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Alan Sondheim’s Internet Diaspora

  • Maria Damon

Abstract

The much quoted “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” generally acknowledged to be Walter Benjamin’s final piece of writing, outlines a method and an ethos for the dialectical historian. This method, it must be recognized, is at the same time a description of the state of mind of and hortatory address to—small wonder—the refugee (that is, it is pre- and de-scriptive). In 1939 or 1940, Benjamin was writing as a moving target; his German citizenship annulled by the Third Reich, he had been living on the run in France. “Theses” was written between an internment and his death by suicide in a Spanish coastal town after escaping across the Pyrenees. In it, he urges that “Nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for history” and, even as he himself entertained strong suicidal urges, describes the underdog, exilic survivor’s traits as “courage, humor, cunning, and fortitude,” that peculiar collective resiliency that supersedes questions of individual survival. Further more, his invocation of the “memory that flashes up in a moment of danger” as the paradigmatic object and method of study for the aspiring materialist historian corresponds also to the paradigmatic cognitive experience of the refugee living in a constant “state of emergency.” 2 The alertness, the charge of adrenaline flashing up in a moment of danger, the fragmentary nature of Benjamin’s essay itself as a series of aphorisms and S.O.S.’s all indicate the desperate conditions under which intellectual survival and creative expression is undertaken.

Keywords

Jewish History German Citizenship Discussion List Sexual Masochism Lyric Poetry 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Walter Benjamin, “Robert Walser,” Selected Writings Volume II: 1927–1934, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1996), 257.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1969), 254, 255, 257.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Edmond Jabès, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Book, trans. by Rosemarie Waldrop (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan UP, 1993).Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Momme Broderson, Walter Benjamin: A Biography, trans. Malcolm R. Green and Ingrida Ligers (London: Verso, 1996), 238ff.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    See Brent Edwards’ chapter in this volume. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Seattle: Washington UP, 1982).Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    Daniel Boyarin and Jonathan Boyarin, Powers of Diaspora: Two Essays on the Relevance of Jewish Culture (Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 2002).Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of the Sorrow Songs,” The Souls of Black Folk (New York: New American Library, 1969), 267–68.Google Scholar
  8. 24.
    Michel Foucault, “What Is an Author?” in Language, Counter-memory, Practice, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon, ed. Donald F. Bouchard (Ithaca, N.Y.: Comell UP, 1977).Google Scholar
  9. 28.
    Norman Finkelstein, “Allen Grossman’s Theophoric Poetics,” Not One of Them in Place: Modern Poetry and Jewish-American Identity (Albany: SUNY UP, 2001), 55–86.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Carrie Noland and Barrett Watten 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria Damon

There are no affiliations available

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