Monday, 19 January 2009

Der Strumpf - Walter Benjamin

A bit of reading I like and had meant to put in here for ages. A wee while ago I did some scouting for translations, so that I don't have to do it myself and found a copy of the English translation online in Solveigh Goett's blog on textile art.

It's a little story I like to go back to since I discovered it (admittedly rather late) in my Berlin discovery. It's from Walter Benjamin's Childhood around nineteen hundred.

Der Strumpf
Der erste Schrank, der aufging, wann ich wollte, war die Kommode. lch hatte nur am Knopf zu ziehen, so schnappte die Tür aus ihrem Schlosse mir entgegen. Hinter den Hemden, Schürzen, Leibchen, die dahinter verwahrt gelegen haben, fand sich das, was mir ein Abenteuer aus der Kommode machte. Ich mußte mir Bahn bis in ihren hintersten Winkel schaffen; dann stieß ich auf meine Strümpfe, die da gehäuft und in althergebrachter Art gerollt und eingeschlagen ruhten. Jedes Paar hatte das Aussehen einer kleinen Tasche. Nichts ging mir über das Vergnügen, die Hand so tief wie möglich in ihr Innerstes zu versenken. Ich tat das nicht um ihrer Wärme willen. Es war "Das Mitgebrachte", das ich immer im eingerollten Innern in der Hand hielt, was mich in ihre Tiefe zog. Wenn ich es mit der Faust umspannt und mich nach Kräften in dem Besitz der weichen, wollenen Masse bestätigt hatte, begann der zweite Teil des Spieles, der die Enthüllung brachte. Denn nun machte ich mich daran, "Das Mitgebrachte" aus seiner wollenen Tasche auszuwickeln. Ich zog es immer näher an mich heran, bis das Bestürzende sich ereignete: ich hatte "Das Mitgebrachte" herausgeholt, aber "Die Tasche", in der es gelegen hatte, war nicht mehr da. Nicht oft genug konnte ich die Probe auf diesen Vorgang machen. Er lehrte mich, daß Form und Inhalt, Hülle und Verhülltes dasselbe sind. Er leitete mich an, die Wahrheit so behutsam aus der Dichtung hervorzuziehen wie die Kinderhand den Strumpf aus "Der Tasche" holte.

Walter Benjamin, Berliner Kindheit um neunzehnhundert. Suhrkamp 2006, p. 56

Printproject 2_3 T/P, Detail
Print project 2_3, T/P Detail
Lino cut on blotting paper, 15x15cm

And here, the translation [with added suggestions by Solveigh]:

"The first cabinet that would yield whenever I wanted was the wardrobe. I had only to pull on the knob, and the door would click open and spring toward me. Among the nightshirts, aprons, and undershirts which were kept there in the back was the thing that turned the wardrobe into an adventure for me. I had to clear a way for myself to its farthest corner. There I would come upon my socks, which lay piled in traditional fashion - that is to say, rolled up and turned inside out. Every pair had the appearance of a little pocket [bag]. For me, nothing surpassed the pleasure of thrusting my hand as deeply as possible into its interior. I did not do this for the sake of the (...) warmth. It was the 'little present' rolled up inside that I always held in my hand and that drew me into the depths. When I had closed my fist around it and, as far as I was able, made certain that I possessed the stretchable [soft] woolen mass, there began the second phase of the game, which brought with it the unveiling. For now I proceeded to unwrap 'the present', to tease it out of its woolen pocket [bag]. I drew it ever nearer to me, until something rather disconcerting would happen: I had brought out 'the present', but the 'pocket' [bag] in which it had lain was no longer there. I could not repeat the experiment on this phenomenon often enough. It taught me that form and content, the veil and what is veiled [the wrap and what is wrapped], are the same. It led me to draw truth from works of literature as warily [carefully] as the child's hand retrieves the sock from 'the pocket' [bag]."

Walter Benjamin, The Sock, in Berlin Childhood around 1900, Transl. Howard Eiland, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge/Mass. & London/England, 2006, pp 96, 97.

Have a look at Solveigh's wondrous world of textile art, files and textual musings:

The sock - it's about knowledge and discovery, about knowing, seemingly, superficially if one isn't careful. I like it a lot, and it reminds that I've meant too to write up the course on facilitation I went to in December - if you remember: it was about asking a question...

And a bit of music? Maybe? Perhaps... something more about the wondrous world. Why not this:

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