On the Passagenwerk

Transcribed from Susan Buck-Morss in One Way Street: Fragments for Walter Benjamin (1993)


at 53:30

The border police in Spain would not let them pass. And it was that night that Benjamin took an overdose of morphine and committed suicide. Now, the briefcase was then given to the authorities. And no heavy manuscript was ever found. And some people, Scholem in particular, thought that was the missing completed Passagenwerk.

My position on this is that there would never have been a completed Passagenwerk, that he never had intended to write a magnum opus. That wasn’t the point of the project. It was open ended. He constantly stole material for shorter pieces from the larger fund of notes and he constantly reorganized them. There was no one right way to put it all together.

And he once said that when you write a book you are taking things from one notecard which is the books you are reading and putting them in your own box of notecards. So it is just a kind of reassembly, a rearrangement. And that kind of process is never complete.

So it smacks of a kind of cult of genius, hero worship, to think that ah there was this perfect Passagenwerk and we have lost it. Because if he taught us anything by his method of working and by his life, it was certainly not to look for the great works and to codify them as untouchable masterpieces that should just be revered.

To this I set this:

Nicole Brossard
“Lorem Ipsum”
Avant Desire

In the hallways of Casa de Velázquez that week there was an exhibition titled Las maletas de Walter Benjamin. The suitcase is us, inside-outside, content which is fragile or not, a heavy weight to carry; manuscripts, a survival instinct, or an urge to be elsewhere or for travel with dawns fragrant of lilies and lilac.

And so for day 3054

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