, III, 230-236. Translated by
Rodney Livingstone.
Notes
1. Andre Gide, Journal des "Faux-monnayeurs" (19
h
26). f th E . = k)
2. Alfred Dblin, "Der Bau des epischen Werks" (T e Structure 0 e pIe wor ,
in Jahrbuch der Sektion fr Dichtkunst (Berlin, 1929), p. 262. ..
Adolf Glassbrenner (1810-1876) was a radical journalist who wrote
3. comie vignettes of Berlin life in the local dialect. His writings include Berltn.
es ist-und trinkt (Berlin, As It Is-and Drinks; 1832-1850) and Buntes Berlzn
(Colorful Berlin; 1837-1841). . . .
4. Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853), a leading German wArblter
h
, wroTte
sical story "Merkwrdige Lebensgeschichte Sr. Majes,ta: ra am one I e-
markable Life Story of His Majesty Abraham Tonelll) 1ll 1798.
An Outsider MakesHis Mark
S. Kracauer, Die Angestellten: Aus dem neuesten Deutschland [White-Collar Work-
ers: The Latest from Germany] (Frankfurt am Main: Frankfurter Societtsdruckerei,
1930), 148 pages.
The malcontent is a type as old as the hills, perhaps as old as writing itself.
Thersites, Homer's cynic; the first, second, and third conspirators in Shake-
peare's histories; the Faultfinder from the only great drama of the World
War-all of these are the changing faces of this one figure.
l
But the literary
farne of the archetype does not seem to have given heart to its incarnations
in real life. They tend to pass through existence nameless and tight-lipped,
and for the physiognomist it is undoubtedly an event when one of the breed
suddenly draws attention to bimself and declares in public that he is not
going to play the game. The writer in question here likewise appears reluc-
tant to make free with his own name. A laconic "S." in front of bis surname
warns us not to take too many liberties. The reader is made aware of this
laconic stance through other, more internal means as weH-as in the way
humanity is born from the spirit of irony. S. glances at the proceedings in
the labor courts, and the merciless light reveals to hirn "not so much
wretched human beings, as human beings made wretched by circum-
stances." What is clear is that this man refuses to play the game. He declines
to don a maslc for the carnival mounted by bis fellow human beings. He
has even left his Doctor of Sociology cap at horne. And he rudely pushes
his way through the throng, so as to lift the masks of the most impudent
here and there.
It is easy to understand why he repudiates the term "reportage" as a