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everyone can find in it his own existence

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From Walter Benjamin’s “The Image of Proust” in Illuminations:

What was it that Proust sought so frenetically? What was at the bottom of these infinite efforts? Can we say that all lives, works, and deeds that matter were never anything but the undisturbed unfolding of the most banal, most fleeting, most sentimental, weakest hour in the life of the one to whom they pertain? When Proust in a well-known passage described the hour that was most his own, he did it in such a way that everyone can find it in his own existence. We might even call it an everyday hour.

There are lots of different ways to describe Benjamin’s distinctive form of writing, his idiosyncratic form of thought. Some prefer the term “thetic,” which obviously works best with the pieces actually broken into theses, like the “Theses on the Philosophy” of history or the “Work of Art” essay. Others go with “dialectical,” which works as well, but perhaps distracts a bit from the actual contours of the texts.

This passage from the essay on Proust is a perfect example of what I would call Benjamin’s late and distinctive form. And it bears an amazing message, if you listen closely.

The third sentence takes up the blurring of the event, the significant occurrence, into the banal, the long durée, the everyday. For a gloss we can turn back just a bit for this:

Only the actus purus of recollection itself, not the author or the plot, constitutes the unity of the text. One may even say that the intermittence of the author and plot is only the reverse of the continuum of memory, the pattern on the backside of the tapestry.

In Proust’s work, then, we find a reversal of – or the surfacing of the reversal of – the conventional way that he conceive of novels. Rather than organizing the inchoate, the author and plot only interrupt, disrupt, punctuate the underlying continuum of infinite recollection. This reversal levels the finite event down into the infinite “unfolding” of time.

Well enough. But then back to the next sentence of the initial quote, which sends us in a very different direction:

When Proust in a well-known passage described the hour that was most his own, he did it in such a way that everyone can find it in his own existence. We might even call it an everyday hour.

Do you see it? The leap? From the dissolution of significance into the everyday, without a breath, into this – into the generalization of the particular, into communicability. We start with nihilism, neglect the anxious consideration of the abyss that we might expect, and turn in the next sentence to communication.

Reminds me, just this tiny passage, quite a bit of the move that’s being traced out here – the work that gives this blog its name.

The commodification of the human body, while subjecting it to the iron laws of massification and exchange value, seemed at the same time to redeem the body from the stigma of ineffability that had marked it for millennia. Breaking away from the double chains of biological destiny and individual biography, it took its leave of both the inarticulate cry of the tragic body and the dumb silence of the comic body, and thus appeared for the first time perfectly communicable, entirely illuminated. The epochal process of the emancipation of the human body from its theological foundations was thus accomplished in the dances of the ‘girls,’ in the advertising images, and in the gait of fashion models. This process had already been imposed at an industrial level when, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the invention of lithography and photography encouraged the inexpensive distribution of pornographic images: Neither generic nor individual, neither an image of the divinity nor an animal form, the body now become something truly whatever.

Written by adswithoutproducts

March 22, 2006 at 1:22 am

One Response

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  1. He does do that well doesn’t he 🙂

    Matt

    March 24, 2006 at 10:44 pm


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