May 1st, 2002


Walter Benjamin, One Way Street.

at around sixty pages, one way street is a dense little book, but in addition to this, i have never read quickly. but this isn't about my reading habits.

one way street is the surrealist and the flaneur side by side. for bejamin,i imagine the attraction was the explosion of all the new technology and culture that came after the first world war, and the changing shape of germany at this time. thus, i think, some of the intricate details are lost on me, some eighty years later. (or is it seventy. well, it's a much of muchness, i guess.)

the book reminds me, actually of the hagakure: the book of the samurai which was written by yamamoto tsunetomo around the 1700's. the way in which benjamin presents each image, and each thought about the city and the life, mirrors the way in which tsunetomo presents his somewhat bizarre beliefs on the nature of life for a samurai. little insights on the nature of life.

example. tsunetomo writes, "a retainer is a man who remains consistently undistracted twenty-four hours a day, whether he is in the presence of his master or in public. if one is careless during his rest period, the public will see him as being only careless."

compare it too benjamin, who wrote, "the only way of knowing a person is to love them without hope."

of course, benjamin slips away from this moralising, to go into actual things that are found within life, and a city, while by all accounts tsunetomo was considered a freak, even by 17 century china. he apparently wrote the hagakure as a Buddhist monk after he was denied junshi (which is ritual suicide through disembowlment, i believe) as this practice had been outlawed some forty years before. meanwhile, when benjamin wanted to kill himself, he did.

one way street is built, it seems now, out of generalities and benjamin's personal beliefs, which of course, is natural enough. it's true attraction is watching bejamin draw insights from objects, as he does with stamps, streets, archways, and even children. children, next to the art of writing, feature quite prominently in one way street, and it is perhaps because children are attracted to things, isolating them from context as benjamin himself did.

it is, of course, beautifully written, at the perfect pitch of being a flaneur, while at the same time being slightly... cold, impersonal? i think this is perhaps true.

(no subject)

quote: "now, in the time of thaw, borders everywhere are melting, sliding, submerging, reemerging/ identities--national, cultural, individual--are experiencing the exultant anxieties that accompany the threat of dissolution... today's national borders are largely inconvenient to world capitalism--they have long been routinely ignored by transnational corporations and by a money market become a global computer network, operating at the speed of light."

victor burgin, 'the city in pieces'.
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