Jenseits der Grenze

I hope that I have given you the impression to be composed also in difficult moments. Don’t think that this has changed but I have to recognize the dangerous character of the situation. I am afraid that those who have been able to save themselves have to be counted some day.” Walter Benjamin last letter was written to Adorno who had already emigrated to New York. He had come to Spain in late summer 1940. Without an exit visa he was looking for an unguarded way across the Pyrenees. Years of exil were behind him also the entournament (?) in a french camp. An attempt to escape through the port of Marseilles had failed. “Benjamin, misunderstood in his home country and in his own class. In the country of exil at that time nearly totally forgotten. Critic in a critical position at borders. A man of the border.”

Beyond the border

“The portrait of Walter Benjamin crosses a whole ..(?).. borderline which is comparable to the french-spanish border and is guarded by the vigility of a military post. Of a spanish or a french one? Death governs on both sides. On the one side above the borderline stand the german Benjamin, persecuted by the nazis and supressed by the occupation government. Below the borderline you see the red of a Benjamin who is guarded like the Red Spain, betrayed and oppressed. Below his name the border crosses the head.” The desaster of the second world war and the pact between Nazi-Germany and Sovjet Russia reinforced Benjamin in his thinking about history. After the collapse of all political hopes there was only the need to unterstand your on history, to become aware of the pictures of your own past. These are pictures which people see in the moment of danger. To express the past historically means to take command over a memory as it flashes in the moment of danger. Only in an unswerving (?) looking back you can meet the threatening danger approaching the individual but also the whole of mankind. Childhood in Berlin about 1900. History for Benjamin means suffering failure. In the present which he could not live he was looking for yesterday. The places which he finds in his memory bear the features of the future. Thus it is the prologue of the future which itself has become the image of the past. In front of me stood one of our friends, Walter Benjamin, who as many others hat fled to Marseilles when the Germans invaded France. The old Benjamin aus I called him, I do not know why. He was just around 48. “Madame”, he said, “excuse me please, I hope that I don´t disturbe you.” I thought the world is shattered but his politeness is still there.” Your husband”, he said, “explained me how I could find you. He said me you would take me across the border to Spain.” Since my arrival a few days ago I had really explored a safe way across the border. For most emigrants it was difficult to find a livelihood in France. For Benjamin exiled as an indesired writer there were years of isolation and poverty. “The loneliness in which I was naturally has grown by the circumstances. The number of those who find their way in this world is growing smaller and smaller.” To get along you had to find the ..(?)… and you had to know all the the tricks to find your way in this maze which assumed forms again and again. You had to know how to help yourself to find a way out of this collapse. So you lived and survived in France at that time. For us, the stateless, the main thing was to excape the concentration camp and not to fall into the hands of the Gestapo. ” One thing is obvious: experience has fallen in value and that in a generation which had one of the most ingredible experience in world history. Never before experience made more futile than the strategy ones by the positional warfare, the oeconomic ones by inflation, the artistic ones by hunger, the moral ones by the rulers. A generation which had gone to school on a horsetram was standing in the open landscape where everything had changed apart from the clouds. And in the middle a field of destructive currents of explosions the tiny fragil human body. A new poverty has come over mankind with this developement of technology.” One thesis of the last text by Walter Benjamin about the concept of history refers to a picture by Paul Klee “Angelus novus” which Benjamin carried with him two decades. It arrouse from the destructions of the first world war. Paul Klee in 1915: “I had this war within me long ago. To get our of my rules I had to fly and I flew. In the destroyed world I am only in memory as you look back sometimes.” “My situation is so difficult as it can only be without debts. Only in passing I mention that I would have to renew my identity card but I dont have the necessary money for it. Exhaustion leaves me just the force to cope with the mercily situation but not the force to overcome it. I am not even able to climb the stairs of the cheap hotels where I have to launch. How long my resistance force will be sufficient in this circumstances I dont know and I live in expectation of bad news that will come soon.” Thus wie walked slowly like tourists who enjoy the landscape. I noticed that Benjamin was carrying a portfolio. It seemd to be heavy and I asked him whether I could help him. “It contains my latest manuscript”, he said.”But why did you take it along?” ” You know this portfolio is most important for me,” he said,”I must not loose it. The manscript must be saved. It is more important than my own person.” This won´t be an easy crossing I thought. Walter Benjamin with his strange way. “Memory is composed of pictures which are developed in the dark chamber of the moment you lived. The whole life as you often hear it (?) passes dying people or those who are in danger is composed exactly of these small images. The road along the cemetry has become to dangerous. It would have been a rather simple way and a number of refugees had used it for several month. But now it was guarded obviously on the command of the Gestapo Agency in the unoccupied part of France. The only save way that remained was La route Lister, an illegal borderpass which had been mainly used during the spanish civil war. This meant that we would have to cross the Pyrenees more to the west where the crest was higher and the ascents more tiring. The danger to be discovered by the police or the border officals was greatest when leaving the village and when starting the climbing.”Start before sunset, mix with the vine workers, take nothing but a little bag and don´t speak. Then the guards can not distinguish you from the indigenious population. As the result of the evaporation of the reception in the modern means of transport and also because of the multiplication of pictures by means of fotografy and film our inviroment looses its attraction. Things no longer have there own meaning. This was again und again described by Benjamin in the decomposition of aura. “What does aura mean? A strange web of space and time unique appearance of a distance as close as it may be. On a summer noon resting on an mountain crest on the horizon or following a branch which fload (?) its shadows on the viewer until the moment or the hour shares its phenomenon, that is to breeze this aura of these mountains, of these branches. “In front of a extremely beautiful picture by Cezanne it occured to me that the talk of empaty is wrong from the linguistic point of view. It seem to me as soon you understand the painting, you do not penetrate into its space but this space (?) roots at various places. It becomes open in corner and angels where you believe to be able to localize important experience of the past. There is something extremely one (?) known in these places.” Benjamin describes the reaction of the painter to a reality which cannot be described in straight lines. The decay of the aura which is accompanied by this fill pictures of memory. They penetrate into the creeks which are left by memory. Memories which you can find in details which seemd to be insignificant. The ascent becomes deeper now and we were not sure about the direction because we only had mountain slopes in front of us. I was surprised that Benjamin found his way very well in our sketch and helped me not to loose orientation. Once we became aware that we had took a wrong branch because suddenly the way moved to the right and downward but the crest was on the left und above us. So we walked back and found the crossing where we had taken the wrong path. The term “way” became more and more an exaggeration. Here and there you were able to see a path but mostly it was just a litte trace amongst the trees. The Paris of surrealist artists. The turned the streets, gates, squares of the town into illustrations of a trashy novel and all the places of Paris are locations in which that what is between this people moves like a rotating door. “One of the hardships of my existence here is also that I cannot talk to anybody about the most important ideas of my work.” Some years ago Benjamin had played with the idea to commit suicide because he was in despair about the difficult conditions of his work as a writer. “For my person I do not know roughly speaking where to take a concept for reasonable suffering and dying. I can look as far as I possibly can I find the horizon as dull as the existences lying in front of me. Still I have to say that I am more lucky than others. “The wings of the melancholia as Dürer painted them will never bear the body in this reality. “The last thing in …(?)in melancholia ,”Benjamin says,” takes the dead things into its contemplation – to save them.” Benjamin walked slowly and evenly. At regular intervals – I believe every ten minutes – he stopped and rested for a minute. Then he walked on in the same even speed. As he told me he had considered it overnight and calculated it. “With this methode I will manage to reach the end”, he said, “I will stop in regular intervals. I must have the brake before I am exhausted. You must never become totally exhausted.” What a strange person I thought: cristal clear thinking, an unsverwing (?) inner force but so hopelessly clumsy. I remember that from time to time we said a few words to each other. Mostly we talked about the problems for the moment, the slippery ways, the warmth of the sun and how far it was to the border. Finally we reached the summit. “I was in a maze of stairs. This maze was not covered on all spots. On landing I noticed that I was standing on a summit. There was an open view of all this lands. I saw others standing on other summits. One of them became suddenly dizzy and fell down. This dizziness was concerned also others. Other people fell down from other summits.” “Today those citizens which have stayed pure from dying are dry inhabitants of eternity and when their end approaches their heirs put them into sanatoriums or hospitals. But not just knowledge or wisdom of man but above all his life which he has lived assumes a form in dying. Like with in the poeple with the course of life a sequence of pictures sets into motion consisting of views of your own person in which he met himself without noticing it. Thus in his gestures and gazes the unforgotten emerges.” “Chronos keep a folding picture book in his hand in which things one for the other fall in its previous existence and unveal their hidden back what was left in unconsciousness.” “There is a picture by Klee which is called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel which looks as if he was just removing from something on which he stares. His eyes are torn open, his mouth is open an his wings are extended. The angel of history must look like this. He has turned his face to the past. Where a chain of events appear in front of us he sees a desaster which puts ruins of ruins and throw them at his feet.” I had gone ahead and looked down. The picture was suddenly in front of me that I believed in a fata morgana for a moment. Far below from where we had come we saw the deep blue Mediterranian. On the other side there were steep cliffs which were falling onto a glassblade of turkoys. A second sea? Yes, of course. This was the spanish coast. I had never seen such beauty. Now I knew that we had arrived in Spain and I also knew that from her this way went straight on until it descended into the village. “The word “upheavel” were not depart from the sensorial for a single moment and stick to one thing that upheavel means collapse. So the body is waking up in deep pain and in deep thinking. Both need loneliness. Whoever climbed a mountain, arrived there in complete exhaustion in order to turn downward later on. For this person the time becomes loose, the separating wall in his interior crushes and through the spree (?) he rolls like in a dream. Some times he try remaining standing but he cannot do it. His body has become a caleidoscope which shows him changing shapes of truth at any step.” Roughly one year before Benjamin excaped across the Pyrenees a thousand of refugees had arrived at this border from the south at the end of the spanish civil war, humilated by the fascist persecuters, torn apart in internal struggels. Benjamins hope that finally the unmodest perspective on totally systems would be given up had been sworted (?). Like many intellectuals in the nineteen twenties Benjamin had connected great expectations with the new society in the Soviet Union.. Expectations which had been promoted by his latvian girlfriend, the director Asja Lacis. But a journey to Moscow showed him the failure of the utopian political ideas and the emerge of stalinist dictatorship. Moscow Diary 1927: “The new formation of a whole force of domination makes life full of content here. It is closed in itself and rich in events but poor and full of prospects like the gold digger life in Klondike. People dig for power from morning til evening which may result in a certain ecstacy, so that a life without sessions and commissions, debats and resolutions and votes – and all these are wars or at least manoeuvers of the virtual power – are totally unimaginable. Now the way moved slowly downwards. It must have been 2 o´clock in the afternoon when we reached the end of the rock. In the valley I was able to see the village.”Down there that is Port-Bou, the town with the spanish border station where you have to register. Your way will lead you directly to this place. I have to go back now,” I said,”we are in Spain for nearly one hour now. The descent can´t be too long. You can see the houses from here. You go directly to the border post and show your documents. As soon you have your entry visa you take the next train to Lisbon. But you know all that. The criticism of the believe in progress became more and more the centre of his thinking. “Real progress has not taken place in a history in which only the victors have registered so far. They determined what you call progress. They benefited from it. But you should consider important what was pushed aside by history so far. So revolutions should turn against the senseless progress of history which is more and more moving towards the precipice (?Abgrund) Marx says the revolution is the locomotiv of world history and people are sitting in the train as travellers. But maybe is totally different. Maybe revolution means that people sitting in the train are pulling the emergency brake. Salvation is contained in the little jump in the continuos catastrophy. To brake the irresistable course of history does no longer need an utopian concept. The individual, the peculiar must be made important and it must be connected with continuity as it is contained in the power of water.” “But the expectations that it can´t go on like this will have to face the reality some day that for the suffering of the individual and of communities there is only one border, one limit across which you can´t go and that is destruction. “At that time when I had returned to Banyuls after my first walk on the Route Lister I thought: old Benjamin is in safety now on the other side of the mountains. A few days later I heard the news: Walter Benjamin is dead. He had committed suicide in Port-Bou in the night after his arrival. The spanish border guard had told him that he would be taken back to France. A new regulation had arriver from Madrid: without a french exit visa no one is allowed to emigrate into Spain. Benjamin had been exhausted by the walk across the border and he did not believe that he would be able to repeat it. That what he said when we ascended. For this case he had made the necessary precaucions. He had enough Morphium with him to commit suicide with a deadly dose. The state of emergency in which we live is the rule for Benjamin. History has something out of time, is knowledge and unsoluable mourning. This knowledge implies the force to recognize your last place, to find an attitude when looking at death.The quite death. Since the days of childhood the hunchback for Benjamin met all this in life that does not succeed with ..(?).. connects pictures that emerges in the hour of danger. “I think that the whole life of which they tell that it moves past the gaze of the dying is composed of such pictures as the hunchback has it. They move rapidly like those pages of the booklets which were predecessors of our cinematographs. With a small pressure the thumb moved along its cut (face?) and for seconds pictures became visible which were very similar to each other. The littel hunchback has these pictures of myself.” “In a situation without way out I have no other choice then to end it. I conclude my life in a small village in the Pyrenees where nobody knows me”, still in that night Benjamin wrote a message which was brought to Adorno to New York. But nothing was found of his belongings. And also his grave can´t be found anymore. His writings of which he said they were more important to him than his life survived war and nazi rule hidden in the Paris National Library. Soon after Benjamins death the regulations for transit through Spain we loosened again. Thousands managed to flee to America across the border which in the past centuries has seen so much salvation, so much despair . The hour of danger. This means to become aware of the pecularity of a moment, of a place. In this pecularity we will find what shapes the aura of this moment, of this place. Port-Bou in September 1940. In the beginning of the year Benjamin had written in Paris: “We do not expect of those born afterwards gratefulness for our victories. What we expect them to do is to commemorate our defeats. That is the consolation which is the only one for those who do not have any hope for consolation.”