the collision between word and image – a collision which, as in all of Benjamin’s dialectics, produces a shock of recognition – is the hallmark of Walter Benjamin’s Archive.
Language, as Benjamin insisted in “On the Mimetic Faculty” (1933), ultimately imitates material reality just as much as drawing or bodily performance does – and here, in this collection, we see language returning to its mimetic potential as writing “makes its way back to drawing” (WBA 232).
photographs of dog-eared notebooks remind the reader of the dialectic, continually elaborated on by Benjamin, between the immateriality of thought and the material world with which the thinker is always, intimately, engaged. The dialectic between the past and the future is evident here as well: as the editors remind us, the “cut and paste” method Benjamin literally employed in his writing foretells the advent of computer word-processing (32).
By prompting the reader to consider various correspondences in the contents of its sections, the text in turn invites her into a tactile relationship with it: it challenges the reader, that is, to turn its pages back and forth so that her thinking is as physically engaged as it is intellectually occupied.
Walter Benjamin’s Archive: Images, Texts, Signs is similarly an attempt to assemble various shards and fragments from Benjamin’s tragically-curtailed life – and like Benjamin’s own project, it is intended to reveal correspondences between a past era and our own, contemporary moment. The photographed and carefully documented objects published in this book are taken from the collections Benjamin mailed to various friends and colleagues for safe-keeping before his thwarted flight from war-ravaged Europe. The editors name this body of collections an “archive” – and yet, they are quick to acknowledge the inadequacy of this term to the project undertaken by Benjamin (and, in turn, by themselves). “Benjamin’s concept of the archive,” they admit, “differs from institutionalized archives” (1). The term, “archive” – which derives from Latin and Greek words for “town hall, ruling office” and “beginning, origin, rule” – suggests “order, efficiency, completeness, and objectivity” (2). By contrast, Benjamin’s archive reveals the “passions of the collector” and illuminates “points at which topicality flashes up, places that preserve the idiosyncratic registrations of an author, subjective, full of gaps, unofficial” (2).
visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge them with different perspectives on the human condition. Expanding access to art, whether through programs in schools or through visits to area museums and galleries, should be a central part of any school’s curriculum.
Native American oral literature in general, and Haida oral literature in particular, seem to me far closer in spirit and in form to European painting and to European music than to European literature. This is one way out of the dilemma. Reading works of oral literature is more like reading notes and reading paintings than it is like reading books.
Why do we do this? Because in the age of iPads and Netflix, we don’t want our kids to lose their sense of wonder and imagination. In a time when the answers to all the world’s questions are a web-search away, we want our kids to experience a little mystery. All it takes is some time and energy, creativity, and a few plastic dinosaurs.
Childhood is fleeting, so let’s make sure it’s fun while it lasts.
Emerson “says the mark of wisdom is seeing the miraculous in the commonplace, and showing ourselves to each other because we find something of worth in ourselves,” says Philip F. Gura, professor of American literature and culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
An influence for surrealists?