Article published in:Aproximació a l'altre / An approach to the other: Biografies, semblances i retrats / Biographies, resemblances and portraits
Edited by Enric Balaguer, Maria Jesús Francés and Vicent Vidal
[IVITRA Research in Linguistics and Literature 11] 2015
► pp. 17–24
Collage, muntatge i alters estratègies a Alemanys, de Walter Benjamin
This article presents the collection of letters Deutsche Menschen (German people), by W. Benjamin, as a rare case of collective biography. In particular, it focuses on the strategies used by the author in order to rend the biography of a historical period, and their connection with the surrealist conceptions of image, collage and montage. In this text, it is discussed that Benjamin’s strategy in Deutsche Menschen cannot be isolated from the concept of collage, in the terms in which it was conceived by the surrealist poets: as an alternative way of representation in front of the academic ones, by using poor materials put together by chance. According to this idea, the value of the truth of any surrealist image (in fact, a collage made of two completely different or distant realities) should depend on the grade of this distance. But Benjamin has actually used a poor, humble material to build his collective portrait of an age: some letters merely concerning domestic affairs in most occasions. Furthermore, these materials – chosen by the German author almost by chance, without any apparent reason at all – appear collected as the main body of the book, each one of them introduced only by some words of Benjamin (merely a formal or, sometimes, a biographical presentation): like broken pieces from a whole thing or old things picked up and now recycled. And finally they are expected to bring a meaningful image of the Klassik period in Germany due to their contrast (distance) with 1930’s contemporary situation. This strategy agrees with the deeply idiosyncratic conception of History (historical knowledge) by Walter Benjamin, which is, in fact, nothing else than an extension of the surrealist concept of an image. The so-called dialectic image will remain Benjamin’s approaching method to the past during his whole career, even in his most ambitious project, the Passagen-Werk, an immense montage of quotations which must be interpreted by the reader without any help from the author. This is why we are finally allowed to consider Deutsche Menschen as an important, fundamental laboratory test for Walter Benjamin, where he tested his particular method for History writing. A method – we do insist – inspired by the surrealist conception of image and by the contemporary artistic practice of collage as it was shown in Goeman’s Gallery exhibition in Paris in 1930 and theorized by the poet Louis Aragon.
Published online: 02 December 2015
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García Vergara, Marisa