Benjamin's Suitcase

Ever since reading Walter Benjamin's "Unpacking My Library" years ago, Benjamin and his various archives and projects have been my model as a collector. Benjamin serves as a guardian angel watching over Mimeo Mimeo. I highly recommend Verso's Walter Benjamin's Archive. Fascinating insights into a collection and the passion and mind that drove and organized it.

Benjamin makes me feel good as a collector unlike Jean Baudrillard and his essay "The System of Collecting." Who wants to be that guy? It is a fine line between collector (order, sanity) and horder (chaos, madness).

Looking over Benjamin's archive it is easy to see his loving gathering of Russian peasant figurines as a countermeasure to the Nazis ruthless roundup of human beings. One collection preserves and keeps alive and one exterminates. The collecting impulse is both merciful and murderous.

In 1989, I walked through Auschwitz., an experience which I will never forget. When confronted with Benjamin and his archive, I always flash to Auschwitz and a room filled floor to ceiling with suitcases. The fate of an archive is ultimately depressing, leading to an inevitable death and dispersal. I am reminded of the fate of some other suitcases: Benjamin's lost at the Spanish border; Duchamp's institutionalized in the museum.



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