The Mystical and Fragmentary Thought of Walter Benjamin, as Presented in 2 Films
Just as his texts, Benjamin is a character that is fragmented into hundreds of loose pieces. These films illustrate his boundless and pleasant mysticism.
Walter Benjamin is for many people a loved one. Academics hold him in a place between literary criticism, philosophy, sociology and history, and his readers treasure him as the great detective of the city; a mirror broken into a thousand fragments that reflect the entirety of things, including their aura. And it was in fact his mystical aspect which managed to elude any absolute categorization and placed him as a crossroad for lost voices, a loneley man among the passing crowds.
In the documentary One Way Street: Fragments for Walter Benjamin (1993), we are introduced to a metaphysical Benjamin, the same who acquired a profound interest in Kabbalistic thought because of his friend Gershim Sholem, and who understood through this that “emanations” —as he referred to the ghastly truths that appear in everyday life— can be revealed to us all.
Benjamin found these emanations by juxtaposing things that are not necessarily related to each other. That is why, as a tailor of foreign texts, he built a constellation of quotes and texts (insinuating that every voice is always the other) that still has the Western world busy with. And this is precisely its Kabbalistic sense: one cannot actively oppose these presences; a revelation is “blocked”, but in the tandem of pieces they can be revealed. Benjamin’s fragmentary method produced the most astounding results: hundreds and hundreds of pages concerning a few subjects he was enthralled by (arcades, flâneurs, Baudelaire, the “aura”, eyes, twilight, phantasmagoria, collectors, the 19th century…), and an unfinished book of annotations that is his ultimate masterpiece.
The second film, Flâneur III, Benjamin’s Shadow, explores one of the portentous subjects that occupied Benjamin’s thoughts: Paris and the flâneur. Defined by him as he who “botanises the asphalt”, the flâneur is he who, like himself, wanders the city anonymously and reads people and things as if they were texts; a detective who seeks clues where no one else sees them. To him, being lost was productive, and Paris was a labyrinth whose arcades are in constant movement.
The most valuable aspect of these two films is perhaps the affective approach towards his vast and mysterious figure. Benjamin revealed certain “presences” in things, and in his fragments he attempted a divine order in which the beginning is exchangeable with the end, and in which each story breaks like a mirror into a thousand images. Among all these things he left something that made him beloved to his readers.
Every reader sees Walter Benjamin as a piece of that broken mirror, and discerns him as the sepia tandem of all his obsessions. In the end, there are so many Benjamins as there are readers of Benjamin. He was a ghost in more than one way.
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