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WALTER BENJAMIN HASCHISCH IN MARSEILLE TRANSLATOR'S INTRODUCTION Benjamin took haschisch as well as mescalin periodically during the late 20' s and early 30's. Although most of his drug-experiences took place under the medical supervision of the pioneer Berlin research team of Joël and Fränkel, Benjamin also experimented more casually with some friends (most notably the philosopher Ernst Bloch) and, less frequently, alone. The text "Haschisch in Marseille" falls into the latter category of solitary experiment and is therefore more palpably, and almost nostalgically, inscribed in the Baudelairean ethos of intoxication. Indeed, it is above all Baudelaire, whose prose poems Benjamin had translated as early as 1923, who provides the impetus and context for his ventures into "les paradis artificiels" - - for Benjamin, the most profoundly Francophile of his literary generation, had always located the Tradition of the New to the west of the Rhine. Marseille, in this sense, takes on added significance as the locus of his experiment with haschisch. On the one hand, as an urban center it allows him, in his wanderings, to extract that particularly modern ''poesie des villes" (learned from Baudelaire's Tableaux parisiens) which, combined with a sterner -Marxist analytical method, gives Benjamin's writings their absolutely individual blend of luminous detail and generalized sweep. Oa the other hand, the geographic setting of Marseille places it within that crucial southern perimeter of the German mind; from Goethe's Italian Journey through the later Nietzsche, Mann and Benn, German writers have located imaginative liberation under the classic azure of mediterranean skies. Benjamin is no exception; the zones of residence in his own uprooted life (Capri, Paris, Ibiza, San Remo as well as Germany) parallel the fruitful tension in his thought between a 19th century Latin aestheticism and a hard-nosed 20th century Marxism (the "plumpes Denken" advocated by his friend Brecht). "Haschisch in Marseille," written in September, 1928, is contemporary with Benjamin's interest in French Surrealism, for he saw very clearly that any true revolution would have to be based on the dual dicta of Marx's "changer le monde" and Rimbaud's "changer la vie" and that the liberation of consciousness from the perceptual chains of bourgeois culture is the absolute prerequisite for the political or economic annihilation of that system. Haschisch, Benjamin writes in his essay on Surrealism, can serve as a propaedeutic for the "profane illumination" of materialistic or anthropological (as opposed to religious) inspiration on which such revolutionary activity must be based. By "profane illumination' ' Benjamin essentially means that experience of the aura, which capitalist technology has eliminated from the modern world. "Experience of the aura," he notes in his discussion of Baudelaire , "rests on the transposition of a response common in human relationships to the relationship between the inanimate or natural object and man ... To perceive the aura of an object we look at means to invest it with the ability to look at us in return." 132 But whereas Baudelaire, in the wake of Poe, used drugs as a vehicle to get "anywhere out of this world," Benjamin's aura-inducing haschisch leads him directly into the material universe - - hence the notion of a profane, nontranscendental, illumination (Hegel's or Rilke's "in den Sachen sein, um über den Sachen zu sein"). Again, as he writes in reference to the Surrealists, "we penetrate into the mystery only inasmuch as we rediscover it in the quotidian, by means of a dialectical viewpoint that recognizes the quotidian as impenetrable and the impenetrable as quotidian." This making new of the habitual, this almost allegorical sense of wonder and of the occult depths of the cliche which Benjamin found not only in Baudelaire but in Proust and Breton's Nadja as well, is also, in its more dialectical form, cognate to Brecht's alienation-effector the Russian Formalists' notion of ostranenie (both of which would ultimately derive from Schlegel's concept of Romantic Irony). As Kraus puts it; "The closer one looks at a word, the further it looks back." Aura, we learn from Benjamin's other scattered writings on drugs, is also closely associated with ornament and nuance. As such, it might be beet defined as the experiencing...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 132-139
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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