The Briefcase of Walter Benjamin/Benjamin Walter's Briefcase:
An Invent/Story [i]

Julian Yates
University of Delaware

This happened exactly 40 years ago. I finally have to keep my promise to write down the story. People keep saying: just write it down the way it was...I do remember everything that happened; I think I do. That is, I remember the facts. But can I relive those days? Is it possible to step back into those times when there was no time for remembering what normal life was like, those days when we adapted to chaos and struggled for survival...? The distance of the years—forty of them—has put events for us into perspective, many believe. It seems to me though, that this perspective, under the pretense of insight, easily turns into simple hindsight, reshaping what was...How will my recollections stand up against this trap? And where do I start?
Lisa Fittko, "The Story of Old Benjamin" (Benjamin, 1982, V/2, 1184-1185) [ii]
We walked slowly, like tourists enjoying the scenery. I noticed that Benjamin was carrying a large black briefcase, which he must have picked up when we had stopped at the inn. It looked heavy and I offered to help him carry it. 'This is my new manuscript' he explained. 'But why did you take it for this walk?' 'You must understand that this briefcase is the most important thing to me,' he said. 'I cannot risk losing it. It is the manuscript that must be saved. It is more important than I am.'
Lisa Fittko, "The Story of Old Benjamin," (Benjamin, 1982, 5/2, 1187)
And always in the name of the salvation of the trace, here of the manuscript to be saved, at the instant of death, during the Second World War, the following, which Michel Lisse has also brought to my attention:"Whatever happens, the manuscript must be saved. It is more important than my own person." (Walter Benjamin to Lisa Fittko, cited by Bernard Witte, Walter Benjamin: Une Biographe, trans. André Bernold [Paris: Le Cerf, 1988, p. 253])
Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Fiction and Testimony (Derrida, 2000, 113)

0. Terminus / Zero Degree / "Reject," "Reject," "Reject"

[1] Some time, probably a little after 2.00pm or 3.00pm on September 26, 1940, Walter Benjamin was refused entry to Spain at Port-Bou. His papers were not in order. He lacked the requisite exit visa from France—a visa that had become essential only that day. He presents his papers and the border guards reject them. He is forced to spend the night at a local hotel, where, later that night, he dies. His death was, perhaps, from natural causes. It was, perhaps, a suicide. It was, perhaps, as a very few conjecture, murder.

[2] As Momme Brodersen, his biographer, tells us, in a letter dated 26 May 1939 the German Embassy in Paris had been informed that the Gestapo's request for Walter Benjamin's expatriation had been granted (Brodersen, 1996, 240). Thereafter Benjamin had essentially been on the run, joining an ever-growing flow of stateless persons or apatrides who were fleeing to the West—not quickly, but in an achingly slow relation to the German advance. Rumors were rife, and as the numbers swelled, the various authorities demanded more and more papers of these refugees. Doors opened and closed, opened and closed, and then closed for good. Escape was an uncertain, changing direction; it's compass indexed not to the terrain but to the possibility of laying your hands on the right document, the right piece of paper, that would enable you to exit to Spain, the US, Cuba, or wherever. [iii]

[3] In Port-Bou, Benjamin reached the end of the line. He made four phone calls (we know not to whom). He wrote one last letter, which was destroyed and then reconstructed from memory. And that night, he died. Among the objects in his possession was a black leather briefcase. This briefcase has since gone missing. Its whereabouts remain unknown. There was for a few years a grave, it is said, but this grave went missing also. Now there is a monument that you may visit.

[4] In 1980, by chance, it came to light that there had been, perhaps, a manuscript in the briefcase, a manuscript that Benjamin is said to have said was "more important" than his "own person." But already, on September 26, 1940, this manuscript had gone missing. There is no mention of it in the official records that such hotel deaths occasion. It remains missing to this day.

[5] Understandably, the news that there had been and perhaps that there remains, still, a manuscript, that this briefcase had been, all along, as it turns out, a thoroughly competent briefcase, a briefcase that could still, perhaps, under the right circumstances, and with a little luck or a lot of archival digging, be opened, and the manuscript retrieved, has caused much excitement. Benjamin's editors have inquired into its whereabouts. All manner of writers have ventured to Port-Bou in search of it or of something. When they get there and find nothing, draw a blank, they set about supplementing its absence with their own texts. Benjamin's briefcase becomes something to write with or on, their blocked mourning becomes instead a botched or partial mimesis that delivers, posthumously, after the fact, the manuscript that is said to have been, and which might still be, but which is not yet—a manuscript which History, so it seems, has rejected, thrown away, and whose rejection Benjamin's readers, all of us, if we got really lucky, might be able to undo.

[6] My aim in this essay is to present what I call an "invent/story" of this manuscript's emergence as a lure or relay in the production of Benjaminiana or Benjamin-themed texts and objects. In what follows, I aim to discern the various lineaments that make up its figural presence as a salvific lure, a manuscript, forever rejected, but by this rejection, funding forever the possibility of its posthumous return, its acceptance, and by that acceptance, some order of recuperation or redemption that will derive a stable meaning from Benjamin's death, from your death, my death, from death itself.

[7] As inventory, my essay proceeds by counting and listing variously mediatized or backed performances of this story and the way each stages these fragments or anekdota (stories and writing not intended for publication but which, nevertheless, come to light in uncanny places). My hope is to render each fragment with an eye to the specificities of its staging—and so to offer what, along with Richard Burt, I have learned to call a close/d reading, a reading content to trace the surfaces of Walter Benjamin's briefcase, to allow it to remain closed, and thereby resist the narratives of restitution and revelation that it sets in motion. An inventory seems an appropriate genre with which to present this case of reception—a genre specific to the parceling out of a dead person's belongings in a probate settlement or to the experimental aesthetics of the avant garde writer, Georges Perec, who once upon a time, in 1974, kept an inventory of all the things he had "ingurgitated" that year. [iv]

[8] As invention or storying, my essay tries also to reckon with the economy of reference at work always in reading and so to communicate the intoxicating flavor of the figural briefcase / manuscript / life figure as it winks in and out of Being. It's a quality that, like Maurice Blanchot's narrator in "The Instant of My Death," I do "not know quite how to translate." For the temporality of this briefcase and the manuscript it is said to contain (maybe, or still) occupies an analogous "instant" to that of the young man's almost death by firing squad in Blanchot's story. The narrator describes it as a "feeling of lightness that I do not know how to translate" (Derrida, 2000, 7-9)—a moment that oscillates: "freed from life? the infinite opening up? Neither happiness, nor unhappiness." "I am alive. No you are dead" (Derrida, 2000, 8-9).

[9] Threatened all the time with its annihilation by the discovery of the manuscript that either, by its newness (Wow!) or its anti-climactic familiarity (What? That old thing again?), settles the score, the briefcase/manuscript dyad hovers between pure figurality and a potentially catastrophic phenomenalization. By its absence, the briefcase's dimensions, its status as a device for storage, transport, and retrieval, creates the possibility, all this while, of an unknowable, unfathomable future, and with it redemption. That said, the moment of phenomenalization, coded as it is by a high stakes game of revelation, will, in the event that it occurs, pull the figure apart, returning the briefcase to the status of a mere container, and reuniting (as if come Judgment Day) the manuscript with Benjamin's corpus. The briefcase/manuscript/life articulation is quite "literally" virtual. The impression it leaves in the archive is hardly any impression at all.

1. The Posthumous Impression: Walter Benjamin / Benjamin Walter

[10] It begins then, always and again, with a briefcase, or with the mention of a briefcase and its relation to a manuscript—a manuscript that will be said to be more important than a man's life. But this briefcase, as it was archived, as its material existence in the object word was recorded, did not belong to Walter Benjamin, but instead to his posthumous double, the "Benjamin Walter" who died, as the official record shows, at 10.00pm on September 26, 1940 in his room at the hotel, Fonda de Francia, in Port-Bou, Spain. "Benjamin" is a popular Catalan first name. And so, following his death, it was assumed that Dr. Walter Benjamin was, in fact, not Dr. Walter Benjamin at all, but, instead, the Christian, Dr. Benjamin Walter, whose body was buried accordingly in a Catholic graveyard.

[11] On September 25, Walter Benjamin had crossed the border with a small group of refugees by an old smuggler's path, only to discover as Brodersen tells us, that "their transit visas for Spain, which had been valid until then, had been made null and void overnight on the orders of the government, and that all refugees from France had to be sent back at once" (Brodersen, 1996, 254). And as the official record shows, and as his burial in a Catholic cemetery would seem to confirm, the Benjamin Walter was judged to have died of natural causes.

[12] An inventory of Benjamin Walter's possessions was made as part of the inquest concerning the cause of his death on October 5 in Figueras. These include "'a leather briefcase like businessmen use, a man's watch, a pipe, six photographs, an x-ray picture, glasses, various letters, magazines, and also some money'" (Brodersen, 1996, 260). The translation of his last acts, his last hours, and the handling of his body into a few receipts offers just a few prosaic, sometimes clinical details that are hard to reckon with: a "four-day stay [at the Hotel de Francia] that includes five sodas with lemon, four telephone calls, dressing of the corpse...disinfection of his room and the washing and whitening of the mattress;" a "receipt made out by the physician [Ramón Vila Moreno] for seventy-five pesetas for his injections and taking the blood pressure of the traveler," as well as for a blood-letting; a receipt "tendered by the carpenter to the Judge in Port-Bou for making a cloth-lined coffin;" "a receipt that includes eight pesetas for the work of a bricklayer closing a niche in the cemetery;" a receipt "made out by the priest dated October 1, 1940, for ninety-six pesetas, six of which were for a mass for the dead man and seventy-five for 'five years' rent of a niche in the Catholic cemetery'" (Brodersen, 1996, 257).

[13] By writing under the sign of Walter Benjamin's specular reversal, the Christian double who dies of natural causes who cohabits with the Jew who is said to have committed suicide, I wish to foreground the necessary distortion or mis-translation that here, via the specular doubling and inversion of Benjamin's names, is made ironically, sadly, visible. As Benjamin writes in "The Task of the Translator," "translations...prove to be untranslatable not because of any inherent difficulty but because of the looseness with which meaning attaches to them" (Benjamin, 1996, 1, 262). They are both possible and impossible. Translation occurs, but necessarily it involves transformations—good and bad, for it represents a "coming to terms with the foreignness of language" (Benjamin, 1996, 1, 257) (we may add forms or media also). The only exception, the "stop," as he puts it, is "in Holy Writ alone, in which meaning has ceased to be the watershed for the flow of language and the flow of revelation. Where the literal quality of the text takes part directly, without any mediating sense, in true language, in the Truth, or in doctrine, this text is unconditionally translatable." But we are far from Holy Writ. Or, to put it as directly as possible, we must judge ourselves to be as far from Holy Writ as possible—for in the specular reversal of Walter Benjamin become "Benjamin Walter," this failed translation, we encounter the determining agency of the backing, of the media of translation itself, and here of the auto-archiving procedures of the State as it captures the "event" that his death will become.

[14] The authorities get it wrong. They produce an artefactual "Benjamin Walter," midwives to a bio/bibliographical birthing that their archiving procedures derive from the death of the historical Walter Benjamin. They produce a loose, partial facsimile, a negative image of the man—that signals where an aura has drained away, creating thereby a stop or block to mourning. What can we do but overcompensate, reinvest in the briefcase and the mention of a manuscript, reinvest in the possibility of encountering Walter Benjamin, come Judgment Day, as if his name were now Holy Writ, and so endlessly translatable, requiring no mediation, "the prototype or ideal of all translation" (Benjamin, 1996, 1, 263) as he himself put it?

[15] Such a doubling and reversal by the State might, I suppose, signify a cover up—an attempt by the authorities to produce a consistent set of archival and physical markers: the record, the grave, that reject or toss out Benjamin's Jewishness, the potential for suicide, the possibilities that mistakes were made, by creating the appearance of an unbroken surface—"natural causes," a grave at which to point. Then again, this doubling and reversal might indicate merely that the life Benjamin had been forced to lead as he fled the Gestapo, necessitated his exposure to an increasingly wild and capricious field of arbitrary possibilities—the worlds of paper, the lines of transit, the whims and feelings of those who processed him and the paperless, stateless souls with whom he fled. [v]

[16] To insist, then, on the co-presence of the historical Walter Benjamin and the artefactual Benjamin Walter, co-created in and by a single death, by the becoming paper of his body, is to hold on to Walter Benjamin's death as a moment of exposure, a moment when, thus translated, thus virtualized, the Walter Benjamin that was, becomes subject, forever, to such haunting. To insist, then, on the constitutive function of this specular reversal is to resist the process by which, in the after life or liveliness of their dissemination, the dead are summoned into being once again, as Paul de Man describes in the Rhetoric of Romanticism, as "historical and aesthetic objects" (de Man, 121) to perform the ideological work du jour. Indeed, it is de Man's resistance to such a processing of Benjamin that I take to be the manifest content of his reading of the systematic mistranslation of Benjamin's "The Task of the Translator" into French and English in the conclusion to The Resistance to Theory (de Man, 1997, 73-105) .[vi] Following de Man, it is only by maintaining the ungainly doubled presence of Walter Benjamin and Benjamin Walter, by recognizing this specular relation, that it becomes possible to read the existence of the briefcase and the manuscript that it is said to have ferried as a figure that generates a demand for redemptive futures. For, as de Man continues, "to read is to understand the question, to know, to forget, to erase, to face, to repeat—that is to say, the endless prosopopoeia by which the dead are made to have a face and a voice which tells the allegory of their demise and allows us to apostrophize them in our turn. No degree of knowledge can ever stop this madness, for it is a madness of words" (de Man, 1984, 122). "Benjamin Walter" exists by and as the disfiguration of "Walter Benjamin."

[17] But it's worse. For if Benjamin goes missing in death—essentially rejected by the archive that takes his impression as that of another, his grave goes missing too.

2. The Grave: Missing, Fake, Monument

[18] There was, so the record indicates, once a grave: a receipt remains "made out by the priest dated October 1, 1940, for ninety-six pesetas, six of which were for a mass for the dead man and seventy-five for 'five years' rent of a niche in the Catholic cemetery'" (Brodersen, 1996, 257). But that grave goes missing.

[19] Hannah Arendt, herself fleeing the Nazis, was first on the scene, but was unable to locate Benjamin's grave. In a letter dated October 21, 1940, addressed to Gershom Scholem, she writes, "it was not to be found; his name was not written anywhere." No "Walter Benjamin." Nothing. Still, she describes the cemetery facing the bay as "by far one of the most fantastic and most beautiful spots I have seen in my life" (Scholem, 1981, 226). "Many years later," writes Scholem, who did not travel to Port-Bou, "in the cemetery Hannah Arendt had seen, a grave with Walter Benjamin's name scrawled on the wooden enclosure was being shown to visitors." "The photographs before me," he continues, "clearly indicate that this grave, which is completely isolated and utterly separate from the actual burial places, is an invention of the cemetery attendants, who in consideration of the number of inquiries wanted to assure themselves of a tip." "Visitors who were there," Scholem ends, "have told me that they had the same impression. Certainly the spot is beautiful, but the grave is apocryphal." Case closed. Scholem, who does not travel to Port-Bou, who does not make inquiry of the cemetery attendants, recognizes the beauty of the scene but side-steps the confusion or condensing of a sublime landscape with the incompetent technics of less a fake than a tacked on (apocryphal) or retrospectively necessary grave. He knew the man. He was his friend. He makes no pilgrimage.

[20] In 1979, a small plaque was erected in the cemetery (figure 1). [vii]

(Figure 1)

[21] Then, in 1990, a monument was commissioned by the AsKI (Arbeitskreis selbständiger Kultur-Institute) and designed by the Israeli artist Dani Karavan. Brodersen's description of the monument, titled Passages, remains the most exact and is worth quoting at length:

Its centerpiece is a flight of 70 narrow steps cut into the cliff at the seaward side of the cemetery, running down at an angle of 30° through rusty iron walls to a dizzying dead-end overlooking the rocks and sea below. A glass screen terminates the passage: compelled to retrace their steps, visitors turn to face the cemetery and, before emerging from the tunnel, are confronted by a wall of undressed stone, set in axial extension of the corridor into a rock-face surrounding the cemetery forecourt. The sea, the cemetery: no way out. Engraved into the glass that blocks the passage is a single quotation from Walter Benjamin's theses On the Concept of History. "'It is more arduous to honour the memory of the nameless than that of the renowned. Historical construction is devoted to the memory of the nameless'" (Broderesen, 1996, 261-262). [viii]

Understandably, with the erection of this breath-taking monument, the Benjamin-inspired traffic through Port-Bou has increased (you can take a tour courtesy of USC, on any number of Flickr sites, or via Wikipedia). [ix] Generations of his readers and interpreters come to pay homage, make pilgrimage, or to puzzle why exactly they have come here or have felt the need to come here. Groups retrace Benjamin's steps; rent houses that advertise their proximity to the scene of his passing—the story of the flight, his death, and the briefcase become a trope or minor commodity within an ethno/echo/-tourist rewiring of Europe's infrastructure. [x]

[22] As anthropologist Michael Taussig observes, the monument, which seems far too static a word for this conveyance, "passage," or translation tool, seems to lead its visitors into the "fosa común—the common grave" (Taussig, 2006, 5) into which Benjamin's bones were likely deposited following the expiration of the rental of a niche in the cemetery. The downward motion mimes a descent into the underworld, a descent into a common grave "where even if you were buried at first with a name," Taussig continues, "you end up nameless." Turning to face the sky, the monument "compels" visitors to turn around, blank out, draw a blank, confronting them with a square of sky or worse the sun, the absence or wound of a passing. For Taussig, this "blank" inaugurates an identification with the victims of such regimes and a hard, drained climb back out of the grave—the brute circumstance of Benjamin's death redeemed as the occasion, topos, or "spot," for all the nameless or "bare" lives that have died in camps, on borders, in their homes, or in transit (Taussig, 2006, 25). [xi] The monument literally now become a site of translation, translating his absent or disseminated bones qua public relic as the bones of all.

[23] But Taussig isn't quite sure if he's on a pilgrimage or not—"I am not making a pilgrimage," he says to himself (Taussig, 2006, 6). And he's pig sick of the whole briefcase thing—what a dead end that turns out to be! He's alive to the specular reversals or botched afterlife of the site, as Benjamin posthumously haunts Port-Bou—and so he invests in the specularity of the site—embarking on his own mimetic redoubling of the problems by taking the specular atomization of Benjamin into this and that fragment as a way to reconstruct him for our times. "Was Walter Benjamin the first suicide bomber?" (Taussig, 2006, 7) he asks—going on to narrate a fleeting encounter he has with a "young man" on a train. This young man "speaks no Spanish and he is worried, sick with worry. He has a large black bag made of cheap material that he keeps on the seat next to him, preventing anyone from sitting there. He looks around all the time like an animal in a cage" (Taussig, 2006, 8). The fictive Taussig of the essay helps the young man with directions and watches him alight from the train, waving to him as he goes.

[24] Redemption is possible. For here, bag and all, Benjamin lives again, posthumously, in this young man, in all those so processed by the State—and he turns out not to be suicide bomber or not yet a bomber—simply a probably illegal, which is to say paperless, person in search of directions. And it is of course a truth—but a truth delivered, as de Man might put it, within Taussig's essay as a tropic shuffling of doubles, of faces that stand in for the disfigured memory and absent grave of Walter Benjamin. That "young man," who happened to be carrying a black bag, is not really there in and of himself, as an historical person, he is instead part of the "staffage" that makes up the scene—a screen upon which to re-project a posthumous "Walter Benjamin" in order to reverse his specularization. He is a figure we will meet again, become butterfly or grasshopper, become annoying girl on a cell phone—as the various writers who retrace Benjamin's footsteps generate successive zootropic figures to populate stories, stories that cannot recuperate the void or loss of Benjamin's going missing. Instead, these fleeting, doubling presences render their accounts "lively," multiplying the posthumous life effects that Benjamin's death occasions.

[25] Quite how then the aesthetic (remember that aesthetic defines not a quality or property of an object but a perceptual apparatus) experience of Karavan's monument might do more than stage a necessary decoupling of theory and praxis even as it perhaps eventalizes that dilemma is unclear. Visitors, though "compelled" (to quote the careful Brodersen's word again) experience merely a temporary askesis or emptying out before their resurrection—papers and passports intact. Quite how this yoking of technics and the natural differs from the earlier scrawl that Scholem supposed was the concession of a few cemetery attendants eludes us also. Surely, the lesson here lies in an altered set of formal engagements by which the events of World War Two are mediatized, captured by a mode of production? Quite how the responses of those readers of Benjamin accredited, like ourselves, as academics differ from those of differently accredited readers or simply tourists who make a holy day of retracing his steps, who blog about their days on the road, about where to eat, what to do in the time that remains when the cemetery is closed, who make the mistake of staying over, or who read their guidebook and drive in, for Port-Bou is such a "dump," or who, perhaps, strong egos that they are, counter-identify with such prejudices and opt for the rental or purchase of a local villa whose realtor trumpets its proximity to this "known site," I am no longer able to attest. But in saying this I cast no aspersions, make no judgments. Memory is difficult. The past is harder still. And Benjamin's specular disfiguring in death, his rejection even as and by his being archived, serves as a stupefying block to mourning. His grave is an irresistible haunt—I too wish to go there.

[26] How then to render this blockage—to go there without getting anywhere? "Cemeteries," as Taussig notes, "exist to ensure at least the appearance of a direct bond between name and body" (Taussig, 2006, 21), but as Scholem remarks, in a sentence which disavows the chiasmus in favor of the figure of a disconnect or a blockage (it is the last sentence, the last words, in his memoir to his friend: terminus): "Certainly the spot is beautiful, but the grave is apocryphal." Refusing the folding together of the sublimity of the "spot" with the technics of the grave marker, or perhaps what he takes to be the gesture implied in Arendt's formulation, he pulls the "spot" apart, keeps things separate, offers no consolation. Following Scholem, then, when we are "compelled" to turn and look up to the sky in Karavan's monument, I see neither the faithful nor the botched translation of Benjamin's bones, but instead the figure of a blockage, not testimony so much as an inhuman index to the untranslatability of a death and a life other than via the proliferation of a chain of variously mediatized "things," which are already fragments, fragments of what was and what remains a fragment still.

[27] But, what was it that Benjamin is supposed to have said again? It's so hard to keep his words straight as they travel. What is it then that serves as the governing posthumous instant/ce?

3. The Posthumographic Instant/ce: "I, Me, Myself"

[28] "A witness and a testimony," writes Derrida in Demeure, "must always be exemplary. They must first be singular, whence the necessity of the instant: I am the only one to have seen this unique thing, the only one to have heard or to have been put in the presence of this or that, at a determinate, indivisible instant" (Derrida, 2000, 40). Lisa Fittko is precisely, in this sense "irreplaceable." That said, the logical requirement of exemplarity installs the necessity of substitutability within the very irreplaceability of her testimony. "The exemplarity of the 'instant,'" explains Derrida, "that which makes it an 'instance,' if you like, is that it is singular and universalizable...This is the testimonial condition" (Derrida, 2000, 41). Fittko's memory of whatever it was that Benjamin said bears repeating, indeed it must be able to be repeated—even as it is already itself a repetition—a repetition of words that in all probability, Benjamin had said before, to others, who did not remember, or to himself, silently, and perhaps out loud. This we cannot know. [xii]

[29] That these words, as you will see, come to us only via a maximal mediation, via a remembered conversation that is written down, first in English, and then retranslated into German, renders whatever it is that Benjamin must have said, precisely as a foreign text—a text whose repetition and attempts at verification merely generate further back ups, translations, and facsimiles that tend to pull the instant/ce apart even as they seek to access it and deploy it in order to transform the conditions of what it means to read and to remember Walter Benjamin in whichever today you inhabit. In this instance, it is a constitutive irony of the briefcase / manuscript / life instant/ce that its singular beginning admits from the very beginning, the problem of techne. It is easy, as Derrida notes, to assume that this techne refers to the uncertain agencies of "cameras, videos, typewriters, and computers," but "as soon as the sentence is repeatable, that is, from its origin, the instant it is pronounced and becomes intelligible, thus idealizable, it is already instrumentizable, and thus affected by technology. And virtuality" (Derrida, 2000, 42). What is it, then, that Benjamin is said to have said?

[30] There was, so it is said, "a manuscript that must be saved," a manuscript that is "more important than I am" (Benjamin, V/2, 1187). Sometimes these words are rendered slightly differently, or with a difference. Fittko herself, some years after she wrote up her original account in English of her encounter with "The Old Benjamin"—in German, "der alte Benjamin," his name, dropping letters fore and aft, an aging, othered, alte/red "Benjamin,"—attempts to recall them with greater precision:

I saw that Benjamin carried a briefcase, one he'd surely picked up when we stopped at the inn. It appeared to be heavy, and I asked if I could help him with it.
"It contains my new manuscript," he explained to me.
            "But why have you brought it along on this scouting trip?"
            "Do you know, this briefcase is most important to me," he said. "I dare not lose it. The manuscript must be saved. It is more important than I am, more important than myself" (Fittko, 1991, 106).

"More important than I am," "more important than myself." "The manuscript must be saved." But by what order of typography, what order of translation, what syntactic markers might it be possible to give these words their due, to find the right emphasis, to speak both as and for Benjamin, forty years on, more than forty years on (the clock is ticking even now)? What is there to do except continue recalling them, repeating them, translating them to still new media, and altering/aging them further by those acts of translation?

[31] Fittko is keenly aware that she is reshaping events, recalling and not recalling, omitting, adding, deleting, forgetting, botching the whole thing even as she attempts to get it right or to reckon with the past. And so Benjamin's words become mobile, accreting clauses, folding upon themselves, and opening out—pronouns accruing until, in an extended note in Demeure, Derrida, even as he notes the salvific register of these words, redoubles and condenses the emphatic doubling of self, "more important than I am," "more important than myself," with the augmented referential pull of "my own person." These were quite some words—words spoken in German but recalled first in English by the émigré Fittko, who naturalizes, inhabiting two, three, four languages at least, at home in none and all, as the need arises—for at "stateless."

[32] But Fittko is not quite sure. She doesn't like the pull to salvation, the discovery or recovery of the trace, pulling the manuscript out of the fire, out of "the ash of the archive," as Derrida puts it in Archive Fever (Derrida, 1996, 100). She hides and reveals, opens the briefcase only to close it. For her, the posthumous existence of a manuscript that may still exist, that may rest in this or that archive become simple repository, holds no lure, just a slightly nauseous sense of vertigo. At the time, obviously, she did not know that Benjamin would die, that Port-Bou was the end of the line. "In about a week the word came: Walter Benjamin was dead." "New orders, just received from Madrid: Nobody can enter Spain without a French exit visa" (Benjamin,1982, V/2, 1192). "[Il] 'faut se débrouiller'," she continues,

one has to cut through the fog, work one's way out of the general collapse...But Benjamin was no débrouillard...In his remoteness, what counted was that his manuscript and he were out of the reach of the Gestapo. The crossing has exhausted him and he didn't believe that he could do it again—he had told me so during our climb. Here, too, he had calculated everything in advance: he had enough morphine on him to take his life several times over.
Impressed and shaken by his death, the Spanish authorities let his companions continue their travel. (Benjamin, 1982, V/2, 1193)

For Fittko, then, the briefcase/manuscript are what ought to have been lost, what Benjamin should have let go of long before he arrived at Port-Bou, long before they were up in the mountains, long before he arrived at the inn, where he had them stashed. That briefcase was heavy. He had trouble carrying it. He needed help. He and it were a liability.

[33] Part of her wishes that she could have rejected this manuscript and along with it this "alte Benjamin," but she could and did not. Instead she "receives" both him and it, in Roland Barthes's sense of the term, as Craig Saper asks us to remember in the introduction to this special issue, processing them "like a fire, a drug, an enigmatic disorganization" (Barthes, 118)—like so much "fog" that will not dissipate. She bears testimony, in effect, not to Benjamin, but to her sense of the times, to the kairos of living barely in a Europe in which "every governmental office in every country...seemed to devote full time to decreeing, revoking, enacting, and then lifting orders and regulations" (Benjamin, 1982, V/2, 1193). "You had to learn to slip through the holes," she continues, "to turn, to wind, and to wriggle your way out of this ever-changing maze, if you wanted to survive." For this is what it meant, for her, not to live, but to survive if you were one of those persons who were pronounced apatrides, without a nation, stateless, paperless, those persons disowned by their states, or now subjected to a bio-processing that articulated the fact of their existence as what Giorgio Agamben calls "bare life" (Agamben, 1995). "Benjamin," she adds, "was not a wriggler." His death therefore becomes a suicide, a befogged refusal to surrender the sovereignty of his person, a sovereignty that Fittko assumes migrated metonymically to the manuscript that he declares "more important than I am."

[34] Fittko's recollections, her re/call and voicing, and then writing of Benjamin's voice, exist as themselves a strong mimesis, a doubling and re-doubling of an act of testimony, a witnessing that, even now, in spite of all, these papers were important—Benjamin's "person," his "I," his "me," migrating to those papers, an ecstatic/prosaic download/uploading into paper. For Fittko, the suicide that she assumes took place in Port-Bou was merely the final enactment of a suicide that had occurred already by Benjamin's failure to reckon with the times, by the untimeliness of attachment to this and that piece of paper.

[35] In her account, it is the Spanish authorities, it should be noted, "impressed and shaken by his death," which, "in the name of the salvation of the trace," allowed his companions to continue their travels, his companions become fictive, institutional doubles for the dead Walter Benjamin become Benjamin Walter—he who, although his existence is archived, never spoke a word in his life. Such salvation that Fittko allows obeys nothing more than a nihilistic bureaucratic technicity: it represents no refuge from the equally nihilistic bureaucratic technicities that kill. For her, salvation becomes merely the name given to one of those holes through which those who live barely manage to wriggle. The line of flight is all. Any big metaphysical meanings we derive are just so much ideology or bureaucratically installed death effects that mime a fake sense of presence, a fake vestige of sovereignty, that allows those who find themselves so processed to remain, clutching the wrong things, the wrong papers.

[36] Later, much later, forty years later, Fittko learns that "'There is no manuscript. Until now nobody knew that such a manuscript ever existed'" (Benjamin, V/2, 1193). "I am hearing," she writes, "there is no manuscript. Nobody knows about the heavy black briefcase carrying the papers that were more important to him than anything else." The fog thickens. The whole world, so it seems, now waits for this manuscript that she wanted to reject but which she could only, instead, receive. The whole world, so it seems, would find this manuscript and so seek to keep alive within themselves a Walter and not "der alte" Benjamin, let alone a Benjamin Walter. And she succumbs. How could she or we not? The salvific trace is like a drug. "Perhaps I will go back to Port-Bou," she writes, "and try to pick up some tracks, to retrace what happened on that side of the mountains 40 years ago, with the help of some of our old friends down there. Perhaps there will be another ending to this story" (Benjamin, 1982, V/2, 1194).

[37] What was it that Benjamin must have said, again? To what was he already witnessing? His testimony can only imperfectly be attested to: "You must understand that this briefcase is the most important thing to me. I cannot risk losing it. It is the manuscript that must be saved. It is more important than I am." "Than myself." "My person." This, then, is the posthumographic instant/ce—always plural, always lacking, both too much and too little. These words emerge from a chance conversation; a conversation that is then repeated over the telephone; transcribed; rewritten; reprinted; and so subjected to countless acts of translation.

4. Taking the Call / Notes on a Chance Conversation / 1980/ 1940

[38] Before he died, Walter Benjamin placed four telephone calls. It is assumed that he was calling the American embassy in Barcelona (Brodersen, 1996, 256). But that is an assumption. Listen—those phones are still ringing. Quick! Answer it! Perhaps that's him now—the call finally arriving—but he is spoken by another. The telephone is a woman.

[39] Stanford, California. 1980. "Professor Chimen Abramsky was on sabbatical leave" (Buck-Morss, 1989, 331), writes Susan Buck-Morss, in the Afterword to The Dialectics of Seeing, "when he met Lisa Fittko, a seventy-year-old, Berlin-born woman, who told him she had led Walter Benjamin over the Pyrénées to Spain forty years before. [xiii] She remembered well that he had carried a heavy briefcase, containing a manuscript more important, Benjamin had said, than his life." Abramsky tells Gershom Scholem, Benjamin's friend and one of his literary executors. Scholem calls Fittko "[on May 15, 1980] and records from her the following story." There's a change of state. The briefcase becomes a phenomenon to be inquired into, to be tested for. This call acquires a precise date. Notes are taken. The conversation, at least Fittko's half of it, is transcribed. Chance meetings give way to purposed calls.

[40] News of this call, news that there is a briefcase and a manuscript sends Rolf Tiedemann south to France and Spain. What is this manuscript? Maybe just another copy of "Theses on the Philosophy of History" that Benjamin had already mailed to Theodor Adorno, trusting it to the parcel post in Paris in 1940, or as valuable (perhaps) as a "text on the Arcades project" (Buck-Morss, 1989, 334). "Given his microscopic handwriting," as Tiedemann observes, it's hard to judge the heft of this manuscript even though Fittko found the bag very heavy. Killjoy Scholem "believes the possibility cannot be ruled out 'that for reasons connected with what happened after Benjamin's death, to which she referred only vaguely...' Mrs Gurland might have destroyed the letter."

[41] The mere mention of a briefcase and of a manuscript, missing or not, that is said to be more important than a "life," offers a structure of referential possibility that is almost impossible to ignore. For to do so would seem to abandon Benjamin once again, to leave him stranded at Port-Bou, paperless, to allow him to die, again. Retrieve the manuscript, open the briefcase, reduce it merely to a container, exhausting it in the process, and we who have survived to read Benjamin will have perhaps in some sense "saved" him or some part of him. We will have made good on what minimally begins to manifest in Scholem's very sensible note-taking protocol that seeks to prepare for or to make thinkable the phenomenalization of what remains, otherwise, always, in its mode of appearance, referential. Of course, the briefcase remains closed. It is missing and so is the manuscript that it is said to have contained. Perhaps they were both destroyed. Perhaps they are both off in some archive somewhere awaiting discovery. Insert your preferred outcome here. And so, the triadic figure of a briefcase-manuscript-life remains, doubling or troping the dyadic grave-monument coupling, as a destabilizing but incompetent surplus, the figure of a surplus (perhaps) re-activated every time it is recalled.

[42] Amped up by the eventalizing ring of the telephone, or more insistently still, by the figure of the missed message only now being heard and no longer capable of being returned, the news of Walter Benjamin's missing briefcase, missing manuscript, missing grave, and missing life, constitute an almost irresistible haunt for his readers. And it is hard, wrong, to find fault with anyone. Such habits or attachments are hard to break for "just as the medium obeys the voice that takes possession of him from beyond the grave," as Benjamin puts it in his Berlin Childhood Around 1900, so we " the first proposal that [comes our] way through th[is] telephone" (Benjamin, 1996, 3, 350). We are all taken by it and all of us are compelled to respond. Of course, when Benjamin recalls his own childhood as mediated by the telephone and seeks to capture its spirit life, the way, as Avital Ronell puts it, "the telephone cannot be regarded as a 'machine' in the strict sense of classic philosophy, for it is at times 'live'" or "at least 'life' gathers in it" (Ronell, 1989, 51), he does so to offer his childhood as a lens that makes visible, via time-lapse photography, as it were, the telephone's migration through the bourgeois house. Inverting the apparent rules of the genre, childhood becomes a topos or staging ground rather than a retrievable content. To read his short telephonic memoir is to watch and listen as the calls of the telephone, muffled and nocturnal, grow to a more insistent, triumphant front room ring of the fully instantiated and owned up to "thing"—which gathers all to it and brooks no interruption. "Each day and every hour," he writes, "the telephone was my twin brother. I was an intimate observer of the way it rose above the humiliations of its early years. For once the chandelier, fire screen, potted palm, console table, gueridon, and alcove balustrade—all formerly on display in the front rooms—had finally faded and died a natural death, the apparatus, like a legendary hero once exposed to die in a mountain gorge, left the dark hallway in the back of the house to make its regal entry into the cleaner and brighter rooms inhabited by a younger generation" (Benjamin, 1996, 3, 349-350). The telephone redeems itself—but only for future generations, for it was not always the hero that it becomes. Benjamin is of course present in the story, his childhood is to be vividly gleaned from the descriptions, but he subsists, now and then, in the infrastructure of the house and the worlds connected with it by the telephone. His story lies in the focalization that as child he provides—the writing subject reduced to a mere autobiographeme.

[43] There is a lesson here—but not to be learned quite yet. 'Cause, you better keep listening—for here comes the call again, and again, and again. Sometimes it brings an empty, melancholy repetition. Sometimes it brings a revelation or a moral, real, staged, parodic—sometimes the call is answered simply as re-enactment.

5. Complete at Last / Habeas Corpus

[44] Sometimes the reader is canny—aware of the prior traffic, aware of the footsteps in which he travels. Sometimes she is not. "The story is by now so well known that it barely needs to be retold," apologizes novelist J. M. Coetzee, in 2001, marshaling the briefcase as placeholder for a review of the then recently published volumes of the Selected Works of Walter Benjamin in English (Coetzee, 2001). "The setting," he goes on "is the Franco-Spanish border, the time 1940. Walter Benjamin, fleeing occupied France, presents himself to the wife of a certain Fittko he has met in an internment camp. He understands, he says, that Frau Fittko will be able to guide him and his companions across the Pyrenees to neutral Spain. Frau Fittko takes him along on a trip to scout out the best routes; he brings along a heavy briefcase. Is the briefcase really necessary, she asks? It contains a manuscript, he replies. 'I cannot risk losing it. It...must be saved. It is more important than I am.'" But the escape goes wrong. Papers are refused. Benjamin dies. The briefcase is lost. The manuscript is lost also. "What was in the briefcase" continues Coetzee, "and where it disappeared to, we can only guess. Benjamin's friend Gershom Scholem suggested that it was the last revision of the unfinished Passagen-Werk, known in English as the Arcades Project." Thankfully, as Coetzee puts it, "the story has a happy twist." That is as long as posthumous publication is taken as a happy ending. "A copy of the Arcades manuscript left behind in Paris had been secreted in the Bibliothèque Nationale by Benjamin's friend Georges Bataille. Recovered after the war, it was published in 1982 in its original form, that is to say, in German with huge swathes of French. And now we have Benjamin's magnum opus in full English translation by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, and are at last in a position to ask the question: Why all the interest in a treatise on shopping in Nineteenth-century France?"

[45] Phew! We have the body—an easy to use completely translated body, just a click away, all for your reading pleasure. Score one to the indefatigable mode of production that gives the English translation all the "schein," to use Benjamin's term, of the original German reduction/redaction of the papers amassed in konvoluts and notebooks—that sadly are, in and of themselves, hard to read, impossible for reader's digest. Fin. Restitution is achieved via a bio/bibliographical translation from German into English.

6. Neither a Wriggler, Nor a Butterfly / "A Route in the Shape of A Question Mark"

[46] But there are those, also, writers like Benjamin, who, years later, seek to recover the path he took—trace out the lines, substantiate the lines of flight along which his messages traveled and so go searching for the voices they hear. They go to Port-Bou. They try to step in his tracks. They go to see what's left, what remains. They hope to connect—but connect to what?

[47] Essayist Rebecca Solnit thinks it will prove difficult to find the path, but as it turns out that there's a "little kiosk by the beach" at Port-Bou "bearing maps of the region and an unfolded brochure on Benjamin and the monument to him that stands on the edge of town. The brochure contains a greatly reduced topographical map on which his final walk is marked with a thick orange line" (Solnit, 2004, 69). She notes the terrain—the mountains pose more of a challenge than she expected. They decide to drive. "The Mediterranean was blue" (Solnit, 2004, 70); the scenery stunning; and although she "had never been anywhere remotely all looked strangely familiar." Note the deployment of that sinking feeling—an audaciously uncanny repetition. She and her companion keep walking "for a long time on a road, alone, except for the insects" which she renders in vivid detail. There are "grasshoppers with the wingspan of dragonflies when they took to the air, and small ones with scarlet wings made them look like butterflies though they vanished into drabness again when they landed." This deployment of the insect world (can you hear the low buzz or hum that replaces the mechanical sound of the missing traffic, and which places us so wonderfully in this moment with them on this road?), of lives lived entirely for themselves, a zoographic marker that somehow stands in relation to the passage of those that lived just barely in WW2 or who died. "And there were many species of butterflies," real ones now, not imposters, "small white ones, a yellow one that folded its wings to look like a green leaf, and a pair of swallowtails that chased and courted each other in the breeze" (Solnit, 2004, 70). Solnit's companion says "butterflies have four basic wing motions that occur in so random a sequence that predators cannot predict where they will be." Their erratic course "makes them elusive." Benjamin may have been no "wriggler," as Fittko puts it—but he was no butterfly either.

[48] Solnit's good (really good—maybe the very best) and winks at her reader, knowing that this sounds like Benjamin—writing one of his essays as "uncategorizable as it is influential." And so, there's a layering of mimetic actors—the butterfly who's movements recall those of a Benjamin on the run, but better, and then Solnit, herself, doing a Benjamin in prose even as she drives over the mountains while he walked. In effect, she gets to Port-Bou before he does.

[49] Enter the briefcase—which he carried, "'more important than his life.'" And then remarking the route, she observes "the route looks like a giant inverted question mark like the ones at the beginning of questions in Spanish" (Solnit, 2004, 71). Benjamin would have loved Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, thinks Solnit—"he probably never knew that his last walk was in the form of a question," though she does, making of it an exemplary instant/ce in the form of her title: "A Route in the Shape of A Question Mark." If only she could leave it unread, could endure the static, endure the wandering lines that nevertheless pose a question that enacts the breakdown of readability. But that's too much—there are mouths and readers to feed. Solnit cannot content herself with letting the figural question mark lie as a sign of the inhuman, and of a human capacity to derive significance—so the question mark returns now as a figure of mourning that comes close to the formula of the "ubi sunt": "For me," she writes, restricting but also universalizing her call, the call she's placing for the dead, "there's always been a question mark inscribed across Europe, one that asks what that culture would have looked like without the persecutions and exterminations of the Second World War" (Solnit, 2004, 74). Draw a blank—imagine what might have been. Project. The moral—an "every-moral": "Benjamin was extraordinary in his life," "but in his death, he was ordinary, another refugee denied refuge."

7. Against Reading (Theology)

[50] Taking up where Solnit leaves off, theologian Michael D. Jackson describes his own re-enactment of Benjamin's journey to Port-Bou. His "last thoughts before falling asleep" the evening of his arrival, "were of a photograph [he] had seen that morning in a Danish newspaper of a listing wooden boat with splintered upper strakes being towed behind an Italian coastguard cutter on whose cramped foredeck huddled 30 or 40 bewildered African asylum-seekers." "If migrants are sustained by their hope in the future, refugees are afflicted by their loss of the past. Of no one was this truer than Walter Benjamin."

[51] Jackson is out to try to understand Benjamin's state of mind—"mindful" himself of "Benjamin's notion of translation 'as a mode' that requires one 'to go back to the original, for that contains the law governing its translation, its translatability'"—"and what kind of translation is it, anyway, that seeks parallels and echoes, not between languages, but between experiences, and as Benjamin himself suggested, between the lines?" He does his best—but he's upset. It doesn't work. He doesn't really like Benjamin or want to have to read him. "But perhaps it was Benjamin's unworldliness I found so unsettling—the accusation that the intellectual is by definition maladapted to real life, to practical tasks, to marriage, to human relationships, his head in the clouds, his life in an ivory tower, his ideas of no earthly use"

[52] The journey is hard—backbreaking. Jackson takes the train back: "On the train to Perpignan, I found myself in a carriage with only two or three other passengers. A young deaf-mute woman was sitting across the aisle and sending text messages on her cell phone. Each time she hit a key the phone beeped loudly, until a young man, perhaps a student, who had kicked his shoes off, and had been lounging sideways in his seat and reading a paperback novel, got up and asked her to turn the phone off. She pointed to her ears, miming that she could not hear him." The line is busy. Disconnect. We tried. We came—and walked in Benjamin's footsteps—but it's no good. Everything's wrong.

[53] Looking out the window at the landscape, Jackson falls to "wondering why we expend so much effort interpreting signs, reading the sky, the sea, the faces of those we love, for insights into some inner and normally invisible state, or set great store by trying to divine or alter the course of the future." G-d's already called. And he's answered.

8. Noir(ish) / The Plot Thickens

[54] There is a story that Benjamin was murdered by Soviet agents—the manuscript he carried in the briefcase was indeed a copy of the Theses on the Philosophy of History, and Stalin had read them and ordered that everything necessary be done to prevent their publication. As Stuart Jeffries, writing in The Observer reports, Steven Schwartz, a Montenegro based journalist, broke the story after years of research and, recounting much of the story as I have rendered it thus far, adds what he holds to be a fact that: "'Unquestionably the Soviet secret police was operating a chokepoint in southern France - sifting through the wave of fleeing exiles for targets of liquidation.'" Without his knowing, "'Walter Benjamin walked straight into this maelstrom of evil'" (Jeffries, 2001). Maybe Schwartz is right. Or, maybe, as Slavoj Žižek notes in his Parallax View, what is remarkable about this anecdote—and others like it, is the yoking together of high and low cultural forms—Benjamin and Stalinist hit-men, high theory and film noir—and that at the core of such anecdotes is what he calls a "parallax gap"—an insurmountable, irreconcilable problem of perception and cognition that ruinates the story even as it then serves as an inexhaustible fund that disseminates nothing new except for subsequent iterations of the same story in new media platforms (Žižek, 2004, 3-4). In essence, then, what Žižek identifies is the process by which the proliferation of posthumous texts auto-archived by institutional mechanisms—train stations that issue tickets, hotel bills, inquest reports, surveillance transcripts, etc—in short, a culture of paper persons, or persons subject to bio/bibliographic processing—will generate gaps, semi-readable holes, which the available genres on hand for explaining this infrastructure to us, will inhabit. For Schwartz, then, the "plot thickens"—and almost immediately fades into a constitutive "what if?" "What if?" indeed. "What if?" Such are the pleasures to be had as genres migrate into the spaces in which we live barely.

9. Losing Your Grip / Posthumographic Porn

[55] But, really, what was in that briefcase—what was it that Benjamin wanted to keep secret—keep on his person, so that in death, the papers, whatever they were, were not lost? What if we opened a stunt briefcase—what if we just skipped the German word, "Die Aktentasche," and played around on an English pun instead—Benjamin's "grip"—his lost "grip"—get it? Let's have Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Gershom Scholem, and Arnold Schönberg walk among the living again, and play out the conversations they might have, if they met again—having ascended to the heights of Mount Parnassus from which they can surf the Web, read anything and everything they like, but from which they are unable to write, to intervene—they don't even have a cell phone, and they're not allowed to text. Hannah Arendt shows up for a cameo; and Brecht's a sometime spectator.

[56] Welcome to Carl Djerassi's beautifully illustrated set of dialogues Four Jews on Parnassus, in which he chooses "the format of direct speech to present an easily grasped and humanizing view" (Djerassi, 2008, xv). His aim is to supplement the biographical record, discerning "themes that in my opinion have hitherto been largely underrepresented or even misrepresented in their otherwise over documented biographical records" (Djerassi, 2008, xvi). Parnassus, as you will recall, represents the reward given to those who deserve the "ultimate recognition of literary, musical, or intellectual achievement" (Djerassi, 2008, 1). And it works—Benjamin is a smarty pants, alive to the ironies, and wants to know where he's buried. "It was Sept. 26, in my anno diaboli 1940 when I killed myself in Port-Bou (Chuckles to himself.) It took my death to put that fishing village on the tourist map. If I'd waited one day...or had come a day earlier, I could've crossed into Spain" (Djerassi, 2008, 5). He takes umbrage with Lisa Fittko calling him "Der alte Benjamin" (Djerassi, 2008, 6). He wants to know what happened—is there a grave? What happened to the briefcase? "I know where I died...but my grave?" he asks (Djerassi, 2008, 12)—he wants to know "what they did with my body" (Djerassi, 2008, 15).

[57] Djerassi wants to open the briefcase become grip—he wants to discover what caused Benjamin to "lose his grip." He resuscitates Henny Gurland, one of Benjamin's fellow travelers to ask the question that everyone wants answered.

Henny: But Professor, why the bag?
Walter: It's my grip. But I'm no professor.
Henny: Bag...grip...whatever. You aren't going to a lecture. You're a new life. Here we're climbing up the Pyrenees and you wear a tie.
Walter: I always wear a tie...always
Henny: All right, the tie doesn't weigh much. But papers (points to the brief-case)? You need stuff to survive...not papers
Walter: My passport is in my jacket.
Henny: I am not talking about those papers. Besides...they are all fakes...
(Djerassi, 2008, 30).

And so it continues. Benjamin asks Henny to destroy the contents of the briefcase if anything happens to them. And we get teased right royally: "If anyone else saw them," says Benjamin, "it would destroy my reputation" (Djerassi, 2008, 31).

[58] Djerassi gets Benjamin high—"this is hashish...not tobacco" opines Scholem disapprovingly (Djerassi, 2008, 148)—so that he's in the right frame of mind for the conversation that follows. The two men cycle through all the theories of what might have happened and what the briefcase might have contained and then the briefcase is opened, in absentia. Benjamin, if you like, gives new testimony to supplement the inadequate testimonial he receives from Fittko—here an actor, on stage, or on the radio, or on whatever it is you use to play the cd that accompanies this handsome volume, playing Benjamin, gives testimony—producing a theatrical instant/ce that compensates for the governing instant/ce of whatever it was Benjamin might have said about the briefcase.

[59] So what was in the briefcase? Oh shock, oh embarrassment—pornography! Maximizing the power of revelation, Djerassi has Benjamin spin it out for as much time as possible—he teases Adorno, calling him, inevitably, "Porno Adorno" (Djerassi, 2008, 154). And then Benjamin recounts the contents of the konvolut of materials he gathered with the help of Georges Bataille from L'Enfers, the closed collection of pornographic works held at the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris, where Bataille worked. For Djerassi, then, the briefcase becomes a library, an infinite speculation on whatever books or materials the reader/listener/viewer wishes to install in Benjamin's story—its disappearance but persistence becomes an equivalent structure to the closed and now disbanded L'Enfers (147)—and what makes this speculative rush possible is the announcement that what the briefcase contained was a manuscript—some handwritten papers—papers that serve as the backing for whatever it is that you wish them to back.

[60] And by this opening, the briefcase dematerializes, becomes merely a container or now a blank screen on which to project "books, pictures, articles, name it...dealing with the following topics: pygophilia" (Djerassi, 2008, 155). Schönberg's never heard of it—"a fondness for the rear end"—"ass licking in the vernacular," chimes in Porno Adorno, who seems to have heard of just about everything. But there's more: "agalmatophilia," "a fetish for statues or mannequins," "presbyophilia," (a fondness for Presbyterians), "gerontophilia" (Der alte Benjamin?), "coprophilia," "doraphilia (fondness for leather)," "pederasty," "necrophilia," and even "some pictures of genuphallation" (Djerassi, 2008, 155-157). "It all started with Georges Bataille at the Bibliothéque Nationale," confesses Benjamin—Djerassi essentially exploring Bataille and his influence on Benjamin.

[61] "So there it is: my answer to the puzzle of my lost grip," says Benjamin (Djerassi, 2008, 165). But as it turns out, all this material is in aid of an essay that he never had a chance to write: "Pornography in an age of technical reproducibility," though Benjamin thinks he should change the title, "replacing Reproduction by Transmissibility" (Djerassi, 2008, 167). Benjamin voices some satisfaction that he has anticipated the "Internet porno explosion"—that his theses regarding mass culture and technical reproducibility have played out—but, of course, he can gain no recognition, for to do that news of his briefcase's contents would have to surface—and all contact to the world below Parnassus is blocked. Death becomes for Benjamin and his companions a mere haunt.

[62] In the end, Benjamin just wants to know where he's been buried: "You know what I schlepped over the Pyrenees," he says, "But what about satisfying my concern? (With emphasis.) Where was I buried?" (Djerassi, 2008, 169). Scholem tells him about the rental and that after Henny Gurland's account for his grave "fell into arrears, someone else took it over. A Spanish family, named Morell. Apparently they took good care of it" (Djerassi, 2008, 169)—but the bones were moved, and lost. The dialogue provides a consolation: there are thinkers of such greatness that they are not dead. "You are one of them. You shouldn't pine after a nonexistent grave" (Djerassi, 2008, 169). But, all the while, Hannah Arendt has been listening in and in the end she supplies the Brechtian solution for an epitaph—ascribing his description to Benjamin: "He made suggestions. We carried them out" (Djerassi, 2008, 174). "Such an inscription would," so Djerassi ends, "honor us all" (Djerassi, 2008, 175). In the end, what seems like a non-pilgrimage, Djerassi emptying out the briefcase and framing its fascination as pornographic, becomes a pilgrimage processing Benjamin's texts as his literally missing corpus. Substitute the texts for the man, suggests Djerassi—let him go. Draw a blank. Forget the past and put his texts to use. Don't bother trying to take Benjamin's call, to try to reckon with whatever it was he said—reckon with them by not reckoning. Read—but not too closely.

10. Refusing The Call / Click [...] / A Hang Up

[63] But what would it mean to refuse the call—to endure the static of the dropped call or the hang up, and face the exposure that is the archiving of a life as it is variously backed? This, I think, is what Susan Buck-Morss attempts to do in the Afterword to The Dialectics of Seeing sub-titled "Revolutionary Inheritance."

[64] "Professor Chimen Abramsky," you will remember, "was on sabbatical leave in Stanford, California, in 1980, when he met Lisa Fittko, a seventy-year-old, Berlin-born woman, who told him she had led Walter Benjamin over the Pyrénées to Spain forty years before. She remembered well that he had carried a heavy briefcase, containing a manuscript more important, so Benjamin said, than his life. Mindful of the potential significance of her account, Professor Abramsky notified Gershom Scholem in Israel, who telephoned Lisa Fittko [on May 15, 1980] and recorded from her the following story" (Buck-Morss, 1989, 331). Working from Scholem's transcription of the telephone call, cited in Rolf Tiedemann's German edition of Benjamin's collected works, Buck-Morss places or stages the call. But there's no dialing, no fingers doing the walking, no ring, just a series of clicks marked as ellipses in her transcriptions "[...]," recording a bit of static in the places where the transcript and Buck-Morss's further transcription fails, or the conversation was interrupted or other things have been said and omitted. Here comes the call now.

[65] Click [...]. No pleasantries. No salutations. The call has already been received and we're simply on the line, listening in to Scholem listening to a woman talking, describing her present past, describing the man that was his friend, recalling his words, and Scholem, placing the call in order to be on the receiving end, finally getting the call that Benjamin never placed, but which now, nevertheless he receives. In a telepoietic economy, Fittko figures not as telephone but as switchboard, operator, and receiver. She speaks and Benjamin speaks through her. When you hear these words in your head, supply whatever order of voice seems right:

I noticed that Benjamin was carrying a large black briefcase [...] It looked heavy and I offered to help him carry it. "This is my new manuscript," he explained. "But why did you take it for this walk?" "You must understand that this briefcase is the most important thing to me," he said. "I cannot risk losing it. It is the manuscript that must be saved. It is more important than I am."
Mrs Gurland's son, José—he was about 15 years old—and I took turns carrying the black bag; it was awfully heavy. [...] Today, when Walter Benjamin is considered one of the century's leading scholars and critics—today I am sometimes asked: What did he say about the manuscript? Did he discuss the contents? Did it develop a novel philosophical concept? Good God, I had my hands full steering my little group uphill; philosophy would have to wait till the downward side of the mountain was reached. What mattered now was to save a few people from the Nazis; and here I was with this—this Komisher Kauz, ce drôle de type—this curious eccentric. Old Benjamin: under no circumstances would he part with his ballast, that black bag; we would have to drag the monster across the mountains. (Buck-Morss, 1989, 332-333)

Click [...] End of call. Buck-Morss switches codes. Augment the call with different media. There is a letter from Mrs. Henny Gurland, fellow-traveler with Benjamin, who makes it out with her son, and who writes a letter to her cousin on October 11, 1940, describing the circumstances of their escape and Benjamin's death. [xiv]

[66] In the letter, Gurland recounts that during the night of his death, "Benjamin had asked for me. He told me that he had taken large quantities of morphine at 10 the preceding evening and that I should try to present the matter as illness." He gives her a letter for Theodor Adorno, which she can't quite relate, having destroyed it while in transit: "It contained five lines saying that he, Benjamin, could not go on, did not see any way out, and that he [Adorno] should get a report from me, likewise his son." Later, Gurland will revise her memory of the letter so that it reads, "'Please transmit my thoughts to my friend Adorno and explain the situation in which I find myself placed.'" "Did these 'thoughts' refer to the manuscript in the briefcase?" wonders Buck-Morss, going on to tell us that when Max Horkheimer made inquiries of the Spanish border police in 1940, he was told that his "'personal effects taken into custody consisted of '[...] a leather briefcase of the type used by businessmen, a man's watch, a pipe, six photographs, an X-ray photograph (radiografia), glasses, various letters, periodicals and a few other papers, the contents of which are not noted, as well as some money.'" "No mention of a 'heavy' manuscript," she writes. "The 'few other papers' have not been preserved. Nor was his grave marked or tended" (Buck-Morss, 1989, 334).

[67] Here Buck-Morss draws the parallel, makes the connection, equating the missing manuscript, the missing briefcase, the missing grave, and the life gone missing that is Walter Benjamin become "Benjamin Walter." She refuses its call. But news of the missing manuscript proliferates—generates its own compensatory pages, calls, letters, conversations. "Scholem believes the possibility cannot be ruled out 'that...Mrs Gurland might have destroyed this manuscript [...].' Tiedemann 'cannot agree with this conclusion.'" In the "'more more than a quarter of a year' that Benjamin spent in southern France...he had 'time enough to complete a short or even somewhat lengthy manuscript,' and that 'it could have concerned scarcely anything else than a text on the Arcades project.'" Given Benjamin's "'microscopic handwriting,'" anything is possible. Perhaps it was a copy of Theses on the Philosophy of History that he'd committed to the postal service while still in Paris. Perhaps it was something else.

[68] Buck-Morss backs off, dials down the drama. End of call. We only have the Passagen-Werk, she observes because "ironically," Hitler decided not to destroy Paris (Buck-Morss, 1989, 335). And if, indeed, Scholem was right, and the missing briefcase had contained a revised plan for the Passagen-Werk, well, she remarks, in another much less ironic but no less insistent irony, "then this opus...was destroyed by a woman who feared desperately for her son's safety, and for her own" (Buck-Morss, 1989, 335). Fair dues, she seems to say, rejecting Benjamin's figuration of the manuscript and its briefcase as more important than "himself," or better still, another self or selves. The cost would be too great. "You must understand," she seems to say, rewriting but never actually reading Benjamin's teletopical formula or instant/ce, and addressing all of us, Scholem, Tiedemann, Adorno, and all of Benjamin's readers: 'this briefcase is not the most important thing for me. It is lost. We can't risk finding it.'

[69] "One month before Benjamin's suicide," she goes on, raising the ante still further, "his own son Stefan, five years older than José Gurland, escaped with his mother to England. He survived the aerial bombings, settled in London as a book collector, married, and had his own children. This afterword is dedicated to them, Benjamin's granddaughters, and to the memory of an evening in their London home when we read to each other from their grandfather's collection of nineteenth-century children's books" (Buck-Morss, 1989, 335). Substituting lives for papers, Buck-Morss declines Benjamin's call or chooses to respond to it in the manner of the evening she spent in London with his book-collecting descendents, returning to child-like things, to borrow Benjamin's own phrasing from his work on toys, not last things. Click [...]. Buck-Morss shuts the briefcase—suspends its routine, its program. Or, more correctly, she embarks on her own teletopical gambit, inviting her hosts that night, and her readers in every today to accept this afterword, this lack of conclusion that nevertheless marks the end of a book, in lieu of the missing briefcase and the missing manuscript.

[70] "In One Way Street," she recalls, "Benjamin wrote [that] '[...A]lready today, as the contemporary mode of knowledge production demonstrates, the book is an obsolete mediation between two different card filing systems. For everything essential is to be found in the note boxes of the researcher who writes it, and the reader who studies it assimilates it into his or her own note file'" (Buck-Morss, 1989, 336). It's these kinds of boxes, she implies, that Benjamin has left us, even when what we have resemble complete, linear, published texts. And, as she says, we would do well to respond to them in the way he imagines here in One Way Street. For "he has left us 'everything essential'," she observes. The Passagen-Werk is

a historical lexicon of the capitalist origins of modernity, a collection of concrete, factual images of urban experience. Benjamin handled these facts as if they were politically charged, capable of transmitting revolutionary energy across generations. His method was to create from them constructions of print that had the power to awaken political consciousness among present-day readers. Because of the deliberate unconnectedness of these constructions, Benjamin's insights are not—and never would have been—lodged in a rigid narrational or discursive structure. Instead, they are easily moved about in changing arrangements and trial combinations, in response to the altered demands of the changing 'present.' His legacy to the readers who come after him is a nonauthoritarian system of inheritance, which compares less to the bourgeois mode of passing down cultural treasures as the spoils of conquering forces, than to the utopian tradition of fairy tales, which instruct without dominating, and so many of which 'are the traditional stories about victory over those forces'. (Buck-Morss, 1989, 336-337)

What can we do here except agree with this wonderful formulation of the Passagen-Werk as a necessary ruin in the manner of the Trauerspiel?

[71] It would be an error, I think, to hear in Buck-Morss's deployment of the toy, of the child (the doubled figure of José/Stefan), the grand-daughters, and of "fairy tales" any trace of sentimentality. On the contrary, by asking us to confront the fragmentary, ruined collection of folders or files that Benjamin leaves us, with no quest after a manuscript that might provide a key, a key turned by his own hand, after death, as it were, Buck-Morss enjoins us to consider our own tele-topical and tele-political acts.

11. The Last Archive / Reading Posthumously

[72] If, following Buck-Morss, we agree that Benjamin's archive is a ruin, what then are its limits? How should it be understood and staged? To a certain extent, the appearance of the five volume Rolf Tiedemann edition of the collected works in German (1968) and their translation into a four volume English edition and a separate volume of The Arcades Project (1999) might be said to have settled the issue, making available the majority of the published texts and those which exist only in manuscript. That said, as the editors of Walter Benjamin's Archive (2007) make vividly clear, any rationale for inclusion that stops at publication or which takes modest common sense of linearity as its guide risks rationalizing, in effect, what appears, in retrospect, a continuous project of writing and overwriting, of producing paper objects from which singular, temporalized textual performances might be sloughed off into this or that present, in response to this or that thing, event, potential moment. Moreover, Benjamin's "last archive," they observe, "remains a secret: the briefcase that Walter Benjamin carried over the Pyrenees in September 1940 is lost... Only one document that was transported in it survives . . . Any more detailed information is lacking. What is certain, however, is that the briefcase had some sort of texts by Benjamin in it" (Marx et al., 2007, 1). Benjamin's archive extends even to its own ash, to the secret that it does not conceal because it is elsewhere, lost and gone.

[73] It may seem obvious and easiest merely to agree that, given the curious relationship Walter Benjamin had to the great variety of operations and techniques we call "writing," that we should simply include the total production of his hands, the total production of all the limbs, body parts, and bodily substances (why not?) with which he might have said to have written, and include, thereby, all the books, essays, journalism, manuscripts, notes, lists, inventories, boxes, folders, index cards, scribbles, doodles, ink blots, bus tickets, etc. Why not include also the impressions left by paper clips that we imagine he placed there, on this sheet of paper, for a reason or just because? The problem that remains, however, is how then to process our exposure to this total archive, our exposure, if you like, to the self-mediatizing of Walter Benjamin as he translated or failed to translate himself into paper and was subjected to the exigencies of the writing machine then and now? This archivalization proceeds only on condition of its interruption. Not surprisingly, then, the problem turns out to be an economy of reading, of what to read and of what not to read--the archive constituting a mirror and a window in which what we see reflected are the routines or protocols by which we produce various "Walter Benjamins" and sometimes a "Benjamin Walter."

[74] Some of us detect leitmotifs in his work, rendering him via that operatic figure and so growing him anew by translating him to the growing medium of a Wagnerian Petri Dish (Benjamin, 1986, viii-viii). Some of us detect a practice or operation which evolves, in which we see Benjamin giving "different names" (allegory, translation, the machinery of cinema, materialist historiography), translating him via the "bewitched spot" we might call form and history in Anglo-American criticism (Cohen, 1998, 3). Some of us do our best to have him read himself. "The posthumous fate of Benjamin's lifework," writes Richard Wolin, in carefully chosen words, "confirms his own conviction that every product of culture experiences an autonomous post-history by virtue of which it transcends its point of origin." For him, which is to say for the Walter Benjamin that Wolin tries to conjure within himself, "his oeuvre does not present itself as a harmonious assumes the form of a ruin" (Wolin, 1982, 251). Some of us read him by his own pronouncements on media and inventory him by his writing practices, processing him as collector, writer, doodler, and pack rat (Marx et al., 2007).

[75] As I hope is clear, while I might like some of these growing media and some of the "Benjamins" so grown more than others, what we wish to register is that all of us are engaged in an essentially similar set of endeavors. It is Hannah Arendt, among others since, who famously notes that Walter Benjamin resists (Benjamin, 1968, 1-53). Hell, he resists himself. Why not, then, simply concede and read each of his textual operations as a sometimes concerted, sometimes idle, sometimes botched or interrupted, attempt to intervene in the general or generative text by which the West constitutes the cadre of beings it takes as its own and which it processes as other? It is for this reason that I have attempted to stage Walter Benjamin's briefcase, the manuscript it is said to have contained, and his grave not outside or beyond the antinomies of presence and absence, monument and ruin, or intentional ruin as monument, but within them, rendering the infra-archive that persists by and within these relays as my subject. Such a way of modeling Benjamin's archive, I think, productively sidelines or reads between the lines of the metaphysics of storage and retrieval, of the process that is archiving, setting such issues in motion, unraveling them as a series of metonymic chains that form and which proliferate along lines of transit. In Benjamin's case, these lines of transit included the circuit of cities (Paris, Moscow, Berlin, Naples, Marseille) and islands; the timetables of trains and boats; the opening times or availability of depositories, human-ish (Hannah Arendt, Georges Bataille, Henny Gurland and so on) and not (La Bibliothéque National); the parcel post; the telephone; and such possible interruptions as the stops and searches of the police and the Gestapo; the possession or dispossession of the wrong papers; the terminus or failed interchange, Port-Bou, itself; the grave (missing and apocryphal); and the always insufficient memorial.

[76] By way of an ending, then, what can I possibly offer than a return to the beginning, to the governing intant/ce of Benjamin's missing corpus, to a posthumous autobiographeme—a return which offers no moral, no revelation, simply more attempts at reading?

12. Fade Out / Writing Posthumously

[77] "Who's there?" Memory is difficult. But, she's sure about times and places. "It was the twenty-fifth of September 1940, in a narrow garret in Port-Vendres" (Fittko, 1991, 103). She'd "lain down to sleep a couple of hours earlier," but the "knock on the door w[a]kes her." "The grey morning light [filters] through the high attic window" and she thinks, "'That can only be the little girl of the house from downstairs.' The knock comes again." She "g[e]ts up drowsily and open[s] the door." Not a girl. She "rub[s]...her eyes—before [her]...stood Walter Benjamin, one of the friends who, like many others, fled Marseille as the Germans overran France. 'Der Alte Benjamin,'" "Old Benjamin," [she] called him, though she can't remember why—"he was only forty-eight or so."

[78] Benjamin is all politeness: "'Gnädige Frau,'...'Please forgive this intrusion—I hope this is not an inopportune time.'" Her "honored spouse," "'Ihr Herr Gemahl'," has told him: "she will take [him] over the border to Spain." And so here he is. "The world is falling to pieces," she thinks, "but Benjamin's courtesy is unshakeable."

[79] As with her command of times and places, Benjamin's politeness is the second constant. Both serve as anchoring points for Fittko's memory writing that by their maintenance in her accounting of the past, become features of the world she summons into being, referential spin offs that resonate as clearly as the knock on the door that begins the katabasis. The young girl from downstairs turned inside out, ages, morphs by the rubbing of her eyes into the uncannily "Old Benjamin"—the man who once upon a time spoke so politely to her, and who now, dead and gone, speaks again. The moment for them was always "inopportune." There is no good time to be had here. He died. She lived. And she guided him to his death—as he asked her to do.

[80] This is no memory game, no "knock, knock" joke. Fittko is trying hard, trying to reckon with what did and did not occur that night and the nights thereafter. She's hearing his voice again, rendering it as best she can, embarked, as she is, on a reckoning, a coming to terms with what's past. She's not sure now about her reactions to this man who seems to come from another time, who she designates as "alte," who was frequently out of breath, who slowed her down, and who'd fallen prey to escape "plans involving fantasy boats and fictitious captains, visas for countries not found on any map and passports issued by nations that did not exist" (Fittko, 1991, 105) back in Marseille. She and her husband, Hans, "had to laugh," she writes, "time and again at the humorous side to such tragedies. One has to imagine Dr. Fritz Frankel, with his fragile appearance and his grey mane of hair, and his rather awkward friend, Walter Benjamin, with the intellectual scholar's head and the searching gaze behind thick lenses—this pair dressed as French sailors, had bribed themselves aboard a freighter" (Fittko, 1991, 105). "They didn't get far," she adds, but "luckily they succeeded in evading capture in the general chaos." They laugh because of the absurdity of the two men's incompetent mimesis. They laugh because "bare life," if one is to live, must be barely lived, which means being prepared to slough off, at a moment's notice, those things normalized as "everyday items" (now luxuries) and those stories one tells oneself about how the world is supposed to work (ideology).

[81] If, as Benjamin writes in "The Critique of Violence," the institution that patrols this zone, the police, is constituted as a "kind of spectral mixture" (Benjamin, 1996, 1, 242-243), an "ignominious" institution which uses "violence for legal ends (in the right of disposition), but with the simultaneous authority to decide these ends itself within limits (the right of decree)," whose "power is formless, like its nowhere tangible, all-pervasive, ghostly presence in the life of civilized states," then so also must its suspects turn ghostly and learn to fade.

[82] This "fading" is not a strong but a weak mimesis. Never a full identity, but just enough traces of sameness so as not to be noticed, to pass in the shadows cast by one's fellow travelers. Hans and Lisa Fittko do not laugh because Frankel and Benjamin looked silly in their sailor suits or handled it badly in Marseille. The instructive part of their botched mimesis lies in their escape, in the luck that comes with confusion and chaos, with the press of so much "bare life" moving barely. The ghostly fading required of those persons who are no longer processed as citizens constitutes not a powerful counter-technology, but instead an almost intolerable giving oneself over to the infra-worlds in which bare life is forced to live, a giving oneself over to a world in which the police enforce and decide the law in one breath, and in which one's ability to influence the circumstances, to slip through, depends on this or that piece of paper.

[83] Hans and Lisa Fittko take rightful pride in their mastery of the vast array and hierarchy of papers that punctuate the bare lives of those persons deprived of citizenship in WW2 Europe —the passport (which they lack), the visa, the carte d'identité, the sauf-conduit, the refus de sejour, the foreign exchange permit, and so on—papers, without which life, movement, flight became impossible. But these papers are not simply so much matter, not simply objects that one hands out or points to—supplements to this or that identity that they guarantee. Not at all, these are papers whose redundancy, whose very unremarkability, communicates the salient message: "There is nothing to be read here." Send the bearer of these papers—which are the true interlocutor with the police or customs official—on his or her way. Move along. "Alles in ordnung."

[84] Later in her story, Fittko narrates an episode in which the granting of a sauf-conduit permitting her to travel is held up by a group of friendly gendarmes and representatives of the Mayor's office in Babyuls-sur-Mer who feel hamstrung because she does not have the requisite "Pièce d'Identité" demanded by the form. "Then the adjutant said to the sergeant, 'If right after the printed 'Pièce d'Identité' you simply wrote by hand: Pièce d'Identité, you'd be sticking to the truth; at a checkpoint they'd surely think you must have made a mistake and really intended to write Carte d'Identité—especially since her husband has one" (Fittko, 1991, 161-2). "Everybody found that to be brilliant," because it was. Mimesis remains, as Benjamin wrote years before in "On the Mimetic Faculty," "the...capacity for producing resemblances." And this capacity remains "the rudiment of the powerful compulsion in former times to become and behave like something else" (Benjamin, 1986, 333). But, here, in Banyuls-sur-Mer in 1940 that compulsion takes the form of a mimicking of the human boredom, fatigue or inattentiveness generated by the infra-world of papers. Write "Pièce" instead of "Carte" and the reader notes the error, the difference, but fails to read it, for he or she knows what it is to be one of those police ghosts, how boring, tiresome, and fatiguing it all is. So the official in Banyuls granting the sauf-conduit tuned out and copied out the form itself. It's easily done. And her husband's is correct. On you go.

[85] It's against this world of papers and the altered relationship to things that what Fittko recalls as Benjamin's "politeness" registers. But was it a fault or a style? Early on in her story, following their internment after the invasion of France, Lisa and her friend Paulette once "made a list of all the things [they] should need" (Fittko, 1991, 8). "Finally...[Paulette] wrote down what each of us should bring for herself." Here's the list:

A pot with a handle, a spoon
Razor blades (in case there was no other way out)
(Fittko, 1991, 9).

It's understandable then, that a man with a briefcase might stand out, that a man with a briefcase he will not give up might cause annoyance, a lack of comprehension, anger.

[86] The third constant is the briefcase: "'It contains my new manuscript,'" Benjamin explains. "'But why have you brought it on this scouting trip?'" "'Do you know, this briefcase is most important to me...I dare not lose it. The manuscript must be saved. It is more important than I am, more important than myself'" (Fittko, 1991, 106). It is not possible to go beyond or before these words. Benjamin's words, recalled here by the last person to whom they were repeated, constitute an instant/ce in which already he bears testimony to a fact that is already posthumous. Benjamin's words articulate the writing of this manuscript already in relation to death. Fittko reads this as a failure—"Benjamin was no wriggler"—as a botched attempt to detach from the routines of the "normal" world and to live barely, but she is right about the suicide—right that the briefcase and its manuscript are indexed to Benjamin's death already, from the beginning. For by his words, by this testimony, Benjamin speaks as if he is already dead, articulating his own body in a doubled relation to his written "corpus."

[87] At the place of origins, then, encrypted within Fittko's testimonial to Benjamin's testimony, is a posthumographic trace, a mode of speech that by its self-alienating insufficiency to its object ensures that the future will be haunted, rent by gaps, holes, generated by words that are already, and were to begin with, facsimiles of themselves. Should Benjamin's words thus recalled be called a type of writing? If so, then, they are writing as fading, writing that installs within itself the presence or still other acts of writing that it does not make available. Benjamin's words—"'You must understand that this briefcase is the most important thing to me,' he said. 'I cannot risk losing it. It is the manuscript that must be saved. It is more important than I am'"— (Benjamin, 1982, 5/2, 1187)—box up, in a briefcase, the possibility, still to come, of writing, and life, in the future, posthumously.


[i] The idea for this essay was hatched during a semester long conversation with Jim Beaver and radically altered, improved, and grown in a joyful year of shared reading and conversation with Richard Burt.

[ii] A reprinted transcript of Fittko's first remembrances minus the full introductory materials appears in the English translation of the Passagen Werk (Benjamin, 1999, 946-954).

[iii] For a vivid description of these circumstances as well as the scams run to trick refugees out of what cash they carried with them, see Fittko, 1991, generally. On Fittko's escape to Cuba, see Fittko, 1991, 195-207.

[iv] On inventories as a quasi-narrative form, see Georges Perec, Penser / Classer and L'Infra-ordinaire (Perec, 1999, 139-276).

[v] There is a documentary film, Who Killed Walter Benjamin directed by David Mauas and written by David Mauas and Joan Ripolles that explores these issues. Currently, the film is not on general release. The website for the film is at «» A trailer for the film is available at «»

[vi] For the key rendering of the systematic mistranslation of Benjamin's essay, see Jacobs 1975.

[vii] For this image, see «»

[viii] For a thoroughly melancholy rendition of the same monument, see Andy Merrifield's experience as recorded in his MetroMarxism: "The panel purposely has a bullet hole near the bottom, and a huge crack across the center, evoking shocking violence and violation. It's an amazing vision to come down at the bottom of the interior staircase, down the oxidized path to nowhere or everywhere: you can see, all at once, the blue-green sea, steep cliffs across the bay, the nearby Pyrenees, and the reflection of the sky and clouds overhead—to say nothing of your own dark shadow. Lamentably, the day I visited the site, it looked depressingly forlorn, with litter, stones, straws, and cigarettes in the passageways, familiar debris from our own storm of progress" (Merrifield, 2002, 190-191).

[ix] See «» and «»

[x] On the touristic basis to cultural studies and anthropology, see James Clifford's Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (Clifford, 1997) and Tom Cohen, Ideology and Inscription: 'Cultural Studies' After Benjamin, De Man, and Bakhtin (Cohen, 1998, 203-253 especially).

[xi] Taussig's move to derive a generalized victimization of the stateless person or illegal from Benjamin's missing grave correlates with the derivation of the figure of the refugee or the properly sacred life that Rey Chow performs on Giorgio Agamben's figuring of "bare life." While thoroughly moving and important—the salvific lure to Taussig and Chow's interventions requires a raising of the critical garde. See, Agamben 1995, Chow, 2006.

[xii] Fittko's reliability, while sometimes questioned, is usually regarded as exemplary (Abramsky, 2007).

[xiii] For Tiedemann's version of these events, see (Benjamin, 1982, V/2, 1183-4).

[xiv] A copy of this reconstructed letter is printed in Tiedemann's edition of the Gesammelte Schriften (Benjamin, 1982, V/2, 1194-5).

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