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Mourning and Memory (Reflections on a Visit to the Walter Benjamin Memorial in Portbou, Spain.) By David Brian Howard

“Per me si va nella città dolente Per me si va nell’eterno dolore, Per me vi va tra la perduta gente.” La Divina Comedia: Infern d’Dant Alighieri

Toulon, France, August 25th, 2012

“If a man possess character,” says Nietzsche, “he will have the same experience over and over again.” Whether or not this may be the case on a grand scale, on a smaller one it seems obviously true. There are paths that lead us repeatedly into the hands of people who serve the same function for us, over and over: passageways that always, in the most diverse periods of life, direct us to the friend, the betrayer, the beloved, the pupil, or the master.” (Walter Benjamin, quoted in Jay Parini, Benajmin’s Crossing.)

“L’une [des deux colonnes] assure, garde, assimile, intériorise, relève la chute dans le monument […]. L’autre – laisse tomber le reste. Risquant de revenir au même.”


“The first [of the two columns] assumes, guards, assimilates, interiorizes idealizes the fall into the monument […]. The other—lets the remain(s) fall. Running the risk of coming down to the same.” (Jacques Derrida, Glas.)

“In the evening, heart heavy as lead, full of anxiety, on the deck. For a long time I follow the play of gulls … The sun has long since gone down, and in the East it is very dark. The ship travels southwards. Some brightness is left in the West. What now happened to the birds—or to myself?—that occurred by virtue of the spot that I, so domineeringly, so lonely, selected for myself in my melancholy in the middle of the quarterdeck. All of a sudden there were two flights of gulls, one to the East, on to the West, left and right, so entirely different that the name gull fell away from them.” (Walter Benjamin, quoted in Peter Szondi, On Textual Understanding and Other Essays.)

“Dear God, let me be damned a little longer, a little while.” (William Faulkner, Light in August.)


“…pessimism all along the line. Absolutely. Mistrust in the fate of literature, mistrust in the fate of freedom, mistrust in the fate of European humanity, but three times mistrust in all reconciliation between classes, between nations, between individuals. And unlimited trust only in I.G. Farben and the peaceful perfection of the air force.” (Walter Benjamin, quoted in Michael Lōwy, Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s `On the Concept of History.`)

David Brian Howard, detail from “Untitled,” 1979.


‫תתתתתתתת‬ ‫תתתתתתתת‬ ‫תתתתתתתת‬ ‫תתתתתתתת‬ ‫תתתתתתתת‬ ‫תתתתתתתת‬


David Brian Howard, “Toulon, Clothing Store, August, 25 th, 2012.”

“Warmth is ebbing from the things in this world. The objects of daily use gently but insistently repel us, push us away. Day by day, in attempting to overcome our secret resistance to these objects, we are compelled to perform an immense, peculiar labor. We must compensate for the coldness of things with our own warmth if they are not to freeze us to death, to kill us with their alienation; we must handle their spines with infinite patience and care if we do not want to bleed to death.” (Walter Benjamin, quote in Jay Parini, Benajmin’s Crossing.)

“As now the sleeper—resembling in this way the madman—undertakes through his body the macrocosmic voyage and the noises and feelings of his own interior which—for the healthy, awakened man coalesce into the surge of health, blood pressure, visceral movements, heartbeat, and muscular sensation—in his incredibly sharpened inner sensibility cause delirium or dreamimage [Traumbild] … so is it with the dreaming collectivum, which in the passages becomes


absorbed in its interior. We must investigate this, in order to interpret the nineteenth century…as the result of its dream visions.”(Walter Benjamin, quoted in Eduardo Cadava, Words of Light.) “En quittant le pur language du nom, l’homme fait du language un moyen (une connaissance qui ne lui convient pas), lar là même aussi (…) un simple signe; et de là sortira plus tard la pluralitè des langues.” (Irving Wolfarth, “sur quelques motifs juifs chez Benjamin,” in Marc B. de Launay and Marc Jimenez, Walter Benjamin..)

“Traum Wir hōren nur uns. Denn wir werden allmâhlich blind für das Drauβen.”

“Dream We hear only ourselves. For we are gradually becoming blind on the outside.” (Ernst Bloch quoted in Gerhard Richte, Thought-Images: Frankfurt School Witers’Reflections from Damaged Life.)

“We again met in the nineteen-thirties, and were on quite amiable terms in 1938-1940, in Paris. He often dropped in for a chat, rue Boileau where I lodged in two shabby rooms with you and our child, but it so happened (he had been away for awhile) that he learned of our departure to America only after we had left. My bleakest recollections are associated with Paris, and the relief of leaving it was overwhelming, but I am sorry he had to stutter his astonishment to an indifferent concierge.” (Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory.)


“Every present is determined by those images that are synchronic with it: every now is the now of a specific recognizability. In it, truth is loaded to the bursting point with time (this bursting point is nothing other than the death of intention, which accordingly coincides with the birth of authentic historical time, the time of truth). It isn’t that the past casts its light on what is present or that what is present casts its light on what is past; rather, an image is that in which the Then and Now come together, in a flash of lightning, into a constellation. In other words: an image is dialectics at a standstill.� (Walter Benjamin quoted in Cadava, Words of Light.)


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(David Brian Howard, “Detail: Untitled,” 1979.)

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“Je regarde le Bête pendent qu’elle se lèche.”

(André Breton, Poems of André Breton.)

“Painfully he trudged the slope of the foothills toward Amecamecca alone. With ventilated snow goggles, with alpenstock, with mittens and a wool cap pulled over his eyes, with pockets full of dried prunes and raisins and nuts, with a jar of rice protruding from one coat pocket, and the Hotel Fausto’s information from the other, he was utterly weighed down. He could go no farther. Exhausted, helpless, he sank to the ground. No one could help him even if they could. Now he was the one dying by the wayside where no good Samaritan would halt. Though it was perplexing there should be this sound of laughter in his ears, of voices: ah, he was being rescued at last. He was in an ambulance shrieking through the jungle itself, racing uphill past the timberline toward the peak – and this was certainly one way to get there! – while those were friendly voices around him, Jacque’s and Vigil’s, they would make allowances, would set Hugh and Yvonne’s minds at rest about him. ‘No se puede vivir sin amar,’ they would say, which


would explain everything, and he repeated this aloud. How could he have thought so evil of the world when succour was at hand all the time?” (Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volacno. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963: 375.)

DBH, Photo in Toulon Clothing Store.

“The rule of the commodity is not merely reflected in the structure of the economic sphere narrowly constructed. Rather, the allegorical nature of the commodity is manifest as a schema of experience. “The allegories stand for that which the commodity makes of the experiences people have in this century.” The devaluation of the worth of objects in allegory is matched by the loss of significant experience in the world ruled by the commodity: “The devaluation of the world of things in allegory is surpassed within the world of things itself by the commodity.” Benjamin’s wish to think of economic processes as structuring the form of significant experience leade him to formulate Marx’s insights into the relation of superstructure and base in expressive terms: “Marx lays bare the causal connection between economy and culture. For us, what matters is the thread of expression. It is not the economic origins of culture that will be presented but the expression of the economy in the culture. At issue, in other words, is the


attempt to grasp an economic process as perceptible Ur-phenomenon, for out of which proceed all manifestations of life in the arcades (and accordingly in the nineteenth century).” (Eli Friedlander, Walter Benajamin: A Philosophical Portrait.)

DBH, “Liquidation,” August, 26, 2012.

“[…] the metaphor of the photographic snapshot encapsulates and illustrates several of those attributes which characterize the conditions and modes of this historiography: the transience of the chance which presents itself; the suddenness with which the motif appears; the momentariness of the truth which is said to be established; the fleetingness of the spatio-temporal constellation in which one must act; the visualisation of the past as an image which receives its illumination from references to the present.” (Walter Benjamin, quoted in Graeme Gilloch, Walter Benjamin: Critical Constellations.)


“The toilet was all of grey stone, and looked like a tomb…” (Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963: 295.)


Portbou, Spain, August 29th, 2012: Dolente “On Dante’s Poems to Beatrice Even today, above the dusty vault In which she lies, whom he could never have Although he dogged her footsteps like a slave Her name’s enough to bring us to a halt. For he ensured that we should not forget her. Writing such a splendid verse to her as made Us listen to the compliment he paid Convinced that no one ever put it better. Dear me, what an abuse he started then By praising in a manner so arresting What he had only looked at without testing! Since he made poems out of glimpses, men Have seen what looks nice in its street attire And stays bone-dry, as something to desire.” (Letter from Walter Benjamin to Gershom Scholem, in Gershom Scholem and Theodor W. Adorno, The Collected Correspondence of Walter Benjamin: 1910-1940.)

“The power of a path through the mountains is diffferent when one is strolling along it than when flying over in a plane. Similarly, the power of a text is different when it is read from when it is copied by hand. The passenger in a plane observes only how the path pushed through the landscape, unfolding in accordance with the laws of the terrain. Only he who trudges the path on foot comes to understand the power it commands, and how, what for the flier is just unfurled terrain, for the walker falls forth distances, belvederes, clearings, prospects at each of its turns like a commander deploying soldiers at the front.” (Jay Parini, Benjamin’s Crossing.)

“He must not be consoled. He coldly searched for a way of destroying the false burial of the unknown dog. He bent down, and, solemn and calm, he unburied the dog with a few simple movements. The dark form of the dog at last appeared whole and unfamiliar with earth on its eyelashes, its eyes open and crystallized. […] The man then looked around him and up to the skies, pleading for a witness to what he had done. And, as if that were still not enough, he began to descend the slopes, heading toward the intimacy of his home.” (Clarice Lispector, “The Crime of the Mathematics Professor,” in Clarice Lispector, Family Ties: 146.)


“¿Por qué no vivir más cuando los muertos se arrancan los féretros?” (Kateb Yacine, Poésia, textos.)

“Am ganzen Leibe war ich wund, Die Welt,

“My whole body was wounded. The world,

die in den Dingen bluht und reift, war mit den Wurzeln aus mir ausgerissen,

that blooms and ripens in things, has been torn out of me by the roots,

mit meinem Herzen (schien mir), und ich lag

together with my heart (it seemed to me), and I lay

wie aufgewühle Erde offen da und trank

there like dug up earth, and drank

den kalten Regen meiner Tränen, der aus den toten Augen unaufhōrlich und leise strōmte, wie aus leeren Himmeln,

the cold rain of my tears, that incessantly and quietly flowed from my dead eyes, like from empty skies,

Wenn Gott gestorben ist, die Wolken fallen.”

when God has died, and the clouds fall.”

(Rainer Maria Rilke, “Die Binde,” quoted in Elizabeth Steward, Catastrophe and Survival: Walter Benjamin and Psychoanalysis.)


Crypt 563 in which Benjamin’s Body was interred from 1940-1945, Portbou, Spain. His body was later removed after the lease expired on the crypt and reburied in an unknown location in the Catholic Cemetery of Portbou.”

“My, my. A body does get around.” (William Faulkner, Light in August.)


3 2 1 “…this is what it is like to die, just this and no more, an awakening from a dream in a dark place, in which, as you see, are present the means of escape from yet another nightmare. But the choice is up to you. You are not invited to use those means of escape; it is left up to you your judgement; to obtain them it is necessary only to—” (Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano.)


“There are always holes in the wall for us to escape and the improbable to slip in. (Siegfried Kracauer, History)

Photos of Walter Benjamin Memorial taken August 29 th, 2012. The Memorial entitled “Passages” was Designed by Israeli artist Dani Karavanhe.

“Ach liebe Engel ōffnet mir


--Ich aβ vom bittern Brote— Mir lebend schon die Himmelstür Auch wider dem Verbote.” (Else Lasker-Schüler, Mein blaues Klavier.)

“Demolition Site, Portbou, Spain, August 29, 2012.” (The former Hotel Franca, where Benjamin either committed suicide or was murdered, is just down the street a few doors to the right).

“In the plain with its quiet gardens, Where the traveling players move along. Past the doors of gray inns And through the villages without churches, The youngest children lead the way, And the others, dreaming, follow on. Every fruit tree accepts its fate When they wave to it from afar.


They have heavy weights, round or square, Drums and gilded hoops. The bear and the monkey, well-trained animals, Beg for coins, as they pass by. Next to one of them who is dying on the road And by tomorrow will be forgotten, A little saltimbanque uses his hand In place of the handkerchief he doesn’t own. And the woman breast feeds With her River Lethe milk of forgetting A newborn baby, beside the sad dwarf And Harlequin Trismegistus.” (Guillaume Apollinaire, “The Saltimbanques,” Wednesday, November 1, 1905 quoted in Peter Murphy, Picasso & Apollinaire: The Persistence of Memory. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: The University of California Press, 2008: 19.)

“Les flancs protégés par les miroitantes écailles que sont les armées” Breton.)

“Ange plein de gaieté, connaissez-vous lángoisse, La honte, les remords, les sanglots, les ennuis, Et les vagues terreurs de ces affreuses nuits Qui compriment le cœur comme un papier quón froisse? Ange plein de gaieté, connaissez-vous lángoisse?” (Charles Baudelaire, Reversibilité, in Les Fleurs du Mal: 90.)

(André Breton, The Poems of André


“Ange plein de bonté, connaissez-vous la haine, Les poings crispés dans l’ombre et les larmes de fiel, Quand la Vengeance bat son infernal rappel, Et de nos facultés se fait le capitaine? Ange plein de bonté, connaissez-vous la haine?” (Charles Baudelaire, Reversibilité, in Les Fleurs du Mal: 90.)


Botschaft “Aus der leichenwarmen Vorhalle des Himmels tritt die Sonne. Es sind dort die Unsterblichen, sondern die Gerfallenen, vernemehen wir. Und Glanz kehrt nicht an Verwesung. Unsere Gottheit. die Geschichte, hat uns ein Grab bestelt, aus deme s keine Auferstehung gibt.” Message “Out steps the sun, out of the corpse-warmed entrance hall to the sky. What we perceive there is not the immortals, but the fallen. And what does brilliance care for decay? History is our God and has ordered us a grave from which is no resurrection.” (Ingeborg Bachmann, in Eavan Boland, After Every War: Twentieth Century Women Poets: 94-95.)


David Brian Howard, “Two Standard Stoppages.” 1979.

“He thought that it was loneliness which he was trying to escape and not himself. But the street ran on: catlike, one place was the same as another to him. But in none of them could he be quiet.


But the street ran on in its moods and phases, always empty: he might have seen himself as in numberless avatars, in silence, doomed with motion, driven by the courage of flagged and spurred despair; by the despair of courage whose opportunities had to be flagged and spurred.� (William Faulkner, Light in August.)

“I found myself in a labyrinth of staircases. This labyrinth was open to the sky in places. I climbed up; other stairs led downward. On one landing I realized I was standing on a kind of summit, with a wide view across open country. I noticed that others stood on other peaks. One


of these people was suddenly seized by vertigo and began falling. A feeling of light-headedness spread; others toppled from other summits into the depths. Everyone was laughing. When I, too, was overwhelmed by this giddiness, I woke up.” (Walter Benjamin quoted in Jay Parini, Benjamin’s Crossing.)

“oh hercule herr kule et madamekule oh madamekule oh madame


oh frèrekul oh makule oh herkule et madame” (Max Ernst, Le Protège-mythe)


“’So we went, changing countries oftener than our shoes…’ Blue-lipped angel lurching on ruined wings down cracked arcades, blown auras morsels of unmade texts spilling like runes death pills in pocket hurtling backwards to Port Bou --something these shocks were allegorical of— Flüchtling, flâneur rattling your suitcase of quotations at a strait gate you would always never enter emblem involontaire, nailed to a nunc stans, the dialectical Jew at a standstill, declaring the small hoarse sound of the Torah In the customs shed A pit in the Pyrenees you brimmed with villeins’ blood twisting your own neck in voluntary liquidation your flesh become new forces of production madeleines of remembrance where Bolsheviks storm Belsen Courteous myopic angel, how you press upward in me to light these humble bits of you I cook the books with. Stand now: be spilled, unmade.” (Terry Eagleton, Walter Benjamin or Towards a Revolutionary Criticism.)


“Ange plein de santé, connaissez-vous les Fièvres, Qui, le long des grands murs de l’hospice blafard, Comme des exilés, s’en vont d’un pied traînard, Cherchant le soleil rare et remuant les lèvres? Ange plein de santé, connaissez-vous les Fièvres?” (Charles Baudelaire, Reversibilité, in Les Fleurs du Mal: 90.)


Photo taken in Portbou, August 29th, 2012.

“Haco tanto frio …”

(Kateb Yacine, Poésia, textos.)

“[…] but when he returned home he felt the need of it: he was a man into whose life a woman he has seen for a moment passing by has brought the image of a new beauty which deepens his own sensibility, although he does not even know her name or whether he will ever see her again.” (Marcel Proust quoted in Gilloch.)

“He was in Kashmir, he knew, lying in the meadows near running water among violets and trefoil, the Himalayas beyond, which made it all the more remarkable he should suddenly be setting out with Hugh and Yvonne to climb Popocatepetl. Already the had drawn ahead. ‘Can you pick the bougainvillea?’ he heard Hugh say, and, ‘Be careful,’ Yvonne replied, ‘it’s got spikes on it and you have to look a t everything to be sure there’re no spiders.’“ (Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano. Harmondsworth, Wiltshire: Penguin, 1963: 374-375.)


“Je découvre un cadavre cher,

David Brian Howard, “Detail: Untitled,” 1979.


Et sur les célestes rivages Je bâtis de grands sarcophages.” (Charles Baudelaire, `Alchimie de la douleur,’ in Les Fleurs du Mal:154.)

“In what ways is it possible to conjoin a heightened graphicness [Anschaulichkeit] to the realization of the Marxist method? The first stage in this undertaking will be to carry over the principle of montage into history. That is to assemble large-scale constructions out of the smallest and most precisely cut components. Indeed, to discover in the analysis of the small individual moment the crystal of the total event….To grasp the construction of history as such.” (Walter Benjamin, quoted in Gilloch, Walter Benjamin: Critical Constellations.)

‫ו ו ו ווווו‬ ‫ו ו ו ווווו‬ ‫ו ו ו ווווו‬


‫ו ו ו ווווו‬ ‫ו ו ו ווווו‬ ‫ו ו ו ווווו‬


Barcelona, August, 30, 2012. Aftermath/Dolore

“We penetrate the mystery only to the degree that we recognize it in the everyday world, by virtue of a dialectical optics that perceives the everyday as impenetrable, the impenetrable as everyday. The most passionate investigation of telepathic phenomena, for example, will still not teach us half as much about reading (which is an eminently telepathic process) as the profane illumation of reading about telepathic phenomena….. The reader, the thinker, the loiterer, the flaneur, are types of illumination just as much as the opium eater, the dreamer, the ecstatic. And more profane. Not to mention that most terrible drug—ourelves—which we take in solitude.” (Walter Benjamin, Reflections.)

“The Atrocity Exhibition. Entering the exhibition, Travis see the atrocities of Vietnam and the Congo mimetized in the “alternate” death of Elizabeth Taylor; he tends the dying film star, eroticizing her punctured bronchus in the overventilated verandas of the London Hilton; he dreams of Max Ernst, superior of the birds; “Europe after the Rain”; the human race—Caliban asleep across a mirror smeared with vomit.” (J.G. Ballard, The Best Short Stories of J. G. Ballard.)

“Aunque diga vieja esperanza Forzemos las puertas de la duda He visto demasiadas ilusiones Pasar del verde al rojo” (Kateb Yacine, Poésia, textos.)


DBH, “Lost in the Labyrinth.” 1979.


“[…] the true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognised and is never seen again: ‘the truth will not run away from us’: in the historical outlook of historicism these words of Gottfried Keller mark the exact point where historical materialism cuts through historicism. For every image of the past that is not recognised by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably.” (Walter Benjamin quoted in Graeme Gilloch, Walter Benjamin.)


(Flip side of a painting by Antonio Tapiés taken August 30, 2012.)

Antonio Tàpies died at the age of 88, of natural causes, on February 6, 2012. “News of a Death The phenomenon of déja vu has often been described. Is the term really apt? Shouldn’t we rather speak of events which affect us like an echo—one awakened by a sound that seems to have issues from somewhere in the darkness of past life? By the same token, the shock with which a moment enters our consciousness as if already lived through tends to strike us in the forms of a sound. It is a word, a rustling or knocking, that is endowed with the power to call us unexpectedly into the cool sepulcher of the past, from whose vault the present seems to resound only as an echo. Strange that no one has yet inquired into the counterpart of this transport—namely, the shock with which a word makes us pull up short, like a muff that someone has forgotten in our room. Just as the latter points us to a stranger who was on the premises, so there are words or pauses pointing us to that invisible stranger—the future—which forgot them at our place. I may have been five years old at the time. One evening—I was already in bed—my father appeared. Presumably to say good night to me. It was half against his


will, I believe, that he told me the news of a cousin’s death. This cousin was an older man who meant nothing to me. But my father embellished his account with all the particulars. He explained, on my asking, what a heart attack was, and went into detail. I did not absorb much of what he said. But I did take special note, that evening, of my room and my bed, just as a person pays closer attention to a place when he has a presentiment that, one day, he will have to retrieve from it something forgotten. Only after many years did I learn what that something was. In this room, my father had kept from me the part of the news my cousin had died of syphilis.” (Walter Benjamin, Berlin Childhood around 1900.)

(Flip side of a painting by Antonio Tapiés taken August 30, 2012.)


“These thoughts drifting through his mind were accompanied by music he could hear only when he listened carefully. Mozart was it? The Siciliana. Finale of the D minor quartet by Moses. No, it was something funereal, of Gluck’s perhaps, from Alcestis. Yet there was a Bach-like quality to it. Bach? A clavichord, heard from far away, in England in the seventeenth century. England. The chords of a guitar too, half lost, mingled with the distant clamour of a waterfall and what sounded like the cries of love.” (Lowry, Under the Volcano: 374.)


DBH, “Elegy.” 1979


“La Bête sa lèche le sexe je n’ai rien dit”

(André Breton, The Poems of André Breton.)

(Flip side of a painting by Antonio Tapiés taken August 30, 2012.)

“Y ustedes, recuerdos vagabundos […]”

(Kateb Yacine, Poésia, textos.)

“We are in the middle of the night. I once tried to combat it with words…. At that time I learned that whoever fights against the night must move its deepest darkness to deliver up its light and that words are only a way station in this major life struggle: and they can be the final station only where they are never the first ….Life must be sought in the spirit solely with all names, words and signs. For years Hōlderin’s light has shone down on me out of this night. Everything is all too great to criticize. Everything is night that bears the light….Everything is also too small to criticize, not there at all: even the dark, total darkness—even dignity alone—the


gaze of anyone who attempts to behold it will grow dim….To criticize is the concern of the outermost periphery of the circle of light around the head of every person, not the concern of language….The chemical substance that attacks the spiritual things in this way (diathetically) is the light. This does not appear in language.” (Ernst Bloch quoted in Eduardo Cadava, Words of Light: Theses On the Photography of History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997: 80-81.)

La Cittá Dolente……………………………………………………………………….dolente…….dolore


(David Brian Howard, “Detail: Untitled,” 1979.

“[…] a fellow is more afraid of the trouble he might have than he ever is of the trouble he's already got. He'll cling to trouble he's used to before he'll risk a change. Yes. A man will talk about how he'd like to escape from living folks. But it's the dead folks that do him the damage. It's the dead ones that lay quiet in one place and don’t try to hold him, that he can’t escape from.” (William Faulkner, Light in August.)


‫אאאאאאאא‬ ‫אאאאאאאא‬ ‫אאאאאאאא‬ ‫אאאאאאאא‬ ‫אאאאאאאא‬ ‫אאאאאאאא‬


  (Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia.)


Barcelona portbou toulon david howard