Distribution Automatique

Saturday, December 6

I keep thinking about the ways Walter Benjamin's work
anticipates blogging. I found the following sections
in *One Way Street* on some level to have
envisioned or anticitipated the circumstances of
blogging, its uses and its impact and aftermath.


"Filling Station"

"The construction of life is at present in the power of facts far
more than convictions, and as such facts as have scarecely ever
become the basis of convictions. Under these circumstances true
literary activity cannot aspire to take place within a literary
framework- this is, rather the habitual expression of its sterility.
Significant literary work can only come into being in a strict
alternation between action and writing; it must nurture the
inconspicuous forms that better fit its influence in active com-
munities than does the pretentious, universal gesture of the book
-its leaflets, brochures, articles, and placards. Only this prompt
language shows itself actively equal to the moment. Opinions
are to the vast apparatus of social existence what oil is to
machines: one does not go up to a turbine and pour machine
oil over it; one applies a little to hidden spindles and joints that
one has to know."


Benjamin here is noting several things, but particularly the
slow and cumbersome quality, as well as the "pretentious"
permanence of the various "permanent" printed
media. On the other hand, as in
blogging, the quick, spontaneous expressions
of points of view keep the rusty
joints that interweave the thoughts of individuals into the
emerging social opinions of the time, are crucial to the
agile movement of mass media.


from *Chinese Curios*

"These are days when no one should rely unduly on his 'com-
petence.' Strength lies in improvisation. All the decisive blows
are struck left-handed."

By left-handed Benjamin here may mean literary
forms that do not operate in conventionally
literal ways. Improvisatory methods, keyed to the
moment-by-moment movement of the writer's
exlorations and insights, will impact social reality
and artistic reality much more powerfully than
slow moving conventional forms of literary commentary
and literary innovation. Again. blogging mirrors this
vision of literary insurrection quite well.


from *Imperial Panorama*

"7. The freedom of conversation is being lost. It was
earlier a matter of course in conversation to take interest
in one's partner; this is now replaced by an inquity into
the price of his shoes or his umbrella. Irrisistibly intruding
on any convivial exhange is the theme of the condition of
life of money...It is as if one were trapped in a theatre and
had to follow the events on the stage whether one wanted to
or not, had to make them again and again, willingly or
unwillingly, the subject of one's thought and speech."


The commercialization of writing will eventually
lead to the emergence of forms that resist
creative submission and repression. This is partly
because human expression has become so
codified due to capitalism that the need to
comply has become hard to resist. Writing,
speech and expression become, as they have
in Us and Only-Us Land, in the land of the
inexorable Terminators, so adapted to propaganda
that expression becomes a predictable mechanism that
inexorably and automatically
serves the needs of the marketplace.


from *Teaching Aid*

"VII...The typical work of modern scholarship is intended to be read
like a catalogue. But when shall we actually write books like catalogues?
If the deficient content were thus to determine the outward form,
an excellent piece of writing would result, in which the value of opinions
would be marked without their being thereby put on sale.

The typewriter will alienate the hand of the man of letters
from the pen only when the precision of typographic forms has
directly entered the conceptions of his books. One might suppose
that new systems with more variable typefaces would then be
needed. They will replace the pliancy of the hand with the
innervation of commanding fingers.

A period that, constructed metrically, afterward has its
rhythm upset at a single point yields the finest prose sentence
imaginable. In this way a ray of light falls through a chink in the
wall of the alchemist's cell, to light up gleaming crystals, spheres,
and triangles."


Here Benjamin envisions a form of writing that, like blogging,
immediately sets the conceptions of writers instantaneously
into typeset forms adaptable to the grain of spontaneous visions.
He sees the work of the writer someday combined with that of the
typesetter and the publisher, as in blogging,
leading the writer to invoke the
powers of light akin to ancient alchemists.


*Post No Bills*

"VII. Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas.

*Thirteen Theses Against Snobs*

"VII. Meaning is the outcome of experience.
Subject matter is the outcome of dreams."

"VIII. In the art-work subject
matter is a ballast jettisoned
during contemplation.

The more one loses oneself
in a document, the denser
the subject-matter becomes."


Here Benjamin is imagining forms of writing that break
away from the slow, impeded horse and carriage pace
of developing conventional, literal subject-matter. He
envisions a form that allows a direct current between
the writers conscious and unconscious mind, that allows
the writer unimpeded visionary processes using the image
of taking their ideas into flight.


from *Hardware*

"Quotations in my work are like wayside robbers
who leap out armed and relieve the stroller'
of his convictions."

Future modes of appropriation are here invoked and envisioned, with
Benjamin pointing out that the implied thievery of the literary
appropriator creates a sort of "black hole" where readers
see their stereotypes disappear, in a gesture which is the
inverse of Robin Hood, as in flarf, where overwhelming
the reader with environmental influences may rituallistically
exorcise its dangrous propagandistic radioactivity.


from One Way Street
and other writings
translated by Edmund Jephcott
and Kingley Shorter
with an inroduction by Susan Sontag