Benjamin and his books :).

From: Jim Rovira <>
Date: Mon Jan 27 2003 - 21:27:54 EST

Man, this essay (Walter Benjamin's "Unpacking My Library" in his book
Illuminations) is great:

"You have all heard of people whom the loss of their books has turned
into invalids, or of those who in order to acquire them become
criminals." (60)

Later on he talks about how the collector sees the entire past of the
acquisition when he looks at it.

Yeah, in this essay he's running away from what he said in "The Work of
Art in an age of Mechanical Reproduction" at full tilt. I'm not sure
about the order of publication, though...maybe this is an earlier essay
and he saw his love of books being extended to all art in almost
fetishistic (he uses the word "ritual") ways.

He redeems himself to the writers in the audience:

"Of all the ways of acquiring books, writing them oneself is regarded as
the most praiseworthy method."

He goes on to tell the story of a guy who'd attend book fairs, read
titles that interested him, then write the stories himself because he
could not afford to buy them :). Almost sounds like Seymour's advice to
Buddy :).

God...this guy's great:

"The book borrower of real stature whom we envisage here proves himself
to be an inveterate collector of books not so much by the fervor with
which he guards his borrowed treasures and [misprint for "as"?] by the
deaf ear which he turns to all reminders from the everyday world of
legality as by his failure to read these books."

heh...he then talks about winning a book at an auction and having to go
to a pawnshop the next morning to round up money to pay for it...

He closes the essay with these beautiful lines...and they aren't bad for
being translated from German...

"For inside him [the book collector] there are spirits, or at least
little genii, which have seen to it that for a collector -- and I mean a
real collector, a collector as he ought to be -- ownership is the most
intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come
alive in him; it is he who lives in them. So I have erected one of his
dwellings, with books as the building stones, before you, and now he is
going to disappear inside, as is only fitting."

I'm convinced -- Benjamin didn't commit suicide because he was being
chased by Nazis; he did it because he was separated from his books.


PS Ok Kim, now you have to read "Work of art in an age of...." :) I'm
flipping through it and it almost sounds prophetic...

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Received on Mon Jan 27 21:27:48 2003

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