Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Walter Benjamin, a quote

I found a nice quotation on one of my favorite tumblr pages this morning. The blog is Chimin faisant by the artist, Catherine Willis, and one of its excellences is the author's insistence on providing descriptive captions and source data for her entries. Here's this morning's post with its caption and source:
Work on a good piece of writing proceeds on three levels: a musical one, where it is composed; an architectural one, where it is constructed; and finally, a textile one, where it is woven.

— Walter Benjamin, One-Way Street and Other Writings (via mythologyofblue)
After reading a gazillion quotations over years of internet appreciation I've noticed that many (possibly most) have been subjected to substantial rewriting; others are entirely made up. It goes without saying perhaps that very many appear innumerable times on quotations pages, odd blogs, and the social sites.

This one does appear all over the place, mostly without citation, but, blessedly, its text is close to the original. Benjamin wrote: "Arbeit an einer guten Prosa hat drei Stufen: eine musikalische, auf der sie komponiert, eine architektonische, auf der sie gebaut, endlich eine textile, auf der sie gewoben wird." A more exact translation than the one that circulates webwise is Edmund Jephcott and Kinsley Shorter's: "Work on good prose has three steps: a musical stage when it is composed, an architectonic one when it is built, and a textile one when it is woven."* The statement (in original or translation) sounds more self-consciously aphoristic that most of Benjamin's writings. It's too pat. He wrote staccato sentences which did not flow into smooth-reading paragraphs and is thus considered to have had an aphoristic style, but he wasn't at all a sound-bite writer and most of his writing is more muscular than pretty. It does not generally have the musical, architectural, and textile qualities which he pronounces to be the mark of good prose. He wrote, in the words of a publisher, "in a disconcertingly concrete language."

Here's an example.

{From "Antiques" in One-Way Street, in One-way street, and other writings by Walter Benjamin, translated by Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter (London, Verso, 1997)}

Benjamin's ticket of admission to the Bibliothèque nationale.

{Walter Benjamin’s library card, Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, 1940; source: a piece of monologue}

I've written about Walter Benjamin on another occasion: Walter, Hannah



* From "Caution: Steps," One-Way Street, in One-way street, and other writings by Walter Benjamin, translated by Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter (London, Verso, 1997)

1 comment:

catherine willis said...

Tres honoree d'etre citee dans votre blog que je decouvre et auquel je vais m'abonner subito-presto tant il me parait interessant.