walter benjamin

I sat down to re-read Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” for my graduate seminar, but I got sidetracked, reading instead his “Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting.” It’s an enjoyable, personal essay that would fit nicely as a companion piece to the essay I intended to read {though I need to re-read “Work of Art” before I’m sure}. Benjamin writes,

Would it not be presumptuous of me if, in order to appear convincingly objective and down-to-earth, I enumerated for you the main sections or prize pieces of a library, if I presented you with their history or even their usefulness to a writer? I, for one, have in mind something less obscure, something more palpable than that; what I am really concerned with is giving you some insight into the relationship of a book collector to his possessions, into collecting rather than a collection (59-60)

In eight pages, Benjamin discusses the memories and associations that each book in a collection evokes for a collector, the strength of the desire a collector feels before a book is acquired, and the organizing logic of a {private} collection often being centered in the collector’s desires and interests. In all of this, the contents of a book – the actual act of reading it – is treated as incidental: it’s the acquisition and possession that matter:

The most profound enchantment for the collector is the locking of individual items within a magic circle in which they are fixed as the final thrill, the thrill of acquisition, passes over them (60).

Benjamin, Walter. “Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting.” Illuminations. Ed. and intro. by Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1969.

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5 thoughts on “walter benjamin

  1. Your commens are surely engrossing. I just wanted to ask you , how does one protect his collection? Does not he hesitate while his collection is been cycling around when others use it?

  2. I think that for the “true” collector, no one else gets to use the collection. Otherwise, the circle loses its magic.

  3. Actually I wanted a different opinion, i.e is any of yours. If you you could help me out please. It’s going to be greatful of you.

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