Benjamin's Crossing

Benjamin's Crossing

by Jay Parini


$3.58 $15.00 Save 76% Current price is $3.58, Original price is $15. You Save 76%.
View All Available Formats & Editions

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402867095
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 07/15/1998
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.85(d)

About the Author

JAY PARINI, a poet and novelist as well as biographer, is Axinn Professor of English at Middlebury College. His novels include The Last Station (adapted as an Academy Award-nominated film and translated into more than thirty languages), Benjamin's Crossing, and The Passages of H. M. His poetry includes The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems and the forthcoming New and Collected Poems, 1975-2015. He has written biographies of Robert Frost, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, and Jesus. Among his nonfiction books are Why Poetry Matters and Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America.

Read an Excerpt




Port-Bou, Spain: 1950. Here I stand, a man who did not even weep at the death of his own parents, weeping for Walter Benjamin, my dear lost friend. The graveyard has a vertical pitch, suspended over a green-gold sea in the shadow of the Pyrenees.

A decade or more has passed, but I still hear his voice shunting the dry grass, curling with the wind, caught in the boom and tingle of the surf. "If I were to join you in Palestine," he said, "it is entirely possible that my situation would improve. Then again, who can say? I tend, as you see, to pause at the fork in every road, shifting my weight from foot to foot." He wrote that in 1931, when the opportunity was still there. He could have come, you know, to Jerusalem, where he would have lived among like-minded people. There was no need for this destruction. I would eventually have found him a position in the university--or in a school, perhaps. Teachers are always in demand. Or a library. He would have made an excellent curator of manuscripts and objets d'art. Who knew more than Walter Benjamin?

He never guessed the extreme turn things would take in Europe: Benjamin was simply not that sort of man. It is fair to say that he understood little about real life; he was--dare I say it?--an ignoramus when it came to politics. But what a literary mind! He could enter the labyrinth of a text and, like Theseus, unspool a thread from his heart that he could follow back to the light, having gone down so deep, having stood face-to-face with the Minotaur itself and slain it.

The European mind has lost its champion, its dauphin, its sweetest prince, though nobody really knows it. Would they care if they knew? I doubt the world can produce another quite like Benjamin. Even if it does, the soil of this continent is no longer right for such a mind. It could never thrive in this befouled and selfish, soulless climate. I should don sackcloth, hike into the desert, mourn. I should cry out with Jeremiah: "And I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, and made mine heritage an abomination."

But here I stand, on the Spanish border, where he died ten years ago. He was my friend, and I had to see this grave for myself. To visualize and confirm everything. And to see exactly what happened and where it happened, this tragedy that can still bring a good night's sleep skidding to a halt.

The surf breaks on rocky shingle below me, and bladder wrack lies exposed like intestines among driftwood and boulders, the anemones pulsing in little rock pools like yellow hearts, as if trying to keep the great beast of the sea alive. There is such struggle for life everywhere. But the entropic nature of the universe cannot be denied. Things fall apart, and that's that.

This is the place where Eva Ruiz, a French-born woman who runs the only hotel in the village, tells me he is buried, but I'm not sure which grave is his.

"He was a polite man, your friend," she said this morning, serving me coffee in the terraced garden behind her pink-faced hotel, which is perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. "I liked him very much."

"That was a long time ago. You must have had so many guests," I said. Her hands fluttered in her lap like a pair of white moths.

"Oh no," she insisted. "I remember him well, your Dr. Benjamin. A small and very sensitive man, and a Jew, as I recall. He had a bushy mustache and wore thick glasses and was kind to my daughter, you see. A mother remembers that sort of thing. Suzanne still refers to him."

"May I speak with your daughter?"

"That is impossible, I'm afraid. She has been sent away to school, in Nice." Her face grew rigid, and the mothlike hands flew to her neck, as if she might strangle herself before my very eyes.

"The way he died," she said, "it was too sad, really, and so ill-considered."


"From my viewpoint, of course. Given my situation, you see. I am a widow. One has to take many things into account."

"I'm afraid you confuse me, madame," I said.

"Do I?" She leapt to her feet and looked out the window. "I have no gift for words, I'm afraid. I say the wrong things. It used to exasperate my husband, who was an officer ... under General Franco. He met the general on two or three occasions."

I realized there was no point in interrogating her further, but it interested me that Benjamin had made such an impression on her. She could not have known him well. If my calculations are correct, he was only here in Port-Bou for a day or so, in early October 1940--the last day of his life. Nevertheless, Madame Ruiz had been able to shed impressive tears on his behalf when I first mentioned that he was my friend; mascara streaked her powdery cheeks, making black lines that followed and deepened the heavy creases in her skin. Her broad forehead was a plinth for the tall black statue of her hair. I supposed that in her youth she would have been a formidable beauty, but now she was appalling.

"He had several friends with him, as I recall. They were all quite pleasant. A middle-aged woman and her son. And another man, I think. A Belgian teacher or accountant--I forget which. They had come a great distance on foot, over the mountains! The poor things were exhausted!"

"It was a common route for Jews, was it not?"

"For Jews, yes. And others. I did my best to make it easy for them, but it was never easy, you see. The border guards were vigilant, and the local police ... you could never trust them." She whispered under her breath that General Franco was not especially sympathetic to the Jews. This hardly surprised me. The history of the Jews in Spain has been an anguished one, going back to Isabella and Ferdinand, who did their best to scatter us to the ends of the earth. The fires of pogroms licked the night skies as shiploads of Jews cast off for Africa or the Middle East.

"You are yourself a Jew?" she asked.


"I see from your passport that you live in Jerusalem."

"I do."

"It must be a lovely city," she said. "One of my sisters married a Jew. A large fellow, with a purple birthmark on his forehead. He's in the fur trade. Bernard Cohen, his name is." She looked at me as if I should somehow know him.

I chose not to interpret her remarks but accept them as a piece of unmediated personal history. Whether or not this Madame Ruiz approved of her sister's marriage was not my business. That she was probably an anti-Semite was clear enough.

She introduced me to a diminutive, wrinkled man called Pablo. In rapid Catalan, she explained to him what I wanted, and he seemed to understand. He led me to an unmarked grave--one of a dozen or so unmarked graves at the end of an allee of cedars. Wisteria, succulent and purple, dangled in the sea breeze from a stone wall. This was, I thought at once, an appropriate sort of place for one's bones to meld into dirt: a little squint of heaven on earth.

Pablo smelled of wine, and I did not trust him. Like Madame Ruiz, he did not look at me as we spoke.

"Are you sure this is it?" I asked, testing my Spanish. The stone marker was pocked and mottled, with no initials on it, no date, nothing. It seemed much older than a decade.

Pablo shrugged. "I buried him myself," he said, or seemed to say, in Catalan. Though I am a linguist by training, Catalan defeats me.

I did not believe him but tipped him anyway, indicating I would like to be alone at my friend's grave, or supposed grave, under a hard, blue Spanish sky, rocking back and forth in prayer as a rabbi might have done that terrible day in 1940, had there been a rabbi. I wanted somehow to complete a circle I had begun to draw so many years before, and to make amends for something that can never be amended.

Our correspondence of three decades ended abruptly in the late spring of 1940, and it was some time before I heard that he had died--by his own hand, apparently. For many reasons, this information did not surprise me. It would have surprised me more if he had actually made it to New York or Cuba or Casablanca; it would have suggested resources not obviously within his grasp.

I first caught a glimpse of Benjamin in 1913, at the Cafe Tiergarten in Berlin. Those smoky establishments along the Kurfurstendamm have long passed out of existence, but in those days there was nothing like them, with their cool marble floors and high ceilings and potted plants that dangled and drooped like creatures from another world. One could sit and chatter about politics, philosophy, and literature until the morning star rose over Berlin without having to buy more than one cup of thick Turkish coffee. Young Berliners hoping to fashion themselves as intellectuals or artists flocked from all parts of the city, testing the quality of their minds and hearts on one another.

Benjamin had not yet awakened to a sense of his own Jewishness then, in those innocent years before the Great War. He was a votary of Gustav Wyneken, that Pied Piper for rebellious sons of the haute bourgeoisie, who had been his schoolmaster at Haubinda, an elegant country boarding school in Thuringen, which two of my cousins also attended at roughly the same time. The bond between Benjamin and his teacher was famous in certain circles.

I will not pretend otherwise: Benjamin and I were both well off, and perhaps a little spoiled by our circumstances; we had grown used to ridiculous luxury, a life cushioned by the labor of countless servants, to well-appointed houses or apartments crammed with handsome (if rather heavy and ornate) furniture. Our walls were hung with dreary landscape oils by minor Bavarian artists of the mid-nineteenth century, and our floors covered by Persian carpets. The truth is we both disliked, even resented, our circumstances; the sheer lack of spiritual or (as he would say) "dialectical" interest shown by our parents and their friends appalled us. "Their life is so thin," Benjamin would say. "I pity them, and their souls."

It happened that Benjamin was making a well-publicized speech that evening in the Tiergarten, which is the reason I had come. An acquaintance had said to me, "Walter Benjamin is the new Kant," thus enraging me. I wondered why on earth people said such things. Still, my curiosity was piqued, and I determined to see this "new Kant" for myself.

There were two rival groups of students in Berlin at the time: the Wyneken band, who formed the Youth Movement and deployed rather pseudopatriotic arguments for the preservation and promotion of Germanic culture, and the Zionist group to which I belonged, known as the Jung Juda. My group understood only too well that Germany was no place for Jews, no matter how comfortable Jewish life in Berlin had grown. I don't think Wyneken's little friends even noticed they were Jewish, though most of them were. If they did, it meant nothing to them. You might ask them directly, "Are you Jewish?" and they would answer, "I am German. My family is Jewish by tradition, but I do not practice any faith."

Because of his reputation for uncompromising brilliance, Benjamin had been chosen by Wyneken to represent the Youth Movement that night. Eighty or so of us gathered in a large room over the main cafe: young men mostly, with a few women. Everyone was smoking and drinking coffee, misting the room with their presence; I can still hear the crackle of cups and laughter and loud debate typical of those gatherings.

Of course, a hush fell as Wyneken himself stood to introduce Benjamin, whom he called "a young philosopher, poet, and literary scholar known to many of you already." It was peculiar to hear a young man who had published nothing described in those exalted terms. I began to understand what everyone saw in Wyneken: He was a flatterer.

Even Benjamin seemed embarrassed by his teacher's epithets as he listened to the introduction. He crushed his cigarette into an ashtray on the table beside him, then rose slowly. He began with a quotation from Hegel clearly designed to frighten off the wrong sort of people. Much to my surprise, I saw that Benjamin was not the sort of man to make concessions to an audience. He did not even bother to mention which of Hegel's works he was citing, assuming that his listeners would know it. If they didn't, well--that was too bad. You shouldn't be there if you didn't know your Hegel.

The speech itself was tortuous but--I had to admit it--brilliant. Benjamin's voice had a strange but melodious quality: a subtonic aura, familiar in its way but still idiosyncratic. I later thought of it as a well-seasoned viola, though on rare occasions it squeaked like a cheap fiddle. The real melody was in the argument itself. It would have sounded reasonable if overheard through a wall so thick that the words themselves could not be made out, only the tune.

Zionism, he proclaimed, had its merits, but educational reform was the most pressing issue before German-Jewish youth of the day. This raised my hackles, and I sat up tall, feeling my pulse quicken. I began to tap my fingers on my knees as Benjamin's voice rose and fell, pulling the audience forward in their seats (especially when the sound level dropped to the merest whisper). As he talked, he kept his eyes fastened on the far left corner of the ceiling, as if there were something he strained to see. Only once, when he seemed to be struggling to regain his thoughts, did he interrupt this stare to face his listeners directly, and it was disconcerting--as if for the first time he realized other people were in the room! He recovered, however, locating his beloved corner of the ceiling once again. It was impressively odd.

The talk finished, he did not even nod toward his audience (who clapped politely, some of them with real enthusiasm) but, improbably, left the room altogether. I somehow imagined there would be questions, but he walked straight up the central aisle, peering at the floor ahead through the gold rims of thick glasses. He gave the clear impression of a man who did not care what anyone thought about his speech--an attitude I grudgingly admired. Why answer all of these dolts? Moreover, there was something sublime, even otherworldly, about his self-absorption. One could easily imagine him as an old man drowsing over the Talmud, in some remote yeshiva.

I noticed in passing that his black shoes were highly polished--an attempt at conformity, perhaps--but he had smeared the wax onto his white socks, and the results were ludicrous; his tie was food-stained, and his shirt needed pressing. In all, he was short, thin-boned, extremely dark in complexion, with masses of wiry black hair that looked more like a fur hat than real hair. He walked with the sideways shuffle typical of myopics, his peripheral vision poor or nonexistent. In later years, when I saw him coming toward me in the distance, I often thought of Charlie Chaplin, and once or twice I called him Herr Chaplin to his face--a joke that seemed not to register.

My first personal encounter with Benjamin came two years later, when he was twenty-three and I seventeen. It was 1915, a year into the Great War, and a singularly hot and melancholy summer had consumed Berlin. The streets teemed with eager young soldiers who did not quite realize the devastation that lay ahead of them, although one sensed from all the wild merrymaking that many could feel death coming on, could even smell it rising in their nostrils. Army vehicles appeared in the streets, rattling down the broad vistas and beside the parks, some of them already scorched and pocked from battle; the Kaiser's face blazoned from posters in shop windows. Flags multiplied and fluttered from every balcony in the city. I remember seeing a phalanx of equestrian warriors riding grandly through the streets--an absurdity in the age of machine guns and gas warfare, but typical of Germanic sentimentality. The myth of Teutonic invincibility would take decades to shatter.

I ignored the war as best I could. I was in the habit of attending lectures now and then, and one evening I chanced upon an address by a popular (and now deservedly forgotten) figure called Kurt Hiller, who had just published a book about the wisdom of boredom. His remarks went down very well with everyone but me. As I recall, he attempted to argue that history was complete nonsense, that we are born into one generation and this remains our reality. Whatever happened before us must be erased, forgotten. Since history cannot be fathomed or described, there is no point to worrying over it. And so on. A disgraceful performance.

I interrupted him rudely at one point, objecting to some particularly weak link in his argument and adopting, I fear, a pompous tone. Though a teenager yet, I had confidence in my own powers of intellect, and I did not suffer fools gladly. Benjamin, who was sitting in the row ahead of me, turned and smiled when he caught my eye. I believe I winked at him, involuntarily, then rued my peculiar gesture. What would he think of me?

As was the custom of this group, a discussion of Hiller's lecture was held the next week in Charlottenburg in a student residence hall, and Benjamin--as I had dared to hope--was present. He wore a baggy suit with a waistcoat, and a gold watch chain draped in a semicircle across his belly, which bulged slightly: a hint of the portly middle-age that as yet lay sleeping in the cave of his youth. The seat beside him was empty, but I shifted for a while at the back of the room, wondering if I dared sit next to him. Several people came in, and my heart thumped: I wanted someone else to sit there, to relieve me of having to do so. But no one did. I steeled myself and sat down firmly beside him, nodding politely when he looked up to see who I was.

In the ten minutes or so before the discussion began, I tried several times to get up sufficient courage to speak to him. Werner, my brother, had put the fear of God into me about Benjamin, and I preferred not to make a fool of myself. Once the meeting got under way, however, I found myself speaking volubly, challenging nearly everyone who made a significant point. For his part, Benjamin said little, sitting beside me like a sphinx, his eyes fixed ahead of him. What he did say, however, contradicted me, though not explicitly. In retrospect, I can see the crude beginnings of his vexed posture toward history in his remarks that night, but these were sufficiently inchoate then; one could not have pinned him down, I suspect.

At one point I contradicted him sharply, and I felt weak and silly as I left the room, thinking I would never see him again. Already I had lost two friends, old schoolmates, in the war, and sometimes it seemed that everyone I knew would eventually be sucked into that whirling vortex, swallowed whole by the History that people like Kurt Hiller so readily mocked.

Life grew less comfortable at this time, even for people like my parents. Mysteriously, servants disappeared; meals became less bountiful, and certain foodstuffs disappeared from shops. Meat, for example, became almost too expensive to buy, and fruit became scarce. Veal, which had been a staple of our prewar diet, seemed to vanish. "The troops are eating well," my father would say, with only a touch of irony.

One day, perhaps a fortnight after the discussion in Charlottenburg, I was in the catalog room of the university library, sitting at a long table with a lacquered top, when Benjamin suddenly appeared. His jacket was covered with a snowy lint of dandruff, and he leaned harshly to one side, as if the ship's deck of the room had shifted in a great swell. He came right up to me, splay-footed, his face bobbing on his neck, and stopped within a foot of my face. He did not say a word as he surveyed my presence from shoe to scalp. Impassive myself, I tried to meet his gaze, my heart pounding. Then he turned and rushed from the room. Not a minute later, however, he was back. This time he strode right up to me, as if emboldened.

"I believe you are the gentleman who had much to say about history the other night?" he said. It was impossible to determine his tone. Was he accusing me of something? (Later, I would come to understand his peculiar way of speaking, which was curiously inward and indirect, as if the world were far too difficult to interpret up close.)

I confessed I was, indeed, the gentleman in question.

"In that case," he said, "you must give me your address and telephone number. We should have a talk."

I scribbled the details on a slip of paper, which he stuffed into the pocket of his jacket. I imagined it jostling there with laundry slips, tobacco crumbs, and random notes on the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Here was a man who did not compartmentalize like the rest of us, nor did he compromise with everyday life. His mind was ablaze with ideas, and their concrete embodiments in the world seemed only to puzzle him, to disrupt the pure serenity of mind. It would seem, as I came to know him, that the details of living actually hurt him; he did not want, could hardly stand, the necessary interruptions that human life entails.

Before taking his leave, he bowed with exaggerated courtesy. "Thank you very much, sir," he said.

Not three days later a note arrived for me at home: "Dear Sir--I should like you to visit me this Thursday at around five-thirty."

No sooner had I opened the note, however, than the telephone rang. It was Benjamin.

"I wonder, Herr Scholem, if you might come on Wednesday instead? Or perhaps Tuesday? Tuesday is perhaps a better day for me."

"So I will come on Tuesday," I said.

"No, I think Wednesday is better. Do you like Wednesday?"

"Wednesday has always been a particular favorite of mine, Herr Benjamin," I said.

There was a gap as he tried to process my tone.

"Are you there, Herr Benjamin?" I asked.

"This line is not good," he said. "Wartime conditions, I suppose."

"I hear you quite well."

"Ah, good! Very good. Is Wednesday all right, then?" He was now shouting into the phone, distorting the sound.

"Yes, I am free on Wednesday."

"Marvelous. I will see you on Wednesday, if you're quite certain."

It was a maddening trait of his, this indecisiveness, which in his case was complicated by his extreme politeness. He hovered ceaselessly between this and that opinion or idea, terrified to put his money down. When it came to women, he was also hopeless in making decisions; no woman was ever quite right, unless she was living with somebody else or found him unattractive. In smaller ways, too, this lack of firmness arose only to confound him; in a restaurant, for example, he would order the fish, then call the waiter to change his mind several times; in the end, it was the fish he ate, all the while coveting whatever morsels appeared on the plates of others. Once I said, "All right, Walter, I shall switch plates with you. It ruins the meal for me to watch you stare at my food." But even then, with the plates switched, he sighed, "I was right the first time around, wasn't I? Yours is not so good."

Benjamin lived at that time with his parents in the Grunewald section of Berlin, at 23 Delbruckstrasse, just around the corner from the broad, tree-lined Jagostrasse, near the famous park. A dark, oak-paneled elevator took one to their apartment on the top floor, where an elderly maid in a navy blue dress with a lace collar let one in. It was all quite proper, as one might expect of a wealthy household in the western section of Berlin in those days.

"We have been expecting you, Herr Scholem," said the maid.

I was led to Benjamin's room down a long corridor from which I could glimpse the opulence of the apartment itself. The 1870s (Grunderzeit) furniture cried out to the onlooker: "Be careful what you say in my presence!" In the main sitting room, the sofas were covered with a mauve velvet; the curtains were a thick silvery brocade. I noticed a particularly nice Aubusson tapestry hanging on one wall: a hunting scene with several rapacious Dutchmen attacking a hapless wolf. There were purple and red rugs on the floor, like islands of color in a sea of honeybrown wood. Burnt-orange flowers drooped from Chinese vases, redolently oppressive. It was all quite grand, though something of an haute bourgeois cliche.

The walls along the corridor boasted depressing landscapes in oil by minor Parisian and Bavarian artists; they had presumably been acquired by Benjamin's father, Emil, who was rumored to have made a killing in the field of art. Indeed, my father had recently bought a painting at Lepke's, the auction house on Koch Street that Emil ran, so I had heard a good deal about the elder Benjamin, who was also involved in the wine and building trades. "Herr Benjamin," my father pronounced last night over dinner, "has a finger in every pie." He liked very much that I should be friendly with the son of this respectable man of business.

"Ah, Scholem, it's you!" Benjamin said, opening the door of his bedroom. "I am pleased to see you, Herr Scholem."

A slightly younger fellow sat beside him, elegantly dressed in a brown suit, quite unlike Benjamin in appearance but unmistakably a brother; they had the same dark eyes and ever so vaguely hooked noses.

"Let me introduce Georg Benjamin, my brother," he said.

I shook hands with Georg, who began to chatter about a party he attended the night before, a bash held in honor of friends soon to be sent to the front. There was much drinking and dancing, and the girls were loose. I pretended to listen, forcing the occasional grin. I could see that Georg's performance displeased his older brother, who stared out the window with a serious frown.

The objects in the room held my attention, the way everything tumbled on itself. Old and new books lined every wall and formed precarious stacks in two corners. I happened to see Nattlau's biography of Bakunin lying open on a narrow bed, its margins crammed with notes. I could just make out the word "NONSENSE!" in capital letters beside one paragraph and cringed. One always regrets these youthful ejaculations in later years. The Aufruf zum Sozialismus of Gustav Landauer lay on the floor, facedown--a second-rate but dangerous book pleading the case for socialism. A novel by Balzac could also be seen, open, near the table by his bed, although I could not read the title.

Benjamin seemed to ignore me while Georg blathered on. It was quite a surprise when, unexpectedly, he belted out, "Georg, please! You will drive us mad!"

Georg caught himself midsentence, as if hung up and dangling on barbed wire.

"You must not rattle on like this," Benjamin added. "Herr Scholem has come here to discuss a lecture that we both attended."

"I see," he said. He took out a pipe and began to play with lighting it. "So, discuss."

"It was very kind of you to invite me around," I said, trying to shift the conversation into its proper channel.

"My dear Scholem, you must never apologize for yourself. It does not become you."

"I'm sorry."

"Sit down, please. We were going to talk about history, I believe. The Hiller lecture got us thinking, didn't it?"

"Yes," I said. "I've been thinking about history--not any specific history, but the notion of the past, and the ways we try to represent it."

I saw Georg wince. He was not used to thinking about these things, or thinking at all.

I was settled now in a large leather chair, the arms of which overwhelmed me. Benjamin sat opposite, cross-legged, on the bed. Georg stood in the corner, with his pipe, now disgorging blue rings into the air.

"You must explain why you reacted as you did to what Herr Hiller was saying the other night," Benjamin said. "I disliked it, too, but perhaps for different reasons ... and not so intensely as you."

"Only an idiot would believe that history is of no consequence," I said. "The man has obviously been reading Nietzsche."

"You dislike Nietzsche?"

"He is a dangerous influence. We Jews, you know, have a vested interest in history. People who forget their past may wish, perhaps unconsciously, to destroy their future. They have the stink of death about them. What they really hope is to destroy every trace that leads to their loathsome present."

"Bravo!" cried Georg. "You have a wonderful manner of speaking, Herr Scholem. A real Demosthenes!"

Benjamin rolled a cigarette on his lap, ignoring his brother. "I am largely in agreement with your point of view," he said, speaking very slowly. "You see, my work here, such as it is, concerns the nature of history, the historical process. There is no such thing as history, you see. It's a grand fiction, a layering of points of view." He paused for quite some time. "History is a kind of myth," he added. "It's a dream, perhaps even the dream of a dream. All very subjective--I suppose that is what I'm saying."

"I cannot agree, Herr Benjamin," I said.

"Nor I," said Georg. "It was my worst subject in school. I nearly failed my exams last year because of history."

"So what is history?" I asked Georg.

"It's what has happened."

Benjamin was smiling hugely, his crooked, tobacco-stained teeth like an ill-conceived fence around his gums. "So how would you describe the current war, Georg? What has really happened?"

"We have had to defend ourselves against a vicious enemy."

"I see."

"You make everything so complicated," Georg added. "There is no need to dismantle every incident, to tear apart every text, limb from limb. Life is too short for that."

"Some lives are shorter than they need be," I said, although the implications of my remark appeared not to register.

Now Benjamin weighed in at some length, talking about what he called "the fragile text of history," which he said "we revise over and over." It was clear he'd read a good deal of Hegel and was fond of what he called dialectical thinking. Quite naturally, we moved on to discuss socialism, which was in the air now and on the tip of every tongue in the more interesting cafes. I had myself been reading Fourier with some distaste.

"Socialism is simply jealousy," said Georg. "Quite naturally, the poor would like what the rich possess. If they can't get it any other way, they will legislate it into their pockets."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews