Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ransom Notes (Benjamin Pt 1)

Okay, going forward, I’m dispensing with the practice of dropping my notes on the readings into the blogs – too long and unwieldy. Instead, I’ll only be putting the essay-esque bits and commentary. On the odd chance there’s a reader out there, this should make the experience a bit more palatable. – N

Re: Arendt’s introduction:
I was struck by Benjamin the collector, particularly Benjamin the collector of quotes. My own writing is often prompted by and laced with quotations from a range of sources – songs, philosophers, fiction, whatever works, almost like creating a soundtrack for the story. Arendt discusses his juxtaposition of wildly diverse quotations, and we can imagine the new meanings that hence arise. It’s imperative to note, that the age of reproduction, such that all sorts of texts are available to everyone, makes this possible.

The title of this essay-logue, “Ransom Notes” reflects the way kidnappers cut and pasted letters from newspapers and magazines to prevent tracing of their identity through handwriting, the pen they used, etc. I’ve long envisioned doing a piece entirely by such means – all song quotes for instance – to tell a new story. It was thus heartening to read: “Benjamin’s ideal of producing a work consisting entirely of quotations, one that was mounted so masterfully that it could dispense with any accompanying text, may strike one as whimsical in the extreme and self-destructive to boot, but it was not….”

Arendt refers to these “thought fragments” as pearls, and the writer as a “pearl diver” descending to the bottom of the sea excavating “rich and strange” fragments. This way the past is made new, kept fresh and alive, and new meaning is created. While my quotations are random and diverse, there are a few that make their way into my work on multiple occasions and they’ve offered important meaning to me over the years. I present them here:

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” – George Harrison.

“To ask for a map is to say, ‘Tell me a story.’” – Peter Turchi

“Not the maps to guide where we go from here
The road twists and braids our hair
Until we all get there”
Speech – “Braided Hair”

“We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another’s vantage point, as if new, it may still take the breath away.” – Alan Moore, Watchmen Ch. 10: p. 27.

Postscript: As a longtime arts critic appreciated Kant’s words on criticism and the critic as alchemist: “Critique is concerned with the truth content of a work of art, the commentary with its subject matter.”
Also, lovely stuff about metaphor and Benjamin thinking poetically: “metaphors are the means by which the oneness of the world is poetically brought about.” (14)
And the thought of Kafka, Benjamin and others trapped by the very language that was German, suffocating, stifling, powerful thoughts… - N

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