Notes on Walter Benjamin's Archive: Images, Texts, Signs

Walter Benjamin's Archive: Images, Texts, Signs. Ed. by Ursula Marx, Gudrun Schwarz, Micheal Schwarz, and Erdmut Wizisla. Trans. by Esther Leslie. London: Verso, 2007.

proto-hypertext: "Benjamin's mode of working is marked by the techniques of archiving, collecting, and constructing. Excerpts, transpositions, cuttings-out, montaging, sticking, cataloguing and sorting appear to him to be true activities of an author…Fragments recombined into new things; this researcher converted them into something distinctive" (4). What are the characteristics of proto-hypertext? How do they differ from what is available now? How does it relate to remix culture? How does Benjamin's way relate to Bush's technological method(memex desk vs. hand-filed…storage differences. What are the limitations of the memex desk in terms of the tactile?). Historian/Philosopher Will Durant also made extensive use of notecards; in The Dual Autobiography of Will & Ariel Durant, there are several allusions to typing, organizing and using notecards to tame the massive amounts of information collected for the Story of Civilization.

Walter Benjamin kept a meticulous list of works he encountered: "Numerous card indexes and scraps of paper with addresses, excerpts and literature lists are likewise preserved"(8).

Pgs 8-9 describe Benjamin's cataloging system, which was thematic according to subject, format, project etc…(Associative Indexing??)

"Through all of this careful ordering and classification of his papers, the compilation of bibliographic catalogs, the lists of themes and books, the collections of excerpts and notes, a mode of work is documented, which aims at something more than the mere securing and stock-taking of knowledge"(10).

"The card index marks the conquest of three-dimensional writing, and so presents an astonishing counterpoint to the three-dimensionality of script in its original form as rune or knot notation. (And today the book is already, as the present mode of scholarly production demonstrates, an outdated mediation between two different filing systems. For everything that matters is to be found in the card box of the researcher who wrote it, and the scholar studying it assimilates it into his own card index.)" (SW 1 p.456) — (29) (SW 1=Selected Writings, Volume 1: 1913-1926. Edited by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard, 1996.)

Disregard for format: "The formats are fascinating: some scraps are no bigger than 4.5cm x 9cm. But Benjamin was able to utilize every last square millimeter. And he left behind a wealth of compressed sheets, notes, scraps, on which his great work unfolds richly detailed"(31).

"And of course he knew the meaning of the concept 'verzetteln' prevalent in library science or lexicography: "to excerpt," "to disperse things that belong together into individual slips or into the form of a card index"(31).

"Benjamin repeatedly treated the elements of his text according to the principle of building blocks: he copied them out, cut them out, stuck them on new sheets of paper and arranged them anew, long before such procedures became established in electronic word processing under the name "copy and paste" - and before the appearance of the German computer program Zettelwirtschaft[Paper Jumble], which was developed to order and re-order notes. Benjamin's idea of composing a work entirely of quotations ensures that the material within the collection can remain mobile, elements can be shifted at will. At the outset all material is of equal value: knowledge that is organized in slips and scraps knows no hierarchy"(32).

(inspired by pgs 49-52) Does the method of writing(handwriting? using what instruments? with what regard for typography-spacing) matter? Is it affected by the move from analog to digital? Does this consideration fit into this project?

"The inclusion of images changes the status of the text, prompting a reciprocal effect. The interplay of text, documentary images, and image captions was an important element of the publication for Benjamin. This is demonstrated by the notes on the Russian toys and the photo captions…"(73)

"Benjamin always utilized several notebooks in parallel. Alongside the booklets in which he wrote his diary, described his travels, fixed his ideas, drafted texts and letters and composed literature, he kept up the recordings of entries in a little book…"(152)

pgs 197-200 describe Benjamin's style of composition:

1) "Out of the flow of his first thoughts and ideas, which Benjamin jots down on the paper associatively, arises 'Attempt at a Layout,' which remains in fragment form; this is followed by bibliographic references, questions, quotations that have still to be utilized, as well as notes that are written both as keywords and in detailed form, by means of which Benjamin sought to locate the thematic emphases of the projected work."(197-98)

2) in prep for 1934 Kafka essay Benjamin was "…fumbling around for an adequate form of representation"(198).

3) Describing process of Kafka work: "First of all, Benjamin began by jotting own his initial thoughts and reflections, and through a perusal of his own ad others' work, he assembled motifs, excerpts, and quotations for evaluation: he generated a record of ideas and a stockroom at one and the same time. Frequently notes of varying origin and form are found on one page, which Benjamin then, in a second step, sorted according to themes and carefully copied out. In this way he compiles on one sheet the 'Motifs' in Kafka's works in ten points"(198).

4) "Alongside this work on the sheet Benjamin also used a very different technique: work with the sheet…"(199) continue on 199 to find the specifics of how Benjamin cut, collated and sorted his thoughts.

"Arranging the polar aspects of his thought and shaping them in language was similarly Benjamin's aim in his work on The Arcades Project"(200).

mind-mapping proper: "Benjamin often applied much care to the graphic form, the physical arrangement, of his manuscripts…Topographical relationships, spatial organization, optical alignments and divisions are not only apparent on the drafts and the pages that include calligraphic elements. Countless scraps and sheets in the bequest are evidence of a sensibility attuned to graphic elements, spatial dimensions, and design. Such deployment of graphic figurativeness is on of the characteristics of Benjamin's writing"(232).

"Visual models, sketches, and diagrams figure predominantly in Benjamin's preliminary studies: his efforts to orient writing and thought"(233).

pgs 251-254 describe a system that Benjamin devised in order to keep track of the huge amount of citations, quotations and other fragments gathered for the never finished Arcades Project. The indexing system used physical means(uniform notebooks), numerical, and colors to indicate the organization of thoughts, there was also a table of contents of a sort to serve as a finding aid.

Images of the rag-picker abound, a reference to Baudelaire. Not sure if this is relevant to the project.

"The meaningful figurativeness of a rebus is a good match for Benjamin's thinking. It corresponds to the architectonic construction of his thought's arrangement and the significance that he accorded the graphic form of his manuscripts"(291).

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