Saturday, October 13, 2012

Enter Walter Benjamin: The Strange Case of the Visage-Libre. Part Two


Read Part One of the Strange Case of the Visage-Livre.

[From the personal notebook of Sub-Inspector M. Horkheimer, assigned to Inspector T. A. Weisengrund]

Because the Inspector and I needed to go to Paris to investigate the Visage-Libre, Weisengrund decided to visit his older friend Benjamin Walter.  I did not know him though I knew of his reputation.  A man tuned to all that is new:  radio, steam-based communication, and the cinema.  His pioneering writing on pre-steam theology was of decisive importance; even though our present age has moved beyond that nonsense, despite the mumbling of the Alpinist, the Ecclesiast, and the Lutheran Communist Youth Groups.   That latter group’s existence reminds us of the Christian and antiquarian commitments of Karl Marx.  The Inspector, Benjamin, and I, along with some of the residents of the Hungaro-Austrian Empire like Georg Luk√°cs, have  long been devoted to overcoming  the backward theology of the Lutheran Communist Youth Groups to extract the true picture of the world in steam and matter.  In this we are heartened by the work on steam undertaken by the Magus.
....
Inspector T. A. Weisengrund
Meeting Walter Benjamin was an odd affair.  He lived in a vast library, filled with books, postcards, trash, and old knick-knacks.  A wizened man who still was only a few years older than the Inspector, it was always clear to me that such a meeting would be very hard for the Inspector to take. 
....
“The Visage-Livre is dangerous.  It asks a person to act, write, and communicate with others through their portrait, drawn by the Visage-Livre itself.  This takes away any breath of freedom that a person might have.  Those people in London died not because of having their portrait drawn, not for the amusement of the Visage-Livre, but for having invested all of themselves into this other place where they are not."

Inspector Weisengrund was mad -- he spouted this out.  He and Walter Benjamin had been arguing all day.  I still did not understand why we were in this strange library, and I still do not. 

Benjamin had been stating that something else, other than the Visage-Livre was to blame for the deaths we investigated.  He pointed to the Ecclesiast’s theory of a self-consuming book.  That the Visage-Livre does not create a space for escape since it is constantly destroying itself, pulling the ladder up from the ground and closing the doors to all who come.  Benjamin saw this new device as a welcome way to stir people to action, to connect them throughout the Empire to find new ways of living together.  He took a view that the Inspector could only deny.

“You are insufficiently dialectial and cannot detect the true danger of this technology.  Just as it seems to increase democracy, it actually undermines it.  It makes the participant a mere recipient and consumer, it makes him or her out to merely rest and accept.  This Visage-Livre trains its participants to accept authority.  It readies them for a strong leader.  This is not the beginning of freedom.  It is the beginning of barbarism."
....
We left this library and its occupant.  Benjamin still pledged friendship to the both of us.  But we still had to discover those who began this strange book of face.  It seemed that we needed to investigate the German company whose Paris branch had started it.  We needed to visit the offices of the Kulturindustrie.

[Continue to Part Three]

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