Letters formed an extension for Benjamin’s undoubted gift for friendship, but they were also a particular mode of thought, driven and shaped by what Adorno, in his introduction, calls their “mediated, objectified immediacy”: letters’ particular compound of absences and presences, at once temporal, spatial and communicational. In the letters, ideas appear, form and develop at different rates and in different registers. Writing to Scholem and Florens Christian Rang in the earlier years, and in the scintillating later correspondence with Adorno, there are pages of sustained theoretical reflection, rehearsing arguments and sometimes drafting passages he will use in the work “proper.” But at times, a single word, an observation or an aphorism announces the tiny presence of a germ of thought. For the reader of the “afterlife,” knowing what is to come, these moments of emergence can have the force of dramatic entrances, as when, in January 1928, he tells Scholem in passing that he intends a short piece on the nineteenth-century arcades of Paris. The topic, in all its ramifications, would dominate his work for the rest of his life.
The Los Angeles Review of Books on the letters of Walter Benjamin. [via Los Angeles Review of Books]