Monday, May 20, 2013
Moving Backwards and Forwards Along My Own Timeline
I pause in reading a few other things--or at least in writing about them--to pick up "Illuminations." This is Hanna Arendt's edited edition of some of Walter Benjamin's writings. You can't escape Benjamin, or at least allusions to him, and I know I've read some of these essays before or heard about them but this time, of course, its different--this time its different because I'm different. I'm not better educated in his period or his interests, of course, but I'm a different person than I was thirty years ago when I was in school and someone else, someone older, was making sense of things for me by creating a curriculum that I was following. This is bittersweet, for me, because I find as I revisit Benjamin and these particular concerns I have at my elbow a hidden interlocutor, my best friend from College, who was always more brilliant and more insightful than I by one, two, three observations. However far I looked into a text, however wide ranging my interests, she was always ahead of me. I learned as much, or more, from her as from our professors. But that means that when our friendship ended the part of my past: our discussions, our arguments, the books and the incidents we shared, were also halved. As I read through Benjamin this time I can almost hear her voice but its becoming fainter. I can almost remember where we were sitting when we discussed this passage--but not quite. I wonder whether my new insights are at all insightful, I wonder where she is and what she is reading. So I suppose, in its own way, this is why I'm drawn to Proust, because he is the great hymner and limner of the lost and the way it surges up, in our own lives, like a ship lost on a long ago ocean voyage that rises again to the surface during a storm. We can see our old stateroom. We can faintly hear the sound of the crew. But it submerges again and we see nothing but the waves and we have only what we took with us when we leapt overboard.