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Ambiguity and one-way streets

  On the title page of “One-Way Street”, there is a tribute inscription: “This street is called Asya Lasis, named after her. As an engineer, she opened up this street in the author’s heart.” In Adorno’s 1955 edition of “The Collected Works of Benjamin”, this tribute was deleted, and the author of the article “Naples” by the two was also deleted. Benjamin’s friend Gerhard Scholem also tends to underestimate the influence of Lasis on Benjamin in the preface to The Moscow Diary: “This diary just fails to allow us to see and understand the woman Benjamin loved. The intellectual side.”
  How should Benjamin’s speech be understood? Is it fair to treat this “Latvian female Bolshevik” in the later world? What was her influence on the left-wing turn of Benjamin’s thought? The answer to this series of questions has to trace back what Benjamin experienced before and after this encounter.
  Benjamin and Lacis first met in Capri, Italy, in 1924, the summer Benjamin was writing a dissertation for a professorship. Benjamin had no available teacher-inheritance relationship in German academic circles. Moreover, it was generally difficult for Jews at that time to seek a teaching position within the system. Schultz suggested that he write a dissertation on “Baroque Tragedy Forms”, preferably within a year, since Schultz was still in office during this period and had a certain say. So, in order to stay away from family chores, Benjamin decided to leave Berlin, and with six hundred excerpts of quotations, he went to Naples, a small town in southern Italy, to start writing under pressure.
  On the scenic island of Capri, Benjamin became a regular at the café. While writing, he noticed a young and attractive lady, and he stepped forward and asked, “Honorable lady, do you need my help?” Lasis later wrote in her memoirs about Benjamin’s No. 1 One impression: “thick dark hair, wearing glasses with lenses that cast light like little searchlights”, she recognizes this type of person: “a typical bourgeois intellectual, perhaps the rich one (Asja Lacis, Revolution rim Beruf, S. 42) Apart from the economic situation, her guess is quite accurate, after all, Benjamin at this time still needs to rely on the support of his father. Soon, the two began to travel and talk in unfamiliar cities, and Benjamin, who fell in love, couldn’t help sharing the news to his best friend Shorem in a letter: “This Russian revolutionary from Riga is a A brilliant communist who has worked in the party since the Duma revolution” and “is one of the nicest ladies I know”.
  Asya Lasis was the daughter of a textile craftsman, but her poor background did not prevent her from receiving a good education. Her progressive father sent her to the only university open to women in St. Petersburg at that time. Lacis, who studied drama and developed a psychological theory of children’s drama, read widely, was intelligent and talkative, and was fluent in Russian, German and French, so that wherever she went, whether in Berlin, Paris or Moscow, she could Harvest the top intellectual circle of friends of the same era. Lacis also served as Brecht’s assistant when he directed “Edward II”, and it was because of her connection that Benjamin and Brecht met.
  At this time, Lacis was thirty-two years old, one year older than Benja next year. She came to Capri to treat her three-year-old daughter’s illness, along with Lacis’s boyfriend, German theatre director Bernhard Lacey, who returned first. At this time, Benjamin, after years of exhausting marriage with Dora and unrequited love for Yura Cohen for a long time, finally met a love that goes both ways in his mind and body.
  However, Lasis and Benjamin are so different, she is the opposite of Benjamin in many aspects, such as political position, ideological resources, and the relationship between belief and action. Lacsis would never have understood why, when Europe was full of revolutionary waves, why would anyone crawl into a pile of old papers to study seventeenth-century Baroque drama. For Benjamin, the inspiration of the revolution and the short-lived hormones were like a “storm of progress” that swept through his original spiritual order.
  As a testimony of the love between the two, the urban impression “Naples” faithfully recorded the storm. Between the lines of their still life scans of the city of Naples, they can sometimes parallel and sometimes intersect to capture two completely different visions. They use their own ideas to aggregate the same things into different meanings, which is very important for Naples architecture. This is particularly evident in his description: “Architectures are used as a stage for popularization, they are all divided into countless theaters that are active at the same time, balconies, courtyards, windows, porches, stairs, roofs are both stages and boxes. .” In this scenario, everyone is both a performer and a spectator, and everyone is being watched at the same time they are watching. The building contains multiple parallel spaces and worlds, open to impromptu events at any time, where no corner can grasp the holographic landscape, and each corner contributes to the overall harmony. Lasis seems to see in it the decentralized, anarchic, large-scale experimental theatre of communism; Benjamin sees the eternity and transcendence of the Messiah in the endless fragments.
  The word that appears most frequently in this essay is “porous”. In the porous field of view, every subtle thing contains many parallel interpretation spaces, just like a certain building unit can be a component of a courtyard or a component of a staircase. The courtyard and the staircase are not mutually negated. Rather, it preserves all the concreteness and possibility of things together in an irreducible way. This expression seems to be a breakthrough in traditional ontology and epistemology. The article does not use the action of “definition”, and does not try to fix the characteristics of things as a general concept, because it is difficult for any definition to be one-sided. This is not even a value suspension, but a subject suspension, that is, allowing things to unfold themselves in an inexhaustible way, so as to present the ambiguity of things as richly and unbiased as possible, and at the same time be both revealing and secretive. function to complete the “salvation” of things.
  In Naples, two people in love are eager to see the world through each other’s eyes, and more eager to incorporate the other’s perspective into their own. Lasis’ devotion to revolutionary communism and the background of Benjamin’s Judaism point to the transcendence of the materialized world and the redemption of human nature. After all, will the path of Lassis work? Is this road superior to Benjamin’s? After passing through Naples, will these two very different trajectories of thought drift apart, or will they become more entangled? Or maybe, just like “courtyard” and “staircase”, they go hand in hand and complement each other?
two

  In November 1924, Benjamin returned to his wife, Dora, and resumed writing the dissertation delayed by the Neapolitan Romance, which was delayed until the spring of 1925, and which Schultz read only. The preface of the paper declares that he is no longer responsible for Benjamin. To prevent Benjamin from showing signs of rejection on his job application record, the University of Frankfurt advised him to withdraw his application for professorship. This was what Adorno later called Benjamin’s “best theoretical work” – The Origin of German Tragedy.
  Jewish intellectuals from bourgeois families who were converted were eager to integrate into mainstream society and prove themselves, not to mention that Benjamin needed to trade academic success for his father’s financial support. His contemporary Gyorgy Lukács was in a similar situation, but he rose to prominence at a young age with the publication of History and Class Consciousness in 1923. This book criticized the alienation of human beings by the capitalist system and pointed out that the bright future lies in Moscow. This book was later sought after by Jewish intellectuals such as Bloch, Adorno, Kracauer, and Benjamin. On the other hand, when I look at myself, my academic career has just started to be hit, and the door to the teaching position within the system seems to be permanently closed. Benjamin has become a free intellectual in this way. What should he do next?

  Benjamin was at a fork in the road at this time. His close friend Shorem, who had been trying to attract Benjamin to the Zionist cause, immigrated to Palestine in 1923. The only condition for Benjamin to take this road is to learn Hebrew. When Scholem left Germany two years ago, Benjamin wrote a farewell essay “Descriptive Analysis of Germany’s Decline” based on the social reality at the time with the inscription “I wish the immigrants happiness”, which was later slightly revised to ” A Survey of German Inflation” was included in “One-Way Street”. Scholem recalled that he had a hard time understanding that the man who wrote the article would remain in Germany. This is because at that time Benjamin still had considerable confidence in his academic career. At the same time, the Bolshevik Krasis suggested another possibility, going to Palestine or Moscow? Before this responsible decision, Benjamin must allow himself to gather as much experience as possible in his rover state.
  The second encounter with Lacis takes place in Riga, however, this encounter is more like Benjamin’s wishful thinking. Lasis wrote in her memoir: “I was going to rehearsal for a show, and I was full of things, and Walter Benjamin suddenly appeared in front of me. He liked surprises, but I didn’t like this one he made. He is from another planet – I don’t have time for him, he has a lot of time to get acquainted with Riga.” (Asja Lacis, Revolution r im Beruf, S. 56-57) He wandered aimlessly around Riga and This lonely waiting was recorded and later included in “One Way Road”:
  I came to Riga to visit a girlfriend. I am not familiar with her house, her city and her language. No one is waiting for me, no one knows me. I walked alone in the street for two hours. So I never saw her again. …she probably came out of a gate, turned a corner, or happened to be sitting in a tram. But of the two of us, no matter what, I have to be the first to see the other. Because, if she had put her eyes on me first – then I might have to fly like a powder store.
  For two years after his application for a teaching position was rejected, Benjamin kept the sketches on and off. According to Benjamin’s original conception, “One Way Road” is such a booklet for friends: “I want to collect some of my sayings, allegories and dreams in several chapters, each chapter will be based on a close friend of mine. The name of a friend as the sole title.” The aphoristic writing of One Way Street seems to reflect Benjamin’s reorientation of himself after his failed bid for a university professorship, in his own words “monadic,” which is as much a response to tradition as The rebellion of systemic philosophy also bears the distinct legacy of Naples. He no longer only stays in the abstract world of ideas, nor does he rely on the way of interpreting classic works of art, but uses material objects as the starting point of philosophical analysis to develop his own new expression. gifted by a materialist. However, Benjamin’s materialism is not the dialectical materialism of Marx or Lenin. His aim is not to reveal the contradiction of the objective world, or the overcoming of the subject over the object; on the contrary, he strives to present the ontological ambiguity of everything, because the contradiction itself is the result of a subjective construction.
  Similar to “Naples”, almost every image in “One Way Street” is ambiguous, akin to the existence of both “courtyard” and “staircase”. When the mind is freed from its disciplined concepts, logic, it captures new connections between things. Benjamin borrowed glasses from dreams and myths to re-see everything around him, but this pair of glasses is not for seeing clearly, its meaning is precisely to blur the boundaries between objects, between dreams and reality. It frees the mind from the alienation of the concept, and at the same time enables those experiences to be conceptualized to be understood and accessible.
  Even the title of “One-Way Road” has such a multi-meaning image: from the front, it has a progressive direction like all contemporary things; from the negative, it has no possibility of U-turn or other way out. In modern times, when money has become more and more the center of everything, fetishism has ruled the human mind, threatening tradition and intuition, and the spirit has been ground to powder in the face of the iron law of matter. Materialistic, uncurious, selfish and pedantic bourgeois values ​​and morals have made history travel on a one-way street, towards restrictions on human freedom. Under the progressive view of history of the bourgeoisie, Benjamin tried to save things that were dying, although this was probably destined to be a senseless resistance and a never-ending adventure. In addition, Benjamin’s love for Lacis is not a “one-way street” – just starting at this moment, loneliness is like a shot arrow, heading towards the infinite unknown.
three

  The next stop to undertake the unknown took place in Moscow in December 1926. Since April of this year, Benjamin has been suffering from depression, and at the same time he is still translating “Reminiscence of the Time Is Like Water”, but Proust’s translation of “weakness and genius go hand in hand” is rather a kind of chronic suicide. Rowalt Publishing House has been slow to publish Affinity and The Origin of the German Tragedy, the chance to become famous outside the system is still far away, and more importantly, Benjamin lost his father. Under such circumstances, joining the German Communist Party, going to Moscow to establish a closer relationship with Lasis, and opening up another battlefield for one’s own life, can it be a way out of the current predicament? To this end, Benjamin made some preparations, and under the continued influence of Lukacs’ History and Class Consciousness, he continued to read the chapter on the characteristics of commodities in Volume I of Capital, and also read about the reality Political communist analysis, such as Trotsky’s Where Is England Going? “. In addition, he accepted Martin Buber’s request to write an impression of the city of Moscow, and paid in advance for this trip.
  However, the greater the hope, the greater the disappointment. The bad news is that his beloved Lasis is experiencing a severe mental breakdown at this time and has to recuperate in a nursing home, and the worse news is that Lasis’s boyfriend Lacey has been with her. After Benjamin arrived in Moscow, he had to face a threesome situation, and Benjamin had no chance to be alone with her at all. Even more disappointing were Lasis’ moody moods and bewildering behavior, and soon Benjamin wrote in his diary that he felt “the idea of ​​living apart from Asya was no longer what it used to be. unbearable.”
  As the future of love seems to be getting dimmer, so is the future of ideal politics. Under Lacey, Benjamin came into contact with the intellectuals of Soviet Russia. He heard about the tension in the party’s cultural affairs since Lenin’s death, felt “the extreme importance attached to the strict distinction of political positions”, and so on.
  Benjamin found that political stances were too narrow for his work, even if this “narrowness” could provide him with the necessary “brackets” to fill life with events and escape from its unbearable lightness. But after some ideological struggle, the will to remain independent still prevailed. During his days in Moscow, he has been wandering and watching, but he has never been able to take a step forward in the sense of action. Therefore, he is destined to receive no shelter and can only be exposed to the accident of life and all kinds of conflicting extreme thoughts. under the influence. At the end of this cultural ordeal in Moscow, Benjamin secretly promised that if he had the opportunity to win a life with Lacis, it might be his first and most important thing, but he knew it It can’t happen in Russia.
  In fact, Benjamin did have one such opportunity in Berlin in 1929-30, when Lassis was officially dispatched to establish links between Soviet and German left-wing writers. Benjamin rented a big house for Lacis on a scholarship to learn Hebrew that Scholem helped him win, but he was half-hearted about learning Hebrew. This is not only for Lasis, but also because Benjamin has emerged in the German cultural circle at this time. During this time, several of his books were published one after another, and even a big man like Hermann Hesse would tell the publisher that he couldn’t help feeling excited after reading “One Way Road”. A new path outside the academic system is slowly opening, and Benjamin has set himself a new ambition to become a leading German literary critic. Although literary criticism has never been regarded as a serious genre in Germany for more than fifty years, At least that’s enough to guarantee his independence and allow him to keep his mind open to all possibilities.
  When Lasis completed her official duties and was to be deported, only marriage could keep her in Berlin. Benjamin divorced Dora dramatically, but his relationship with Lasis was not happy ever since. On the contrary, They are full of quarrels as long as they are together. More unfortunately, Lacis suffered acute encephalitis and had to be taken to Frankfurt for emergency treatment; Benjamin was financially exhausted and tortured because of the divorce lawsuit. When Benjamin was lying alone in a Paris hotel on New Year’s Eve, 1930, he no longer had a permanent home for his books, never saw Asya Lasis, and had no money. Learn Hebrew.
  As the Nazis came to power, Benjamin’s publication became increasingly restricted. In 1940, expelled by the Nazis, he fled to the Spanish border to commit suicide, and Lacis was escorted to the Karaganda concentration camp in March 1938, while her boyfriend Lacey died in 1938. They were also locked in in 1943, and the two did not see the light of day again until 1951. Later, Lasis learned of Benjamin’s death from Brecht’s mouth.
  When the “one-way streets” forged by various ideologies and ideologies go their separate ways, claiming to be the voice of truth, “Benjamin passionately and at the same time ironically places himself at the crossroads. For him, for many positions It is important to keep open: theological, surrealistic, communist, etc. These positions correct each other, so he needs all of them” (Susan Sontag, “Introduction,” in Walter Benjamin, One-Way Street and Other Writings, p. 27). Precisely because of the closed fear of the “one-way street”, Benjamin hesitated and hesitated, and therefore he was never able to place his life in any unified belief, concept system, political organization or emotional relationship, and even his life eventually ended. Also stuck on this.

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