Commentary / discussion / Essay / German Literature / reading / Walter Benjamin

Reading Life: Instructions for Reading One-Way Street by Walter Benjamin


Ed. by Michael W. Jennings; trans. by Edmund Jephcott; preface by Greil Marcus. Belknap Press, HUP, 2016.

1. You must read the book cover to cover. Do not skip the preface or introduction; allow yourself to soak up Marcus’ observations and Jennings history with Benjamin.

2. You do not have to read Benjamin’s text in order. I did. There is no damage in doing so, but give yourself the freedom to explore and move about as if you too are walking the one-way street. Your experience with “Polyclinic” or “Stamp Shop” may not be the same if you decide to read in order.

3. Read the signs carefully, but do not expect the signs to indicate meaning. That is not what this experience is about. At least it was not for me.

4. The “Notes” matter. Take care in their breath.

5. Before you leave the “Construction Site” carry this with you: “Children…produce their own small world of things within the greater one. The norms of this small world must be kept in mind if one wishes o create things specially for children, rather than let one’s adult activity, through its requisites and instruments, find is own way to them” (31).

6.  At “Loggia,” consider extending yourself through open sides, choose a favorite. Here is mine: “Foliage plant.—In the event an obstacle prevents union, the fantasy of a contented, shared old age is immediately at hand” (62).

7. Go for a walk, maybe two or three between your readings. Bring a notebook and writing utensil, ones you love working with. Read your surroundings and record.

7a. Your world will look different. Do not be afraid. Be bold and accept this new peculiarity.

8. You are not reading Benjamin’s text to agree or disagree; you are not reading to follow. Consider: why am I here?

9. The “Lost-and-Found Office” is not what you think it is. Rest here, take pause, then read over and over.

10. When you are ready, pass your copy onto a stranger. Do not tell them anything, just hand them the book, smile if you want. Remember: “All religions have honored the beggar. For he proves that in a matter both as prosaic and holy, banal and regenerating, as the giving of alms, intellect and morality, consistency and principles are miserably inadequate” (93).








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