So since my recent reference to it, I have been hankering to reread “Motifs.” It’s true that I often find myself thinking this, but I often fail to get around to it, plus it’s a pretty rich vein, as evidenced by the fact that I came away with some new stuff this time around.
In the past I have tended to focus on the stuff that can be traced fairly explicitly to “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” The consciousness divided between perceiving and obscuring, the shattered shield, that sort of thing. This time I was more caught up in the processes of retrieval and ritual. When I was at Hampshire I sort of dismissed Benjamin in favor of Adorno, and I think that even at NYU, where I (along with everyone else) really embraced Benjamin and sort of understood his cultural turn, stayed leery of the stuff that evoked the past too enthusiastically.
Now that I’m an old man I sort of see where some of what he was getting at has to do with the fact that it’s easier to create your own culture in rituals when you have fewer external factors to deal with. Feeling straitjacketed by circumstance, I wonder if there is some sort of madeleine that I might require as well. There’s something to understanding that there was a nature that one was invoking.
Of course, you don’t want to go too far along that path. Just as you’re about to to say “There did I live” about the “breakers, rolling the images of the sky” you get to the stuff about photography and remember that Benjamin was a sentimental Luddite. Still, it’s good to let yourself get to the pretty part and not focus too much on stuff like “Even though chronology places regularity above permanence, it cannot prevent heterogeneous, conspicuous fragments from remaining within it.”