In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

??? COHPAnATIST CAROL JACOBS. In the Language of Walter Benjamin. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP: 1999. ix-xi + 136 pp. In the Language ofWalter Benjamin collects essays by Carol Jacobs that have been written over an academic lifetime, some appearing as early as 1971, others as late as 1998. Jacobs tells the history ofher book in order to step directly into its content, which consists of"interruptions," of"pausing for breath" (1). In Benjamin's words, "It is characteristic ofwriting [. . .] to start and stop with every new sentence" (2). Jacobs is aware ofexpectations that she give a systematic appraisal ofthe subject matter. Consequently, she invokes Benjamin once more to remind us that "the value of thought fragments is all the more decisive the less (hey are able to directly measure themselves according to the fundamental conception" (2). She softens the demand for "fundamental conception" by making a claim to truth as understood by Benjamin: "truth (Wahrheit) as bound to its Darstellung—that is, its presentation, performance, production" (2). Darstellung, an untranslatable term, has all the flavor and power ofthe "foreignness" ofBenjamin's tongue, and ofBenjamin's thought. In the first ofsix chapters, "Letters from Walter Benjamin," Jacobs lays out the problems that one encounters in reading Benjamin. Philosophical writing must always confront the question ofDarstellung, since thinking "always begins anew" (18). There is always a need to pause for breath, and here lies the interest in rhythm as interruption rather than attention to continuous flow. It is less a question of"unveiling ," ofdestroying the text ofour criticism, than ofunderscoring the way to that very text's performance of its "refusal to disclosure" (3). "If, for knowledge, method is a way ofpossessing its object, ifits very object is determined by the fact that it must be taken possession of—for truth, the method is Darstellung of itself" (2). Jacobs insists on this point throughout all six chapters, which underscore the relationship ofthe chapters to themselves. In this sense, Jacobs's text partakes of Benjamin's conviction that criticism is translation, and that while decanonizing a work, criticism can dispose ofthe translator: "Transforming historical content into truth content, criticism 'saves' the work of art only at the price of its 'mortification '" (6). Criticism is infierì in the work ofart that appears as a ruin with respect to its content. The art form in general is made into such a ruin (6-7). Any criticism ofan original work deals with origins, and partakes ofthe performance ofthe work itself. Jacobs states that "to write the origin is not to give the story ofan organic, historical development, made manifest to the reader, nor to unveil the cause, reveal how an object has come into being. Nor is the origin bound to the factual or real. It is the performance ofa dialectic in which the reader is bound to see double: both the gesture toward a restoration ofwhat seems to have come before and, precisely within that move towards reestablishment, the uncompletability of that gesture. Singularity never arises in and ofitselfbut only appears as the failure ofa repetition that can never be brought about, at least not completely" (9). This double dialectic is at the heart of the texts that Jacobs ventures to read. Some deal with restorations of the past: Berlin Chronicle (autobiography), "Towards the Image ofProust" (biography), or "Myslowitz-Braunschweig-Marseille," which problematizes attempts at auto/biography in a continuum oftransformations, translations, that blur the borders between similarity and identity. Others, particularly "The Task ofthe Translator," deal with Benjamin's theorization of language. Chapter 2, "Berlin Chronicle: Topographically Speaking," discusses an apparent autobiography which turns into reflections on going astray in a place whose signs we do not know how to read. The place is a city in which one goes astray as Vol. 25 (2001): 171 REVIEWS in a wood. Reading its signs requires a different schooling—they must be "disarticulated ," "disread," "heard as a breaking," "as a shriek," "as an abrupt silence" (20). The idea ofthis labyrinth ofa city is rendered by Benjamin's experience at school with blotting paper that absorbs ink and therefore transfers, and translates, the written into lines that literally suck away what wants to be delineated and preserved in...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 171-173
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.