Walter Benjamin Reproducing the Scent of the Messianic
Walter Benjamin Reproducing the Scent of the Messianic
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter explores how Walter Benjamin sought to mediate the duality of German and Jew in his writings. It focuses on two primary “names” by which he analyzed modernity, aura and mimesis, and how they emerged, respectively, from smell and reproduction: two principal sites for the social and scientific identification of alterity, generally, and Jewish difference, specifically. It then traces the remains of those sites throughout Benjamin's work. The analysis is furthered by juxtaposing his corpus with contemporary writings familiar to him, notably by Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Klages, and by examining Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer's olfactory analysis of antisemitism and its relationship to mimesis in Dialectic of Enlightenment. It concludes by essaying whether Benjamin and other Jewish-identified authors commerce with the Other Jewish Question was “endowed with a weak Messianic power.”
[D]as Jüdische war vielleicht oft nur ein fremdländisches, südliches (schlimmer: sentimales) Aroma, in unserer Produktion und in unserm Leben. [Jewishness was perhaps often only a foreign, southern (worse: sentimental) aroma, in our productive work and in our life.]
—WALTER BENJAMIN, letter to Ludwig Strauss, 11 September 1912
Throughout the course of his life Walter Benjamin recognized that he could not repress either extreme of the dialectic, the duality (Zweiheit), of German Jewishness: “German and Jew stand opposite one another like related extremes.”1 This self-characterized “last European”2 realized that he could not escape his “Jewish self.”3 So how does one characterize the German Jewish physiognomy of Benjamin, that perhaps last great physiognomist of our times? Based on the purported content of his work, debates have raged between its so-called theological or Jewish and materialist or non-Jewish extremes: should his life be periodized or dialecticized or constellated about these poles?4 Motifs and allusions are weighed; intents and iterations are divined. What qualifies him as Jewish: Zionism, messianism, exegetical ingenuity, concern with the ethical or the kabbalistic, marginality, exile, the networks of parents and friends, his status as a “prophet” of modernity? His Jewishness, however, is not delimited by the matrix of psychobiography: the contradictions of being raised in an upper-class, assimilated Jewish household whose persistent presence was repudiated by the dominant antisemitic culture. Neither is it confined to the schemata of intellectual history or social network analysis: his interaction with Jewish friends, thinkers, and writings. However, rather than analyzing Benjamin's physiognomy—his Jewish identity— (p.257) this chapter undertakes a physiognomic analysis of Benjamin's body of work—its traces of his identification as Jewish.
This assay into aspects of Benjamin's response to the Other Jewish Question follows that strange, almost queasy aroma that Benjamin associates with Jewishness in his letter to the poet and Zionist Ludwig Strauss. But the smells exuded by Benjamin's corpus leave by definition an elusive trail. According to Benjamin, smell preserves but is not preserved in memory; it is amorphous and formless, indefinite and weighty.5 Moreover, while olfaction can evoke the collective experiences that in part constitute prehistory or temps perdu—and Jewish smelling had a collective component in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the figure of the stinking Jew, incarnating the “hatred for the physical nature of the one who is hated,”6 was a part of that period's collective experience—the apperception of odor per se is an apparently nontransmissible individual experience. Consequently, Benjamin's aroma of Jewishness should not be able as such to contribute to a physiognomic analysis. Perhaps what, according to his letter to Strauss, Benjamin senses that scent suffuses provides additional perspective: “our productive work [Produktion] and our life.” Within the cultural imaginary of the time, das Jüdische was not some eau de cologne7 spritzed on the production of the Jewish-identified; rather, the smell emanated from the thing itself. This Jewish supplement betrayed every such production as a reproduction—an inauthentic copy.
Benjamin's past, his Jewish prehistory, is, as he explains by quoting Proust, “unmistakably present in some material object” (“On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” [OB], 158). The object in question is Benjamin's corpus, its production of sentences and use of names. His sentences are the “entire muscular activity of the intelligible body.”8 They bear names, the archives of “nonsensuous similarities, nonsensuous correspondences” (“On the Mimetic Faculty” [MF], 335), between words and worlds; and hence “what the name preserves but also predesignates [is] the habitus of a lived life” (The Arcades Project/Das Passagen-Werk; AP 868/PW 1038 [Q, 24]). This chapter's physiognomic examination of Benjamin's engagement with the Other Jewish Question focuses on two of his key names,9 morphemic-semantic fields, that frequently intersect with one another as well as with the olfactory: Aura, “the associations which … tend to cluster around the object of perception” (OB 186), and Mimesis, “the powerful compulsion … to become and behave like something else” (MF 333). As seemingly antipodal as the opposed extremes of the unique and the copy, both aura and mimesis entail relations with otherness—the one rendering it distant, (p.258) no matter how near, as distant as the sacred or the ideal; the other rendering it near, no matter how distant,10 as near as the woman or the Jew—and they are particularly conditioned by, inhaling and reproducing, the emanations of his antisemitic era.
And in the presentation (Darstellung) of his work, social discourse about the stinking Jewish mimic seeped past his conscious intention and left mimetic traces there that shaped his historiographic task and his entire corpus. Perhaps because scent is less implicated in the domination of vision, following Benjamin's trail of odors rather than the more frequent trope of “image,” especially as those odors cross with other chronotopes of smell, may aid us in recovering the “generative and inconspicuous experiences [Erfahrungen]” lying “closed in the hard shell of incommunicability.”11 “And since similarity is the organ of experience, this means: the name can only be recognized in contexts of experience [Erfahrung]. Only there, is its essence, that is, its linguistic essence, knowable” (AP 868/PW 1038 [Q, 24]).
Just as the names Aura and Mimesis were interwoven in Benjamin's body of work, so this chapter examines how they were conjoined with a number of other phenomena that filled the landscape that Germanophone Jews traversed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the popular and scientific identifications of Jewish difference with stench and with the mimetic and/or reproductive; the contradictory demands of German bourgeois integration; a Jewish redemptive tradition correlated with scent. It airs how Benjamin's language was repeatedly suffused with the social discourse of smells, his texts with the problematic of reproduction. Further, his corpus is juxtaposed with contemporary writings familiar to him, including those of Freud and Klages, that render these connections both more explicit and more explicitly. Then, reading Horkheimer and Adorno's olfactory analysis of antisemitism as a triangulation of Freud's theory of the repression of smell and Benjamin's discussion of mimesis and reproduction brings the correspondences between Benjamin's names and his situation as a German Jew more to the fore. Finally, the chapter explores whether Benjamin's commerce with the Other Jewish Question was “endowed with a weak Messianic power” (“Theses on the Philosophy of History” [TPH], 254 [Thesis ii]; emphasis in original).
With each iteration of the smell-laden, Jewish-tainted names Aura and Mimesis, Benjamin's writings emitted a symptomatic scent of his times as well as sought to recoup smell and reproduction from their antisemitic identifications and release, if not recuperate, their redemptive possibilities. Indeed, they secreted the “ambiguous” (zweideutige)12 “third thing” (etwas (p.259) Drittes)13 by which Benjamin sought the “always anew, never in the same way” (AP 470/PW 587–88 [N7a, 1]) dialectical mediation of his German-Jewish duality (Zweiheit)—otherwise put, by which Benjamin took up his Other Jewish Question. In sum, this chapter examines how the atmosphere of Judentum—the identifying emissions (and omissions) of Jews and non-Jews alike—infused Benjamin's corpus. Further, by such a historical reconstruction the chapter seeks to decant from Benjamin's corpus how his “lifework [Lebenswerk] is preserved [aufbewahrt] in this work [Werk] and at the same time canceled [aufgehoben]; in the lifework, the era” (TPH 263 [Thesis xvii]). Whether by acting out or working through, Benjamin's mimetic mediations of these denigrating Jewish representations shaped his body of work and framed his engagement of the Other Jewish Question in their olfactive image.14
The Shock of the Jew
The bourgeois, western Berlin, fin-de-siècle neighborhood in which Benjamin was raised may not have been the Pale of Settlement, but it bathed in a pall of anti-Jewish s(c)entiment. Political antisemitism may have been in abeyance as Benjamin was reaching maturity, but neither Jewish Question was.15 In Germany the everyday antisemitic attitudes of the non-Jewish population met the self-deluding nonrecognition of liberal assimilationist Jewry; where the former held for Jewish difference, a belief founded on a panoply of particular characterological and physical traits, the latter publicized Jewish sameness, a notion based on Enlightenment ideas and economic self-confidence. Benjamin, like other German Jewish intellectuals of his generation, rejected both his elders' self-delusions and what he took as their nostalgic, inconspicuous religiosity that passed for Judentum.16 Benjamin, like his peers, also knowingly maintained a rarely requited love affair with German culture.17
As early as 1912 Benjamin, playing both historical object and subject, began to discern within himself the monadological structure created by the tension between these dialectical extremes, the Zweiheit of the German and the Jewish. This recognition arose during Benjamin's profound intellectual involvement in the 1911–12 controversies over the nature of Jewish identification and the possibility of a German-Jewish symbiosis.18 At this time the historical economist Werner Sombart followed up his massive indictment of Jewish character and participation in the development of (p.260) capitalism, Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben, with an even more controversial discursus on the future of the Jews, Die Zukunft der Juden. There he offered his solution to the “greatest problem for humanity … the Jewish problem.”19 Because the Jews by nature are not suitable to enter the higher ranks of society, he suggested a separate but equal co-existence between Western Jews and Germans. Numerous Jewish and non-Jewish intellectuals responded to Sombart's authoritative pronouncements, and many of those responses were collected in Artur Landsberger's 1912 Judentaufen (Baptizing Jews).
Soon thereafter came another round of debate, with the appearance of Moritz Goldstein's “German-Jewish Parnassus.” In a distinguished, non-Jewish-identified, nationalist journal, Der Kunstwart, Goldstein offered a Zionist response to the Jewish Questions and hectored his readers to recognize the reality of antisemitism and to repudiate all forms of assimilationist self-denial. But just as Sombart had asserted that the Jews dominated the economic and the political, so Goldstein asserted they monopolized the intellectual and cultural life of Germany. And his solution was not dissimilar: the Jews should abandon illusory hopes for integration, renounce what they cannot properly do—write in German as Germans—and instead (re)turn to Jewish (self-)identifications, Jewish sources, and, eventually, Jewish languages. While Benjamin did not participate in the series of responsa that soon ensued, he did report to Ludwig Strauss that he had been following the controversy and had read all of the articles. That September 1912 letter is also the source of this chapter's epigraph; Benjamin's characterization of his relations to Judentum was preceded by: “If we are two-sided, Jewish and German, then we were until now totally and affirmatively focused upon the German.…”20 Until these debates forced him to begin thinking through what it meant to be a German Jew—the Other Jewish Question—and thus to make “Judentum important and problematic to me,”21 the Jewish extreme of this child of assimilated parents was, “until now,” just an atmosphere, an aroma, always already generated by Gentile representation. As he later wrote to Strauss, until this new problematizing of the Jew in himself, what he knew of Jewishness consisted “only of antisemitism and an indefinite piety.”22
Smell would become the codeword for Benjamin's “Jewish” childhood. In “A Berlin Chronicle” (BC) he records an odor-laden reminiscence of reading the New Companion of German Youth just after receiving its latest volume as a gift—as he did each Christmas as a child. “There was nothing finer than to sniff out [auszuwittern], on this first tentative expedition into the labyrinth of stories, the various drafts, scents, brightnesses and sounds (p.261) that came from the different chambers and corridors.… And what did it matter if the aromas [Aromata] that rose from the tunnels high into the air … mingled with the smell of the Gingerbread” (BC 56) in the Christmas room? That scene typified the hybrid existence of assimilated German Jews: they marked their Germanness by sharing the festivity, if not the piety, of their Gentile neighbors.23 Such celebrations also emphasized the largely negative character of their Jewishness: their Judentum was its distinction from that of their “coreligionists” in Poland and Russia. The smells that exude from young Walter's book also are indicative of German-Jewish identifications. They emanate from adventures in a Mediterranean past: “the smell of the gingerbread joined with that of a Sicilian sulfur mine that suddenly burst upon us in a full-page illustration” (BC 56). When assimilated German Jews like Benjamin's parents would trace their ancestry, they tended to turn their noses toward the southern24 climes of the aristocratic Sephardim, and certainly away from the east of the stinking Urjuden (primal or primitive Jews). And these odors intermix with the smells of bourgeois holidaymaking.
In a recollection adjacent to this one, more sentimental scents come to the fore. Fragrance, the “sweet lavender scent” of sachets hanging in a linen cupboard, signals the “paradise” of the bourgeois home (BC 53–55).25 But this nostalgic idyll is divided against itself. The clearly detailed image of the sweetly scented home is contiguously opposed by a dark, inaccessible space in which his mother's dressing gowns were hung. Benjamin then evokes the uncanny breath of his own prehistory that surrounds this reminiscence of the bourgeois phantasmagoria of possessions and sensations. He recalls how the young Walter dreams of a ghost who arises from the dark reaches of that inaccessible corner of the home in order to steal the paradise of goods. The ghost takes these possessions without removing them; Benjamin compares this to a spirits' banquet in which the dead consume everything yet nothing seems to be eaten or drunk. The well-lit warehouse of domestic tranquility and goods is possessed; the silks and the sweet-smelling sachets are doubled.
This doubling suggests that it may be more accurate to describe the aroma from his youth as two scents, one noisome and one more salubrious. During the next several years, and to different degrees throughout the remainder of his life, Benjamin endeavored to discover the positive content of Jewish life and spirit rather than simply inhale the negative and evanescent aromas that surrounded him in his youth. Yet, while the odor of piety might have evaporated, the stench of antisemitism would trail after him—first contributing to his 1915 decision to sever ties to the youth (p.262) movement with which he was so involved at the time of the Kunstwart controversy, and ultimately poisoning him at the French-Spanish border in 1940. Where Benjamin the critical historian sought out the messianic sparks, the now-times of the past, in the present, he continually encountered the mythic repetitions of an unredemptive antisemitism.
Antisemitism inhabited the life of the assimilated German Jew. Yet its everydayness had a doubly deodorizing effect. On the one hand, the routinization of antisemitic attitudes and expressions reduced them to background noise all but beyond conscious recognition. On the other hand, because the persistence of antisemitism did not harmonize with the belief that the Jews of Benjamin's parents' generation were—or at least were on the verge of being—fully accepted by their Gentile neighbors, they generated rationalizations to silence the dissonance. They represented antisemitism as either a class-determined atavism that was breathing its last, a reflex that once rationally reflected upon would be overcome, or either a pretext or disguise for other problems and concerns, such as political mobilization and class conflict.26 Hence they endeavored to fend off with excuses or a forced, seemingly overindulgent smile or even, as Schnitzler famously depicted (see the introduction), an indifferent countenance—with what Benjamin would call “mimetic shock absorber[s]” (OB 176)—the recognition that antisemitism was intrinsic to Jewish/ non-Jewish relations as well as to any particular manifestation of anti-Jewish sentiment.
These responses by German Jewry to their antisemitic surroundings were much like those of individuals to an urban crowd as described by Poe in “The Man of the Crowd” and cited by Benjamin (OB 171) to illustrate the experience of shock:
(p.263) Moreover, for writers ranging from Kant, who considered stench as emblematic both of crowds and of the olfactive sense itself—“there are more disgusting objects [Gegenstände des Ekels] than pleasant ones [especially in crowded places]”27—to Benjamin himself, who recalled on another occasion the invasion of odors emitted by the “herd” of schoolmates in the hated stairways of his old school—“defenselessly exposed to the bad odors emanating from all the bodies pressing so closely against mine” (BC 52)—the crowd stinks. “The shock experience which the passer-by has in the crowd” (OB 176) is a smell.
By far the greater number of those who went by had a satisfied business-like demeanor, and seemed to be thinking only of making their way through the press. Their brows were knit, and their eyes rolled quickly; when pushed against by fellow-wayfarers they evinced no symptom of impatience, but adjusted their clothes and hurried on. Others, still a numerous class, were restless in their movements, had flushed faces, and talked and gesticulated to themselves, as if feeling in solitude on account of the very denseness of the company around. When impeded in their progress, these people suddenly ceased muttering, but redoubled their gesticulations, and awaited, with an absent and overdone smile upon the lips, the course of the persons impeding them. If jostled, they bowed profusely to the jostlers, and appeared overwhelmed with confusion.
Consciousness could attempt to parry off shocks. As Benjamin, drawing on the work of Freud and other psychoanalysts, points out (OB 160–62), such defense against external stimuli is a primary purpose for consciousness—that is, for the Enlightenment ego in which German Jewry placed such faith. But ego defenses such as denial or fright or rationalization do not always succeed. Sometimes such shocks are traumatic, immobilizing the individual as they are repeatedly and unconsciously acted out until the traumas begin to be consciously worked through and laid to (uneasy) rest. More often these repeated shocks serve to discipline their victims by eliciting mimetic responses. To illuminate how the seemingly chaotic plethora of modern stimuli serve to train the individual, Benjamin resituates Poe's characters in the factories described by Marx. Poe's “pedestrians act as if they had adapted themselves to the machines and could express themselves only automatically. Their behavior is a reaction to shocks.” Benjamin then repeats the line from “The Man of the Crowd”: “If jostled, they bowed profusely to the jostlers” (OB 176).
If not intended as an allegory of the Jewish condition, Benjamin's citation of Poe does evoke a number of Jewish associations.28 For instance, such jostling had been an everyday occurrence for Jews in Poe's time.29 Like all shock, Jew-hatred (Judenhaß) threatens to overcome the individual (ego): it both denies self-determined existence to the Jews and seeks to impose its own determinations of Jewish identification upon them. In an oppressive society, filled with legal, administrative, and social obstacles as well as physical ones to self-determination that constantly remind the oppressed of their status, victimizing shocks become a form of discipline, servility a trained response. The oppressed become the image their oppressors seek to impose upon them. In the wake of emancipation the legal conditions and the forms of jostling may have changed, but Gentile Judeophobia remained an ongoing shock-experience. If the newly emancipated were now acting the self-righteous German rather than the “passive Jew,” the shock of everyday antisemitism still shaped the behavior, experience, (p.264) and identities of these German Jews. If they had imagined that the Jewish Question had ebbed, its mimetic double, the Other Jewish Question, remained in its wake.
The Screaming Mimik, or Imitation Is the Hebraist'S Form of Falsity
It was perhaps no accident that those shocked Jews, in particular, spawned mimetic shock absorbers. Imitation was viewed as an essential part of Jewish nature. As the Austrian Jewish philosopher Theodor Gomperz commented, “One encounters the question: Why is it that despite the Jews' no doubt marked gift for producing artistic and above all scientific accomplishments, we find very few Jewish names next to accomplishments of the very first order.… Clearly in the arts that involve reproduction [reproducierenden Künste], acting and musical virtuosity, the Jewish gift displays no relative inferiority.”30
The acquisition of Bildung and other signs of acculturation, such as religious reform, as the preeminent strategy for social integration, if not necessarily for total assimilation, by Western European and Central European Jews seemed to confirm European assumptions about a strong relationship between Judentum and mimicry. Even a polemical opponent of antisemitism like the French historian Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu noted that “there is in every Jew a secret power of metamorphosis which has often amazed me.… He has the remarkable faculty of taking on a new skin, without at bottom ceasing to be a Jew. There is something Protean in him.”31
Lending additional credence to the Jews' mimetic predisposition was their increasing presence in theater, on the concert stage, and in journalism. The Jews were adopting European customs and entering these professions not, so anti-Jewish writers said, because of a desire to be accepted, to improve their lifestyles, or because there were openings or opportunities in this or that field; rather, the Jews were simply demonstrating the latest manifestation of their chameleonlike nature. For example, in his invidious tractate against das Judentum the philosopher Eduard von Hartmann characterized the Jews as experts in disguise and the reproductive arts such as “acting” (Mimik, literally mime) and musical virtuosity, that is, those in which “nothing more than reproduction is demanded.”32 The performing arts and the press were called “reproductive arts” since they reproduced the creative work of others. The Jews also continued both in the European cultural imagination as well as in actuality to be associated (p.265) with that most monstrous and unnatural reproduction of all: capital, making money from money, getting something from nothing.33
Indeed, all forms of mimicry and reproduction as well as their practitioners34 were devalued and ascribed a variety of socially undesirable traits. The so-called reproductive arts and professions were tied to the feminine in general, and to prostitution in particular.35 Moreover, acting, musical virtuosity, and journalism were not known in the nineteenth century for the realism of their re-creations. Rather these occupations performed or exaggerated that which others produced; they aped the real and the true. They also often deceitfully claimed for themselves the value or significance that properly belonged to the original. Consequently, the notion of the Jew as natural mimic reinforced a number of derogatory stereotypes about Jewish character. The Jews' intrinsic mimetic talent was contrasted with, as already noted in chapter 7, the authentic, virile, original genius of the Gentile. Further, Jewish presence in these professions appeared to confirm yet again the Jews' innate duplicity: mimicry was just like those other stereotypical Jewish character flaws—lying, deception, trickery, rationalization, self-delusion, and so forth. Mimicry and the imitation-disposed Jews were hence viewed as both womanlike and immoral.36
The image of the Jew as a natural mimic naturally engaged in theater and journalism became a leitmotif of late-nineteenth-century, often antisemitic polemical discussions.37 In part because the Jewish actress Sarah Bernhardt was virtually synonymous with the dramatic, if not the melodramatic, and was viewed as an exemplar of the Jewish personality,38 the Jews became identified as predisposed toward acting.39 Nietzsche in his Gay Science described them as “the people who possess the art of adaptability par excellence,… a world-historical arrangement for the production [Züchtung, breeding] of actors, a veritable breeding ground [Brutstätte] for actors.”40 Yet Nietzsche's praise may have been less a function of historical happenstance than of gender identification. The French Swiss crusader against freemasonry, William Vogt, also draws the connection between women and Jews based on this shared mimetic capacity in his 1908 polemic Le sexe faible (The Weak Sex), speaking of “a propitious adaptability for the cunning invasion of places and structures”—they subvert the existing masculine order by appearing to be socialized.41
In turn, the alleged omnipresence of the Jews in the press was a dominant theme of the Berlin political antisemitic movement from its inception in 1879. That year, the Kaiser's court preacher, Adolf Stoecker, declaimed to his Christian Social Workers' party faithful: “Even if we presume for once that this lofty mission [of bringing salvation to the world] really is (p.266) Israel's permanent task, who then are those thinkers and poets, who, inspired by the divine spirit, preach, praise and honor the living God? Perhaps the editors of the Tageblatt? Or the scholars of the Kladderradatsch?” Many of the journalists on these liberal papers were to some degree of Jewish descent, if not self-identified Jews. Stoecker goes on to accuse the Jews of using the power of “their” press “to bring misfortune to the nation.”42 Stoecker's diatribe would be echoed several months later by Treitschke's “Our Prospects”: “The greatest danger [to God and nation] … is the unjust influence of the Jews in the press.… [Jews were] the first to introduce into our journalism the peculiar shameless way of talking about the fatherland [in an] off-hand [manner] and without any reverence, like an outsider, as if mockery of Germany did not cut deeply into the heart of every German individual.”43
These deceitful mimes posed a threat. Jews made knockoffs—and not only of designer clothes.44 They also copied the people wearing those clothes. This alleged Jewish ability to imitate was particularly frightening to German nationalists endeavoring to shape some form of pure völkisch identity. If the Jews living in German-speaking lands looked and sounded and acted like their Gentile neighbors, then who were the real Germans? Thanks to their mimetic talent Judentum's victory over Germandom appeared inevitable. This pessimism is evident in the so-entitled first major broadside in the development of German political antisemitism: Wilhelm Marr's 1879 Der Sieg des Judenthums über das Germanenthum.
Yet this apparent inevitability was countered by the implicit contradiction between the antisemites' construct of the Jewish chameleon and their presupposition of the visible and indelible moral and physical Jewish physiognomy. These Jewish attempts to ape European culture—their mimicry of language, dress, manners—would always fail, eventually; the true Jewish nature would necessarily break through the mask, disrupt the illusion, and produce a hybrid monster.45 Anti-Jewish writers viewed assimilating Jews as living caricatures who intentionally made a mockery of authentic Germanness. Jewish nationalists too viewed their confrères as making no less a mockery of authentic Judentum. Both agreed: bad Jews made bad Germans.46
Ironically, the Jews' attempts to enter European modernity reinforced another component of the antisemitic stereotype: mimesis was a sign of primitiveness. During his 1832 encounter with the natives of Tierra del Fuego Charles Darwin noted that, in contrast to Europeans, “All savages appear to possess, to an uncommon degree, this power of mimicry.”47 The “savage” Fuegians had responded to the Europeans with faultless mimetic (p.267) gestures because, it was assumed, they possessed a language without meaningful sounds or, at least, they lacked an adequate language. The Jewish imitation of European manners was similarly perceived as a mediation made necessary by primitive linguistic skills. The Jews' language, that hopelessly inadequate hybrid of German and Hebrew, Yiddish (Jüdisch-deutsch), required supplementation with hand and body movements. The seemingly assimilated Germanophone Jews' retention of this primitive penchant for mimetic gesturing betrayed their underlying Jewish nature.
Darwin's later observations about natural, albeit nonhuman, mimesis had a more direct effect on the connection between Jews and mimicry. In his landmark Origin of the Species, he wrote of the defensive use of imitation in nature: “Insects often resemble for the sake of protection various objects, such as green or decayed leaves, dead twigs, [etc.].… The resemblance is often wonderously close, and is not confined to colour, but extends to form, and even to the manner in which the insects hold themselves.”48 Darwin described how adapting to one's surroundings—masking one's true nature—often ensured evolutionary survival. A number of writers concluded from this discussion of mimicry in nature that the Jews' ability to imitate was an animalistic talent evolutionarily hewn for their survival; Jews employed their innate gift for mimicry in order to live in a hostile world. In his analysis of antisemitism, the famed forensic criminologist Cesare Lombroso lists the characteristics necessary for the Jews' survival that “constant centuries-long persecution” had selected out: “craftiness, industriousness, and”—manifesting an innate mimetic ability—“the appearance of wretchedness.”49 Or, Jews sought to secrete their presence in that world. To turn again to Andree's ethnography of the Jews, it describes Jewish reform and emancipation as merely external attempts to adapt to German culture; they are screens shielding their true spirit. “Therefore the Jews, so long as they wish to be [considered] Germans, can be designated with the term borrowed from minerology: ‘pseudo-morph.’ ”50 Usually, though, analogies were drawn from zoology. On the one hand, when analogies were drawn between the adaptation of animals to their environment (as described by Darwin) and Jewish acculturation or, as the case may be, assimilation into European society, natural, value-free animal behavior was recoded as typical Jewish deceit.51 On the other hand, Darwin's work was a primary source for analogies between the Jews and those tiny animals that camouflage or otherwise hide themselves among us—insects, vermin, rodents. Earlier travel and zoological writings had already provided a natural bestial mimic to analogize with the Jews: the monkey or ape. Hardt von Hundt-Radowsky's widely disseminated (p.268) (and ironically titled?) Judenspiegel (A Mirror of the Jews; 1819) asserts, “The children of Israel can only ape and imitate [nachäffen und nachahmen], [and] even their apings [Nachäffungen], like the Jews themselves, are crude, repulsive caricatures.”52
Such likenesses were drawn by writers as diverse as the apostle of the Aryan Jesus, Paul de Lagarde, and the controversial psychologist, philosopher, and antisemite Ludwig Klages. In his graphological writings, which have been credited with influencing Benjamin's thinking about mimesis as well as aura, Klages described the Jews as “the apes of culture.”53 Through his characterization of the mimicking Jew, however, Klages called forth a notion of mimesis different from what he would ascribe to handwriting, different from the graphological notion that “has taught us”—as well as Benjamin, as many so credit—“to recognize in handwriting images that the unconscious of the writer conceals in it,” and thus had led Benjamin to recognize script's mimetic dimension as “an archive of nonsensuous similarities, of nonsensuous correspondences” (MF 335). Klages racially coded mimesis. For him, the Jew, like the hysteric, is in his essence never at home with himself, always other than himself.54 The Jew “partakes of the customs and practices of his hosts to awaken the appearance of essential likeness.” Klages concludes his diatribe by declaring that “an imitation humanity appears to arise, where the old inhabitant races fall on decay.”55
Complementing the assumptions of the Jews' mimetic talents and innate predisposition for the so-called reproductive arts was the claim that they were constitutionally incapable of engaging in such productive arts and crafts as literature, musical composition, and farming. Germans produce culture; Jews can only reproduce it. When accomplishment seemed to belie this apothegm, when a Heine or a Mendelssohn-Bartholdy would produce verse or violin sonatas, then such work was denigrated as clever or derivative or technical. So, for example, Richard Wagner argues throughout his diatribe Judaism in Music. And so the Jewish-identifying philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, having internalized this argument, self-denigratingly noted, “[E]ven the greatest of Jewish thinkers is no more than talented. (Myself, for instance.) I think there is some truth to my idea that I really only think reproductively [reproduktiv]. I don't believe I have ever invented a line of thinking, I have always taken one over from someone else.” He then returns to the more general ascription of “Jewish re-productiveness”: “It may be said (rightly or wrongly) that the Jewish mind does not have the power to produce even the tiniest flower or blade of grass; its way is rather to make a drawing of the flower or blade of grass (p.269) that has grown in the soil of another's mind and to put it into a comprehensive picture.”56
In his denunciation of Jewish music Wagner also asserted the Jews' innate mimetic talent—while no one may want to imitate the Jews, according to Wagner, the Jews want to imitate everyone else. “In this Speech, this Art, the Jew can only [imitate; nachsprechen, nachkünsteln]—not truly make a poem of his words, an artwork of his doings.” Even as Wagner credits—while also bestializing—Jewish musical virtuosi for performing “with quite distressing accuracy and deceptive likeness, just as parrots reel off human words and phrases,” he nonetheless points out the distortion intrinsic to Jewish mimesis: “Only in the case of our Jewish music-makers this mimicked speech presents one marked peculiarity—that of the Jewish style of talk in general.” For Wagner, Jewish singing cannot be separated from Mauscheln. This derogatory term refers both to the “Jewish Jargon,” Yiddish, and to the singsong way Jews reputedly speak that language, indeed, to the way they speak any language.57 Mimicry is their one, ever-manifest talent, as the economic historian Werner Sombart would also write in his massive indictment of Jewish character and participation in the development of capitalism, Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben: “that gifted Jews so often appear to have nothing Jewish about them has been adduced, strangely enough, as evidence that there exists no specifically Jewish property [Eigenart], yet it actually constitutes definitive proof of such a property, insofar as this property manifests itself in an abnormal ability to assimilate [in einer übernormalen Anpassungsfähigkeit].”58
Anti-Jewish and antisemitic polemicists were not the only ones to make connections between mimicry and Jewish desires for social integration and Gentile acceptance; a number of self-identified Jewish writers also appropriated the discourse of mimicry to discuss assimilation. Herzl was typical. He had offered a number of answers to the Judenfrage before he arrived at Zionism: in addition to mass conversion, he also proposed Darwinian mimicry. Herzl suggested that the provocation of antisemitism would lead Jews to imitate European culture through radical assimilation: “[Antisemitism] represents the education of a group by the masses and will perhaps lead to its being absorbed. Education is accomplished only through hard knocks. Darwinian mimicry will set in. The Jews will adapt themselves.”59
Herzl was not alone. The publicist and critic Maximilian Harden, born Felix Ernst Witkowski, published the notorious essay “Sem” (Shem) and its analysis of Jewish mimicry under his well-known pseudonym “Apostata” (apostate or renegade) in 1891.60 Harden's supposed parody of antisemitic representations of Judentum does not come across as all that (p.270) parodistic.61 He writes that the three great Moseses of Jewish history (Moses the prophet, Moses Maimonides, and Moses Mendelssohn) each followed, as it were, “a page from Darwin's book” and took up the mimicry of the Hebrews: “their capacity and desire cleverly to adapt themselves in conformity to their surroundings.” He describes the secret of Jewish persistence in terms that Jewish writer and Zionist fellow traveler Theodor Lessing would, as discussed below, virtually reproduce: “Mimicry: paying any price to assimilate to their environs, they would rather be even more authentic and correct [than their model].”62
In a widely quoted 1898 essay,63 “Hear O Israel!” (Höre Israel, the opening words of the German translation of the Shema), the Jewish writer, industrialist, and eventual Weimar foreign minister Walter Rathenau offered his mimetic solution to the Jewish Question. In the pages of Harden's influential journal of opinion and criticism, Die Zukunft (The Future), the model for and eventually one of the archrivals of Kraus's Die Fackel (The Torch),64 Rathenau, no doubt with his editor's earlier article in mind, not only requests an end to the unnatural mimicry undertaken by assimilating Jews—
—but also recommends
refrain from donning the costumes of the lean Anglo-Saxons, in which you look like a dachshund [Teckel] dressed up like a greyhound [Windhund]
In the end molting did not do Rathenau any more good than mimicry; he was assassinated by antisemitic German ultranationalists in 1922.
the conscious self-education and adaptation of the Jews to the expectations of the Gentiles. Adaptation [Anpassung] not as “mimicry” in the Darwinian sense—namely the art of certain insects to take on the coloration of their environment—but a shedding of tribal attributes which … are known to be odious to our countrymen, and a replacement of these attributes by more appropriate ones. If such a metamorphosis also brought about an improvement in the balance of our moral values, this would be all for the better. The final result of the process would not be Germans by imitation, but Jews of German character and education.65
Herzl's first leading Western European Jewish convert, Max Nordau, whose own pre-Zionist responses to the Jewish Question and its Other were examined earlier, in chapter 7, also denounced at the First Zionist Congress (1897) those who assumed that imitating Gentiles would provide at least a personal solution to the Jewish question. In his plenary address to that gathering Nordau decried those assimilating Jews who strive for a (p.271) total “mimicry” of the goyim: “On the inside, they become deformed; on the outside, they become a sham and thereby always laughable and … repulsive.”66 But despite the Zionist critique, such mimetic practice remained a prominent strategy of European Jews. Lessing, in his 1930 analysis of “Jewish self-hatred,” Der jüdische Selbsthass, described with telling irony how mimicry is one of the self-hating Jew's foremost modes of both self-defense and self-denial:
And he described it as ultimately unsuccessful.68 As the Russian Jewish physician and anthropologist Samuel Weißenberg noted in 1910, “The Jewish type is as a rule so distinctive [prägnant], that no mimetic artifice [(Mimikri-) Kunststücke] helps to conceal it.”69 Jews who try to pass will eventually out themselves.
Now the great transformation succeeds, all mimicry succeeds. You become “one of the others” and look marvelously genuine. Perhaps a little too German in order to be completely German. Perhaps a little too Russian to be completely Russian. And precisely because Christianity is a little new to you, you tend to overemphasize it a bit. But still: Now you are protected.67
Otto Weininger, one of Lessing's exemplary Jewish self-haters, took a similar slant on Jewish mimicry. He insinuated imitation into his virtual equation of Jewish and feminine character traits. He wrote in Sex and Character, “The congruency between [Judentum] and femininity seems to become complete as soon as one begins to reflect on the Jew's infinite capacity for change. The Jews' great talent for journalism … the lack of any deeply rooted and original convictions—Do these things not prove that both the Jews and women are nothing and therefore can become everything?” He continues: the Jew “actively adapts [paßt … an] himself to different circumstances and requirements, to any environment and any race, like a parasite that changes and assumes a completely different appearance with any given host” (SC 289; emphasis in original).
By the 1920s mimicry became the hallmark of the Jewish menace to German identity. In Secessio Judaica, Hans Blüher, one of the foremost thinkers of the German youth movement and already well known for his antifeminist and antisemitic writings, essentialized and demonized Jewish acculturation and assimilation. He considered the Jews' drive to imitate their hosts to be their foremost fault and greatest threat: “The Jews are the only people who practices mimicry. Mimicry of blood, of name, of form.… Jewish mimicry is anchored in the destiny of the race, that is, in the idea Jew.”70 Blüher argued that the only way to overcome this dangerous mimesis would be for the Jews to leave not only Germany but Europe (p.272) as well. This book so outraged Kafka that he was unable to compose either himself or a review; he solicited his friends to publish critiques and combat this latest attempt to legitimate antisemitism.71
Kafka, though, had already portrayed, in Martin Buber's journal Der Jude, the centrality of mimicry for Jewish survival in the hostile environment of postemancipation Europe.72 In “A Report to an Academy” (1916), the ape Red Peter does not yearn for freedom, recognizing that its pursuit would only lead to the greatest disillusionment [Täuschung]; rather, he seeks only a “way out” (Ausweg).73 So he opts for the only way out: Mimik, the variety stage and attaining the “cultural level of an average European.”74 The story itself—a report delivered to a scientific academy—is the ultimate mimetic act: although he is the object of the report, Red Peter is also its subject. He is reading in the guise of a race scientist.
And so Benjamin says of Kafka's world, “For him, man is on stage from the very beginning.… The law of the theater is contained in a sentence tucked away in ‘Ein Bericht für eine Akademie’: ‘I imitated people because I was looking for a way out, and for no other reason.’ ” Benjamin then changes the stage of Kafka's world from a theater to a village, the village of Kafka's novel The Castle. He thereby grounds any assumption of Kafka's so-called pure aestheticism or mysticism that may have been suggested by Benjamin's theater motif in the miasmic actuality75 of Jewish-Gentile disjunctive gesturing, as well as recognizes that mimicry isn't necessarily salvation, but neither does it preclude that possibility. Benjamin renders Kafka's Dorf exemplary through the mediation of “a Talmudic legend told by a rabbi in answer to the question why Jews prepare a festive evening meal on Fridays. The legend is about a princess languishing in exile, in a village whose language she does not understand, far from her compatriots. One day this princess receives a letter saying that her fiancé has not forgotten her and is on his way to her.” Benjamin's mediation then exudes a connection between smell and messianism that, as is discussed below, wefts through the Jewish tradition: “The fiancé … is the Messiah; the princess is the soul; the village in which she lives in exile is the body. She prepares a meal for him because this is the only way in which she can express her joy in a village whose language she does not know.… The air of this village blows about Kafka.… The pigsty which houses the country doctor's horses; the stuffy back room in which Klamm, a cigar in his mouth, sits over a glass of beer …—all these are part of this village. The air in this village is permeated with all the abortive and overripe elements that form such a putrid mixture.”76
(p.273) A Noisome Gnosis
These noxious and anything but nostalgic smells recall the repulsive, feminized, and often sexualized “odor” that pervaded the popular and scientific imagination of postemancipation Europeans: the innate stench of the Jew, the foetor Judaicus. As noted in chapter 5, the tradition of an odor peculiar to the Jews has been traced back at least to Marcus Aurelius. Perhaps the most respectable modern disseminator of the foetor Judaicus was the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who talks repeatedly of being overcome by it.77 The attempts to develop racial sciences repeatedly exhale the reputed stench of the Jews, whether in the racial biochemistry and olfactive metaphysics of Gustav Jaeger,78 the racial psychology of Edgar Berillon,79 or the racial anthropology of Hans Günther.80 And even when denying any inherent cause of Jewish noisomeness other than dietary predilections and the “uncleanness … that since ancient times has often clung to the Jews,” the prominent nineteenth-century German ethnographer Richard Andree attests that the “bad smell of the Jewish quarters in North Africa and the Orient, in Poland, Hungary, and Prague's Josephstadt is well known.”81 It was known, for example, to Nietzsche, who in the Anti-Christ betrays his shock at the smell of the East European Jew: “One would no more choose to associate with ‘first Christians’ than one would with Polish Jews.… Neither of them smells very pleasant.”82
The smelly Jew was also a routine figure in German literature, where, for example as discussed earlier, the “terrible smell” of the protagonist Itzig Faitel Stern in Oskar Panizza's “The Operated Jew” signals that the attempt to transform this Jew into a German has come undone.83 Heine, whose work we've already seen drawing on the image of the stinking Jew, concludes his last Hebrew Melody, “The Disputation,” with a line that seems to have found its echo in Nietzsche. Donna Bianca intones: “I don't know which one is right—/But I'll tell you what I think/Of the rabbi and the friar: Both of them alike, they stink.”84 Heine was not the only Jewish writer who appropriated this stereotype. Lacking Heine's irony, several generations of German Jewry also promulgated this characterization; however, as illustrated earlier, they displaced it onto the East European Jews from whom they would distinguish themselves.
The stereotyping of the Jews in terms of the Jewish stench coincided in the nineteenth century with a more general olfactive heuristic. Smell figures all that is opposed to the bourgeoisie's public persona. For the European bourgeoisie, smell is “the sign of the lower social strata, lesser races, base animals,” and of sexuality: the odor di feminina and the aura seminalis.85 (p.274) Because from a phenomenological perspective, a smell and its perceiver become united,86 odor came to symbolize what imperils the clearly delineated (lumpig?) distinctions, such as those between races, genders, classes, species, and between public and private, upon which bourgeois identification seems to depend. The utopian vision of a scent-free public space, that is, of a space free of the stinking masses—the crowd—who threatened to inundate that space, was already projected by the philosopher who propounded the ideal of a public sphere emptied of all obstacles to interaction, Kant. For Kant, “smell is contrary to freedom and less sociable than taste.”87 Consequently, Kant considered smell “the most dispensable” sense. Smell's association with the feared loss of clearcut identities was reinforced linguistically; in German (as in English) riechen (to smell) signifies both the emission and the perception of an odor.
This semantic ambiguity also connected smell to the primitive, since for some nineteenth-century language theorists the failure to distinguish between objective and subjective perspectives was a sign of primitiveness.88 Olfaction, like its object, was tied to animality. Whereas smell is highly developed in animals, it has become almost rudimentary in the human, a biological fact that nineteenth-century comparative brain anatomy proved—at least for the European. According to one of the leading anatomists of the time, G. Eliot Smith, “sometimes, especially in some of the non-European races, the whole of the posterior rhinal fissure is retained in that typical form which we find in the anthropoid apes.”89 Smell lies in a “most ancient … a remote and almost disused storehouse of our minds.”90 The bourgeoisie's repression of smell differentiated them from both their primitive ancestors and the atavistic survivals indigenous to the colonies, the proletarian precincts, Poland, and the Pale. Consequently, discourse on the primitiveness of olfaction helped maintain the evolutionary superiority the European bourgeoisie claimed for themselves on their Darwinist ascent to world hegemony.
Excursus: Upright and Stuffed Up
One work written contemporaneously with Benjamin's early formulations of the aura manifests a configuration of elements—sex and sight, memory and shock, the primitive and the bourgeoisie's self-identification with civilization—that overlaps with both the social representation of smell and Benjamin's analysis of the nineteenth century. This most symptomatic discussion is secreted in a pair of footnotes to Freud's discussion in Civilization and Its Discontents of the correlation between the civilizing process and (p.275) the renunciation of (sexual) instinct. There he situates the repression of smell at the crux of phylo- and ontogenetic development. On the species level, the “devaluation of olfactory stimuli” is coeval with crossing the threshold between animal and human. This repression of smell “is the organic defense of the new form of life achieved with man's erect gait [aufrechten Gang] against his earlier animal existence,” of which the smell of a female in heat was emblematic. Yet as vision now comes to dominate sexual life (and by implication civilization itself), this defense against smell is almost too effective: it threatens to render the “whole of [genital] sexuality” utterly repugnant. Indeed, Freud speculates that the repression of smell is “the deepest root of the sexual repression which advances along with civilization.”91 Although Freud laments the loss of sexual satisfaction in the development of human culture, his discussion of smell and its repression certainly seems to manifest the bourgeois moralism of which Benjamin accused psychoanalysis when he was reviewing another speculator about sexuality and the origin of human culture, Eduard Fuchs.92 Both Freud and Benjamin consider the assumption of an upright gait (aufrechten Gang) or erect posture (Aufrichtung) as a, if not the, threshold of human development, but Freud's insistent repetition of aufrecht and its cognate Aufrichtung goes beyond marking an evolutionary juncture and appears to superimpose a moralistic perspective. The terms' connotations suggest that with the raising of the bent-over human posture came the ascendancy of the manly, bourgeois values of honesty, sincerity, uprightness.
The moralistic bourgeois dimension of the repression of smell comes explicitly to the fore in Freud's discussion of smell and individual development. Were it not for the organic repression of smell, the necessary reversal of a child's values from narcissistic to moral, from animalistic to social would “scarcely be possible.” Because of the primordial depreciation of the sense of smell, olfactory stimuli are usually not noticed by consciousness. Hence when smells go unperceived, they fill the reservoir of the mémoire involontaire, often bringing all contiguous stimuli with them. But when they are perceived—and for Freud the stench of excreta is the primal odor—the individual undergoes a shock experience that both arouses feelings of disgust and begins a process of shock-discipline. With the aid of such phylogenetic supplementation, a proper upbringing teaches children that their strong-smelling excreta are “worthless, disgusting, abhorrent and abominable”93 and inculcates in them the cultural virtue of cleanliness. Civilized people know to hide their own stinking excreta; they repress the aromas of their youth.
(p.276) For Freud, the significance and the experience of olfaction are depreciated both phylo- and ontogenetically; smell signifies what is rejected—animality and sexuality—as well as what was never consciously perceived: the memory of that prehistory. As a consequence of organic repression and the cultural values it helps to develop, smell and smell-related terms signify the gravest offenses to the social contract. Those persons who smell like “substances that are expelled from the body”94 are themselves expelled from the social body. Conversely, a civilized society consists of individuals who have adopted the values of uprightness and anosmic cleanliness. No dirty, stinking, crooked Jews need apply.95
Freud's analysis does not explain the particularities of Benjamin's discussions of odor; rather, it complements them. Freud displays the offal he does not or cannot say; he releases the threatening odors that the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie did not deign to sniff. And Horkheimer and Adorno would eventually constellate this discussion of smell with Benjamin's notions of both the ritual dimension of aura and mimesis in order to develop a hermeneutic of antisemitism. They thereby elicit the implicit concern of both Freud and Benjamin with Jewish identification and its olfactive dimension.
An Ideal Reading of Smell
As can be seen by the title of Susan Buck-Morss's The Dialectics of Seeing, her classic study of the Passagen-Werk (The Arcades Project), Benjamin's reconstruction of nineteenth-century Paris from its gathered-up remains, the visual rather than the olfactive dimension has been perceived to have primacy in Benjamin's work. After all, seeing, seeing resemblances, is something the bespectacled Benjamin claimed to be very good at: “The gift of perceiving similarities is, in fact, nothing but a weak remnant of the old compulsion to become similar and to behave mimetically. In me, this compulsion acted through words.”96 This privileging of the optical is coeval with the reception of Benjamin in the United States; the first two collections of his essays bear the titles Illuminations and Reflections.97 Even a cursory glance at the critical literature shows a plethora of ocular images employed about and in his work. That literature is rife with references to dialectical images, the flash, phantasmagoria, and the optical unconscious. Cultural materialist analyses focus on Benjamin's late work on the visual media of photography and film. When discussing Benjamin's notion of “aura,” attention is directed at its visual aspect. For example, Benjamin (p.277) glosses the image from Baudelaire's poem, “Correspondances”—“Man wends his way through forests of symbols/Which look at him with their familiar glances” (cited in OB 181, 189)—with the remark, “To perceive the aura of an object we look at means to invest it with the ability to look at us in return” (OB 188). Or: on another occasion Benjamin himself defines aura as “the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be” (“The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility” [WA], 104–05). Due, albeit passing, mention is made of the synaesthetic component of (auratic) experience—for example, the smell of colors—and an occasional commentary on Benjamin's discussion of the modern sensorium locates a dialectical relationship between vision and touch, the visual and the tactile (or haptic) that generates a transgressive knowing.98 Yet vision remains paramount. Images as both captivating and, potentially, liberating are seen to make up both the object—whether of nineteenth-century Paris or Berlin nineteen-hundred—and subject of Benjamin's critical practice. These snapshots that Benjamin has passed down to us have an aura of their own—even as we hold them in our smudgy hands. They seem to confirm our own ocular view of the catastrophic history of capitalist society: from the modernist panopticon to the postmodernist circulation of simulacra.
“The sense of sight,” Buck-Morss writes, “was privileged in this phantasmagoric sensorium of modernity,”99 but Benjamin's images also tell us another history, one that his commentators and perhaps he too was unconscious of.100 Marianne Stoessel begins her analysis of Benjamin's notion of aura: “In Greek and Latin [aura] signifies air and breath.…”101Aura begins with smell. According to the first definition in Webster's New World Dictionary, an aura is “an invisible emanation or vapor, as the aroma of flowers.” More to the point, when Benjamin first introduces aura to his argument in “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” the term is appositively defined as a “breath of prehistory [that] surrounds” a thing (OB 185). An aura envelops the object with a perceptible—smellable—air of mystery; the verb translated as “surrounds,” umwittert, conveys the sense of something mysterious or uncanny that is tacitly sensed, and it stems from the verb wittern, which means “to scent.” Or, again with reference to a passage from Baudelaire, here from “Le Goût du néant,” the connection is indicated negatively: “Baudelaire's spleen is the suffering entailed by the decline of the aura. ‘Adorable Spring has lost its perfume’ ” (AP 343/PW 433 [J64, 5]).102 Despite the primacy afforded vision in discussions of aura, odors play more than an etymological role as the heterogeneous residue of scent wafts its way through Benjamin's analysis of aura and the mémoire (p.278) involontaire, experience (Erfahrung) and art, Baudelaire and Proust. Is Benjamin's discussion of smell just the accident of the sensory predilections of Baudelaire—his predilection for odors is described in the Passagen-Werk as a “strong fixation” and as probably a “fetishism” (AP 348/PW 440 [J67a, 3]), and while smell per se is not treated as a distinctive motif in “Some Motifs,” it is profusely represented—and of Proust? Or, similarly if less biographically, is it merely residue—of the facticity of olfactive phenomenology?103 Conversely, does the play of scents that perfume his presentation have a clearcut intent, such as the elaboration of an osmics, a science of smell?
Benjamin always fought and thought against the merely contingent and the purely intentional. Olfaction offers a necessary interpretive key to the utopian elements of Baudelaire and Proust, contributes to Benjamin's critiques of Kant's aesthetic and bourgeois culture, and gives intimations of redemptive practice. The aroma secreted by Benjamin's notion of aura evokes both what is prehistoric and what is outside of history. Because olfactory emanations from the aura elicit the really disgusting and the disgustingly real, attending to them would redeem a material dimension that had been shrouded over by a phantasmagoria of perfumes, evacuated by the urban renewal instituted by the likes of a Parent-Duchâtelet or a Haussmann, or rendered indifferent to a subject subjected by a “complex kind of training” (OB 175) into anosmia. But more, the telltale smells that hover about these sites are the textual effects of Benjamin's German-Jewish prehistory; they are transmogrifications of the smell of the Jew: the “foreign … sentimental aroma” of Jewishness and the foetor Judaicus, the Jewish stench that has already been released in several earlier chapters.
Smell does make up a significant portion of the data of the mémoire involontaire that Benjamin arrays. In the Proust essay Benjamin comments that the “bottommost” stratum of the mémoire involontaire is
Years later the smells of Proust would return in Benjamin's discussion of Baudelaire's lyric chronicle of shock, the loss of experience, and the decline of aura in the modern world: “The scent [Der Geruch] is the inaccessible refuge of the mémoire involontaire” (OB 184). This inaccessibility (p.279) recalls the unapproachable aspect of the auratic and thereby confirms his comment that the data of the mémoire involontaire correspond to auratic experience. Smell, traditionally considered one of the proximate senses, seems polar opposite to an experience described as a certain pathos of distance.105 Even the Kantian description of smell as “taste at a distance”106 is insufficient mediation. Smell's solicitation of the mémoire involontaire provides aura with a temporal dimension, a distance, such that it promises redemptive possibilities beyond mere nostalgia for a “certain hour in one's life” (Erlebnis; OB 163). In his discussion of the interconnected correspondences elicited in Baudelaire by fragrance, Benjamin describes how smell effects on the individual level of memory what he elsewhere ascribes to vision on the collective level of history: a scent “will ally itself only with the same … [it] deeply drugs the sense of time [Zeitverlaufs]. A scent [Duft] may drown years in the odor [Dufte] it recalls” (OB 184). In this passage Benjamin describes how smell anesthetizes homogeneous serial time, the rationalized temporality of modernity; this enables the individual to recognize “a memory as it flashes up” (TPH 255 [Thesis vi]) and leap across the years to salvage the past.
one in which the materials of memory no longer appear singly, as images, but tell us about a whole, amorphously and formlessly, indefinitely and weightily, in the same way as the weight of his net tells a fisherman about his catch. Smell [Der Geruch]—that is the sense of weight of someone who casts his nets into the sea of the temps perdu.104
As Benjamin's depiction of olfaction's workings indicates, not only does the mémoire involontaire provide the closest analog to the critical historian's experience of the Jetztzeit, the messianic “time of the now” (TPH 261, 263 [Theses xiv, A]), but this discussion of remembered smells provides a mirror of, if not a model for, his determination of the form of the historical object as a dialectical image. Like the recollection of an odor, the historian “rescues” the image by blasting it out of the “homogeneous course of history” (Verlauf der Geschichte; TPH 263 [Thesis xvii]; cf. AP 473/PW 592 [N9, 7; 9a, 3]). Such apperceptions of the similar take place in a “moment of danger” (TPH 255 [Thesis vi])107 by someone who is, in a Baudelairean passage cited by Benjamin “in all the corners sniffing [flairant] out the dangers or dodges” (OB 164).
Yet such appropriations are called forth by the object: smell solicits smell, and the mimetic character of “the monadological structure” of the image demands its recognition (AP 475/PW 594 [N10, 3]). The objective character of such olfactive and visual cognitions extends beyond such solicitation; each apperception opens up a realm of objectivity. The scent of a woman or a cookie simmering in tea opens upon another scene: an objective realm. Thus we cannot, like a Kantian subjectivity armed with its schemata, its infusions of meaning, possess the smell, but it can, like Valéry's fragrant flower, possess us (cf. OB 186–87; and see below). The smell (p.280) is embedded in an experiential continuum (Erfahrung) of contiguous relations with memory traces that may never have been registered by individual consciousness, as well as with the repetitions of ritualized collective life such as the cliché, common sense, and the calendrical festival.
The objective character of the image is different. Unlike olfaction, vision is tied to a notion of intention: “vision does not enter into the form of existence … which is devoid of all intention and certainly does not itself appear as intention.”108 But Benjamin eventually reconfigures the historian's purview such that the constellated ruins of a culture dispersed seemingly haphazard across the historical landscape crystallize to form the monadic image.
In the Passagen-Werk images of images far outnumber references to smells. Smell and vision are opposed in a series of antinomies that, at least with regard to these senses, are more deductive than dialectical: prehistory vs. the modern, use value vs. commodity, Erfahrung vs. Erlebnis, memory vs. memento, and so forth. Benjamin sketches the contours of the opposition between smell and vision in a chiasmic series of notes that were written during his earliest efforts on the project:
In this sequence Benjamin opposes past memories and present souvenirs, accidental recollections and manufactured (intentional) mementos, the personal and the impersonal, landscapes and arcades, ideals and industries, experiences and commodities, unchanging odors and transformed sights. Smell is associated with imbibing, not buying; with familial relations—‘in (p.281) our parents’ “day” (zur Zeit unserer Eltern), “mother-of-pearl” (perlmutternem)—not the relations of production in which the manufacturer and the custom-house officer are interpellated. Benjamin prided himself on his own writing because he never employed the first-person pronoun except in letters (BC 15–16). Such a personal sensory faculty as smell hence had no place in a critical analysis of the Parisian arcades.
The arcade as temple of Aesculapius. Medicinal spring. The course of a cure. Arcades (as resort spas) in ravines. At Schuls-Tarasp, at Ragaz. The “gorge” as landscape ideal in our parents' day. As with the impact of very distant memories, the sense of smell is awakened. To me, as I stood before a shop window in Saint-Moritz and looked on mother-of-pearl pocket-knives as “memories,” it was as though at the moment I could smell them.
The things sold in the arcades are souvenirs [Andenken]. The “souvenir” is the form of the commodity in the arcade. One always buys only mementos of the commodity and of the arcade. Rise of the souvenir industry. As the manufacturer knows it. The customs-house officer of industry.
How visual memories emerge transformed after long years. The pocketknife that came to me as I chanced upon one in a shop window in Saint-Moritz (with the name of the place name inscribed between sprigs of mother-of-pearl edelweiss) had a taste and odor.109 (AP 864/PW 1033–34 [O75–77])
After this moment, smell largely fades from his attention. In the over nine-hundred published pages of notes and quotes that followed these first notebook jottings, the sense of smell is mentioned only once, as an urban problem, and then only to be displaced onto the visual register. Benjamin quotes from an 1823 history of the shawl:
In this passage the urban dweller, the bourgeois proper, manufactures apotropaic images, floral designs, the imagined scents of which serve to counter the poisonous odors of the city and restore the viewer to heights of nostalgic ecstasy. Pleasant smells do not exist as part of the urban landscape. Such odors are only a part of the bourgeoisie's prehistory, its family romance; the exhalations of the pictured violets transform the founding fantasies of the cultured bourgeoisie—the male bourgeois individual imagining himself as a moral aristocrat leisurely enjoying his country garden amid a scene of domestic bliss—into idyllic memories111 or, with sufficient capital, a drawing room: “In 1839, a ball is held at the British embassy.… ‘The garden,’ so runs an eye-witness account, ‘was covered by an awning and had the feel of a drawing room.… The fragrant, well-stocked flower beds had turned into enormous jardinières, the gravel walks had disappeared under sumptuous carpets’ ” (AP 220/PW 291 [I4, 1]).112 This singular reference to the stench of the nineteenth century, indeed one in which the stink is delimited to an appositive clause that is overcome by the urban dweller's vision of smell, suggests that Benjamin has succumbed to the bourgeoisie's own olfactive division of the world: the deodorized public sphere and the perfumed nostalgia of the private.113
It is by the tendency of mind called reminiscence that the wishes of the man condemned to the glittering captivity of the cities incline … toward a stay in the country, toward his original abode, or at least toward the possession of a simple, tranquil garden. His eyes aspire to rest on some greenery, sufficiently far away from the stresses of the shop counter or the intrusive rays of the living room lamp. His sense of smell, continually assaulted by pestilent emanations, longs for the scent of flowers. A border of modest and mild violets would altogether ravish his senses.110 (AP 505/PW 630 [O8a, 2]; emphasis added)
(p.282) Still, when Benjamin reworks his Berlin Childhood in 1938, instead of the image-rich vignette, “Mummerehlen,” of a ten-year-old Benjamin most himself when mimicking the objects of the world and most distorted when posing for a photograph that opened his 1934 version, he begins with a scene, “Loggias,” in which, he wrote Gretel Adorno, he “sees a sort of self-portrait.” He tells her he would probably place this self-portrait in the book's first position rather than the photographic one (of him and his younger brother Georg posing before a painted Alpine prospect) that “Mummerehlen” contained.114 “Loggias” opens upon the “dark loggia” that rose above the courtyard of his first Berlin West End home and, “shaded by blinds in the summer,” cradled the infant author. Sounds and smells color this scene. The caryatids sing their “lullaby … through which the air of the courtyards had forever remained intoxicating to me.”115 Here his first unformed dreams were “traversed by the sound of running water or the smell of milk.” Through the linkage of pleasant smells to prehistory—whether this configuration is understood as aura or as nostalgia—and the virtual avoidance of unpleasant ones, Benjamin is not just recuperating bourgeois fantasy, he is acting out the memory of his specifically German-Jewish bourgeois upbringing. Yet after examining the shocking contradictions intrinsic to that origin and some of the responses they generate, the seemingly one-sided determination of smell will become more complicated.
The Trace of an Aura
The foetor Judaicus left its trace on Benjamin's discussion of aura as well. At the conclusion of “Some Motifs,” Benjamin writes that Baudelaire “paid dearly for consenting to this disintegration [of the aura in the experience of shock]—but it is the law of his poetry, which shines in the sky of the Second Empire as ‘a star without atmosphere’ ” (OB 194).116 The trail left by the smell of the Jew begins at the source of Benjamin's concluding citation. It is from a passage in Nietzsche's “History in the Service and Disservice of Life” that anticipates a number of the characteristic traits of Benjamin's notion of aura: “If this shroud is removed, if a religion, an art, a genius is condemned to move like a star without atmosphere, no wonder they soon harden up, dry up, and cease to bear.” The “shroud” or “atmosphere” to which Nietzsche refers draws upon aura's etymological origins in air, breath, vapor: “Every living thing needs a surrounding atmosphere, (p.283) a shrouding aura of mystery” (geheimnisvollen Dunstkreis; literally, mysterious circle of vapor). The immediate context is a discussion of how contemporary historiographic practices contribute to the disintegration of the “aura” that (should) surround religious events: “their cold, pragmatic curiosity,” if applied to the birth of Christianity or the Reformation, “would be just enough to render every spiritual actio in distans quite impossible.”117 Nietzsche's conclusion clearly extends beyond the religious—or rather, it suggests the religious aspect as well as the import of distance to all auratic phenomena.
By capping off his discussion of Baudelaire with a reference to Nietzsche, Benjamin is doing more than evoking a fellow analyst of the loss of aura; he is also calling upon a writer who shared Baudelaire's preoccupation with olfaction. Where Baudelaire overvalued smell erotically, Nietzsche transvalued it philosophically.118 In Ecce Homo, he credited the nose as the source for his analysis of the nineteenth century: “I was the first to discover the truth … to experience lies as lies—smelling them out.—My genius is in my nostrils.” He described the results: “This sensitivity furnishes me with psychological antennae with which I feel and get a hold of every secret: the abundant hidden dirt at the bottom of many a character … enters my consciousness almost at the first contact.”119 Nietzsche was able to “scent from a distance.” Testifying to this claim was his apparent ability, noted earlier, to smell Polish Jews from his residence in Sils-Maria.
Other researchers have found traces of another influence on Benjamin's discussion of aura that is even more suffused with the foetor Judaicus: the graphological and other writings of Ludwig Klages. The extent of Klages's influence is contested but sufficiently visible for Adorno to excoriate Benjamin for his insufficiently critical appropriation of Klages's mythic mentality in the first version of the Baudelaire essay.120 Subsequently, Roberts claimed that Klages's theory of the image is a primary source for Benjamin's discussion of aura: “Benjamin's theory of ‘aura’ was taken directly from Klages.”121 Other genealogies of Benjamin's notion of aura by Werner Fuld and Marianne Stoessel also concede certain affinities.122 For their part, however, Fuld gives more credit to Klages's elder colleague/mentor Alfred Schuler, whose lectures on Roman antiquity continuously invoke both the auratic glow that transformed things into artworks and its eventual loss,123 while Stoessel locates the beginnings of Benjamin's understanding of aura—if not his use of the particular term—a number of years prior to Klages's work on the archaic image. Both Klages's theory of the image (and later of the symbol) and Benjamin's notion of the aura down-play the role of the intellect and critique the Kantian subjective origin of (p.284) meaning. Further, both relate the appearance of the object/image in terms of a synaesthetic epiphany and a mythic world of natural correspondences, as well as ascribe an eros or pathos of distance to that experience. Like the auratic objects of the mémoire involontaire, Klages's archaic images are, he claims, real, material events recovered through ecstatic, hence nondeliberate and momentary, anamnesis. In addition, Klages describes a “nimbus” about the object of insight.124
But the effect of Klages on Benjamin's work is less problematic as an intellectual historical matter, a genealogy of ideas, than it is as an ethicohistorical matter, an accounting for the impact of social actions and attitudes. That is, Klages was a notorious antisemite. Although his most execrable work, the rabidly anti-Jewish introduction to Schuler's Nachlaß, finally appeared in 1940, Klages had, as noted above, aired his sentiments toward Jews many years earlier in the graphological articles and treatises that first attracted Benjamin to him.
Odor played a very prominent role in the works of both Schuler and Klages—just as it had in an earlier Jew-hating mentor-disciple pair, Fourier and Toussenel; whiffs of their olfactive cosmology can be encountered in the Passagen-Werk (AP 622–23/PW 767[W2, 2]; 634/780 [W8, 6]; 639–40/787 [W11a, 9]).125 In a mythicizing variant of Benjamin's own critical discussion of allegorical ruins and the dialectical appropriation of images of the past, Klages describes how Schuler used to visit archaeological sites where he would perceive “an indescribable odor … emanating from the ruins just as they break through the surface.” The incense-loving Schuler spoke of how this intoxicating aura (Hauch) about the preserved soul of the past immediately dissipates while unleashing visions in him of lives long ago reduced to shards. Throughout his introduction to Schuler, Klages emphasizes the aromas of both dead and living souls as auratic indicators of soul-full mimesis. As corroboration of Schuler's in-scents, Klages draws on Gottfried Keller's depiction in Green Heinrich of a pubescent working-class girl who embodied “the aroma of the Munich soul” and the novelist's gloss on setting his characters Heinrich and Anna's kiss in the cemetery. These authorial commentaries signify that “the breath [Anhauch] of the already ‘glorified’ ancestors had inspired the embryonic love in the still half-childlike souls to the risk of uncertainly groping tenderness.”126 Schuler's and Klages's suffusion with scent was even mocked by their critics; Friedrich Wolters wrote that they were “drunk with foreign scents and poisons, where they believed to breathe the air of a landscape that felt like home.”127 And in the one quasi-explicit reference to Klages's views on Jews, Benjamin once again smells the aroma of antisemitism and employs (p.285) the language of olfaction: “these important scholars [Klages and also Bachofen] scent [wittern] the archenemy and not without cause” in Jewish theology.128
The history of fulminations against the Jewish stench culminated in a scene in Mein Kampf. Hitler writes: “The cleanliness of [the Jews], moral and otherwise, I must say, is a point in itself. By their very exterior you could tell that these were no lovers of water, and, to your distress, you often knew it with your eyes closed. Later I often grew sick to my stomach from the smell of these caftan wearers” (MK 57). This passage is a key moment in Hitler's self-described “transformation into an antisemite” (MK 55–61). The failed painter conjoins Kant's anti-aesthetic of smell (see below) with Wagner's anti-aesthetic of the Jew—the “outward appearance [of the Jew] has something disagreeably foreign to [whomever observes him and hence] can never be thinkable as a subject for the art of re-presentment”129—to initiate his own critique of judgment. Hitler's olfactive anti-epiphany perversely evokes the depiction of the Davidic Messiah in the talmudic tractate B. Shabbat 93b:
By arousing instinctive revulsion toward the Jew, smell allows Hitler to bridge the phenomenal and the noumenal. He smells and judges.
And further it is written, And He will let him have delight in [hariho, literally “will let him scent”] the fear of the Lord [Isa. 11: 3].130 R. Alexandri said: “This teaches us that they burdened him with commandments and sufferings like millstones” [assuming hariho derives from rehayim, millstones]. Rava said: “[This teaches us that] he will scent [the truth] and will adjudicate, as it is written, and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears, yet with righteousness shall he judge the poor” [Isa. 11:3–4].131
With the release of certain Jewish-associated scents into Benjamin's work, the air-freshening breath of nostalgia that suffused his discussion of smell begins to turn. In the olfactive metaphysics of a Nietzsche, a Klages, or a Hitler the stench of the Jew serves as the paradigmatic index of moral and ontological taint. Their image of the foetor Judaicus as a negative aura provides definition to the aromas of Judentum that Benjamin had inhaled. Because it transforms the subjective genitive into the objective, because it is negative, and because it is an object of social discourse, the representation of the smell of the Jew as the foetor Judaicus contrasts with the sentimental aromas of Benjamin's personal remembrance.132 This noisome extreme of the olfactive imagination is anything but sentimental, and if foreign, it nonetheless would be ascribed to him by the likes of a Klages (p.286) or a Hitler. The aura of the Jewish stench that surrounds Benjamin's perception of aura implicates a more critical, less utopian, function for smell in his texts. This “collection of associations”—the memory-fragments mediating Benjamin's German-Jewish Zweiheit together with the social history of the foetor Judaicus—disrupts the self-determining idealities of remembrance and allows the critical reader to sniff a splenetic reading of smell; Benjamin's apparent deodorization may secrete his effort to catch the scent of the unscented. Obversely, the relationship between odor and redemption in the Jewish tradition no less redounds upon Benjamin's smell-suffused notion of aura.
Toward a Splenetic Reading of Smell
As has been noted, Benjamin all but excludes nineteenth-century olfactive experience from the Passagen-Werk. In the one reference to smell in his early notes to the project he appears to oppose diametrically the nostalgic, personal character of smell to the (potentially) redemptive, collective one of vision. Yet in “Some Motifs,” the relationship between these senses realizes the chiasmic structure his project notes had suggested but apparently never developed. Although the olfactive and the visual are distinctive, they are not isolated from one another. On a number of occasions Benjamin juxtaposes the two sensory fields to unveil and unleash the dialectical tensions that exist between them. Such sites include childhood recollections and the synaesthetic correspondance in which “a woman's smell, for instance, in the fragrance of her hair or breasts” yields Baudelaire such lines as “the azure of the vast vaulted sky” or “a harbor full of flames and masts” (OB 183). The appropriation of such positive correspondances set up a contrast that allowed Baudelaire “to fathom the full meaning of the breakdown which he, a modern man, was witnessing” (OB 181).
This last disjunctive effect of smell suggests that in addition to an ideal aspect, odor also assumes a splenetic one in Benjamin's work. He takes the title of the first section of Fleurs du Mal, “Spleen and Ideal,” to reflect the dialectic of extremes that characterizes Baudelaire's experience of modernity: “The idéal supplies the power of remembrance; the spleen musters the multitude of the seconds against it” (OB 183). Emblematic of the latter, notes Benjamin, is a line from Baudelaire's poem “Craving for Oblivion”: “The beloved spring has lost its scent” (cited in OB 183). The loss of scent indicates the “present state of collapse” (OB 184) of the ideal; its aura dissipated, the world has become a one-dimensional or anaesthetized (p.287) phantasmagoria. In these splenetic times the poet no longer “wends his way through forests of symbols” (OB 188); rather, he is like the “fantastic” fencer who stumbles through Baudelaire's poem “The Sun.” Benjamin focuses upon its lonely poet trying to parry off the shocks of modern life: “I go, alone, to practice my curious fencing.” He cites, without comment, the line that follows: “In every corner smelling out [flairant] the dodges [hasards] of rhyme” (OB 164). The sense of smell has not been lost; it just assumes a new form. Instead of recuperating prehistory it noses about for trouble amid the panoptical desolation of the present, inspiring what chances by. Through the evocation of smell Benjamin sets these extremes of spleen and ideal in ironic tension.
Benjamin also rubs his nose against another reading of smell: the critical olfactive perception that is stench. He collects his data for his Passagen-Werk under its misrecognized sign. In the N folder he describes “the method of this work”: “I have nothing to say. Only to show … the rags [Lumpen], the refuse [Abfall]” (AP 460/PW 574 [N1a, 8]).133 With this statement Benjamin the collector (Sammler) becomes Benjamin the ragpicker (Lumpensammler).134 Baudelaire depicts the ragpicker in a poem translated by Benjamin, “Ragpicker's Wine,” “poking with his stick at the ragged ends of speeches and scraps of language … in the gray dawn of the day of revolution.” Benjamin had already rendered this figure as emblematic of the politicized intellectual at the conclusion of his 1930 commentary that preceded his review of Siegfried Kracauer's White Collar Workers.135 The ragpicker later resurfaced in “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire” to highlight the “commerce in garbage” and to epitomize the (lumpen)proletariat.136 Yet these aggregations of material and human waste products are more than sore sights for the eye; they stink.
Baudelaire too draws upon the olfactive register. He describes the ragpicker as “reeking of sour wine” and “staggering under enormous sacks of junk/—the vomit of surfeited Paris.”137 But beyond a paraphrase of Baudelaire, in which the ragpicker seeking numbness is “surrounded by the aroma of wine casks,”138 the emanations—the aura—of this “refuse” are all but absent from either Benjamin's Baudelaire essays or the Passagen-Werk's folders.139 Similarly, the prostitute, who functions as an allegory of objectification and modernity for Benjamin and whose smell pervades Baudelaire's poetry, remains deodorized.140 In a work extensively extracted by Benjamin in the J folder, Léon Daudet's “Baudelaire: Le malaise et ‘L'aura,’ ” the argument—one omitted, however, by Benjamin—is made that neither Hugo, Lamartine, nor Musset can compare to Baudelaire in (p.288) comprehending “the odor of misery and despair.” Daudet later concludes—and Benjamin also fails to include—“in his Parisian poems, Baudelaire extracts the quintessence, toxic and salubrious, of that immense laboratory of stone, where the worst instincts smoke, where lofty aspirations blaze.… [H]e made its scent breathe out hot and doleful.”141
Indeed, throughout the Passagen-Werk Benjamin betrays a remarkable anosmia, olfactive blindness. While he oversees an archaeology of the visible and touches upon the recovery of the tactile in nineteenth-century Paris, as Alain Corbin has said, Benjamin apparently is not attuned to the “other dialogues [that] were taking place …; heavy animal scents and fleeting perfumes [that] spoke of repulsion and disgust, sympathy and seduction.” Corbin concludes The Foul and the Fragrant, his masterly study of odor and the French social imagination, lamenting that “discourse on odors was interdicted,” and previous historians had “neglected these documents of the senses.”142 While Benjamin notes the import of hygiene in several of the preliminary sketches of the Passagen-Werk, there is no folder to indicate any plan of research. In contrast to the emphasis on the biopolitical understanding of nineteenth-century Europe that conditions contemporary historiography, Benjamin's historical materialist stress on capitalist modernity (see AP 456–488/PW 570–611 [N]) leads him to focus on a Haussmann who plotted the boulevards, and to totally ignore the locus of much contemporary historiography, the Parent-Duchâtelet who toured the sewers.143 Smell is not completely ignored, but, as the analysis above of the rare olfactive references and allusions attests, it does not escape the parameters of certain bourgeois pseudo-aristocratic nostalgia.
Yet, let us reconsider Benjamin's confession of his methodological intentions for the Passagen-Werk:
Rather than registering, refurbishing, and repackaging the returns of his ragpicking through nineteenth-century Paris, Benjamin displays them. By volatilizing Benjamin's rank Darstellung together with his identification with that ragpicker people,144 the Jews, who allegedly bear a scent that pejoratively codes them as marginal, we may, nevertheless, be able to sniff or interpolate the stench of a splenetic reading of smell.
I needn't say anything. Merely show. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulation. But the rags, the refuse—these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own; by making use of them. (AP 460/PW 574 [N1a, 8])
Benjamin diagnosed “the decline or disintegration of the aura” as a major symptom of the breakdown of experience that marked the modern. (p.289) Yet, he noted a corresponding apotheosis of an auratic aesthetic, the Kantian “l'art pour l'art” movement. Fragrance is synonymous with the auratic work of art. Benjamin cites Paul Valéry:
The insistence of this fragrant flower, however, ironizes Valéry's in-other-respects rather Kantian reverie. By exhaling its aura, the work of art undercuts its claim to be art. That is, for Kant smell characterizes what cannot be art. In contrast to the universal communicability of beauty, smell exemplifies the form of pleasure that is incommunicable.145 Moreover, smell is associated with disgust (Ekel). In his Anthropology, Kant asserts, “Filth seems to arouse nausea [disgust, Ekel] not so much through what is repugnant to the eyes and tongue as through the stench that we presume it has.”146 Even agreeable fragrances such as Valéry's flower arouse disgust because, forced upon the perceiver, they interfere with the freedom necessary for aesthetic pleasure. All smells are in effect disgusting, and the disgusting is the “[o]ne kind of ugliness [that] is incapable of being represented conformably to nature without destroying all aesthetic delight, and consequently aesthetic beauty [because] the artificial representation of the [disgusting] object is no longer distinguishable from the nature of the object in our sensation.”147 The disgusting is too real, too close; it both has an aura—in the etymological sense (i.e., it reeks)—and has no aura—in the conventional Benjaminian reading (i.e., it is not art).
We recognize a work of art by the fact that no idea it inspires in us, no mode of behavior that it suggests we adopt could exhaust it or dispose of it. We may inhale the smell of a flower whose fragrance is agreeable to us for as long as we like; it is impossible for us to rid ourselves of the fragrance by which our senses have been aroused, and no recollection, no thought, no mode of behavior can obliterate its effect or release us from the hold it has on us. (OB 186–87)
Yet the disgusting smell does not so much put in question Benjamin's analyses of aura as it evokes other dimensions of experience and analysis.148 The distance that characterizes the aromatic aura of the disgusting is not the spatio-temporal separation between the audience and the work of art; it is the negated space between the perceiver and what lies behind and outside of that work. The secret(ed) scent of Valéry's flower, of auratic art amid the disintegration of aura, arises from other dialectical extremes Benjamin analyzes in the “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction [or Technical Reproducibility].” With the increase in the cultic value of art came a corresponding development in its opposite, in its exhibition value. “Cult value as such even tends to keep the artwork out of (p.290) sight,” but instead it is open to the public. And in another dialectical reversal, the public exhibition of the work of art first wrenched it out of the “context of tradition” and everyday life and then resituated it in temples to the cult of beauty—museums and exhibition halls—as the authentic work of the creative individual (WA 106, 105). Such exhibited art is defined by its aura, but this aura is artificially induced and institutionally sustained.149 On the one hand, the work of art became a fetishized commodity; its exhibition value was built upon the sweat-producing labor of others. On the other hand, fetid odors threatened to seep through the doorways of these temples. The distance generated by these ritual sites was the distance of exclusion—what the sanitized bourgeois sensibility must be spared: “the refuse of the physical world,”150 the “pestilent emanations” of the cities (AP 505/PW 630 [O8a, 2]), the miasma of urban life, the barbaric stench of the oppressed, the noisomeness of the masses. Whereas smell, the smell of incense and sacrifice, would reinforce the ritual and transcendent elements normally associated with the concept of aura, smell was also the trace of the silenced, the forgotten, and the invisible—the victims of the deritualized human sacrifice inflicted by the modern capitalist system. The splenetic olfactive critic can sniff out these simulacra of aura that are suffused in the stench of modernity, just as a Proust or a Benjamin inhales the scent of prehistory from the aura surrounding a flower or a mother-of-pearl pocket knife.
A Coeval Pair
Benjamin intertwines aura with another notion that evokes—and, in its influences and inheritors, renders explicit—Jewish representations of the often odorous and frequently odious kind.151 That notion in its natural or prehistorical form is called mimesis, and in its modern form, reproduction. Benjamin posits the existence of a human mimetic faculty. More than the perception of similarities, it is “a rudiment of the powerful compulsion in former times to become and behave like something else” (MF 333). In his first self-contained foray into mimesis, the “Doctrine of the Similar,” astrology, presumably arising out of the imitation of celestial processes and assuming a natural correspondence between human life and cosmic events, is his prime example. The image of stars returning our glance, looking down upon us, leads Benjamin to speculate in a fragment from his Nachlaß that the experience of the aura and the development of the mimetic faculty are coeval. “Do relations exist between the experiences of (p.291) the aura and those of astrology[?] Are there earthly creatures as well as things which look back from the stars? Which from the heavens actually return their gaze? Are the stars, with their gaze from afar, the prototype of the aura? May one assume that the look was the first mentor of the mimetic faculty?”152
While Benjamin does not have his mimetic hermeneuts such as the astrologer sniff out correspondences, smell does appear in “Doctrine of the Similar.” Smells are the essences to which language as mimetic and allegorical correspond:
The formula for this connection between the mimetic character of language and aroma had emerged two years earlier at the site of a parallel transformation of religious experience: the hashish trance. While modernity had both disenchanted the world and offered in its stead a benumbing phantasmagoria, Benjamin concluded that drug intoxication, rather than necessarily contributing to this anaesthesia, could paradoxically offer an introduction to “profane illumination,”154 a sudden insight into the mystery of the everyday. The hashish trance provided access to the experience of both the aura and the mimetic: it “volatilizes representations into verbal aromas [Wortaromen] in which the actual representation-substance in the word … is completely vaporized.” During this particular drug experiment Benjamin acted out this profane illumination about the mimetic character of language with a word redolent with mimetic associations: “the root: ape” (der Stamm: Affe) generated “komm Äffchen,” “der Affe äfft,” and “äffen, nachäffen, voräffen.”155
Language is the highest application of the mimetic faculty—a medium into which the earlier perceptual capacity for recognizing the similar had, without residue, entered to such an extent that language now represents the medium in which objects encounter and come into relation with one another. No longer directly, as they once did in the mind of the augur or priest, but in their essences, in their most transient and delicate substances, even in their aromas.153
By speaking of the aromata of objects and words in these contexts of transformed religiosity, Benjamin is not so much perfuming his language as suggesting a worldlier, yet still explicitly religious, mediation of aura and mimesis. Odors contour the ritual dimension characteristic of both the aura and the pre(linguistic)history of mimesis. The olfactive dominates the sensorium in the primary ritual performed by the augurs and priests: sacrifice. According to Pirke Avoth 5.5, the first of the ten wonders done for “our fathers in the Temple [was that a] woman never miscarried on (p.292) account of the stench of the meat of Holy Things.”156 The scent of the offering not only goes directly to the gods but is also perceived immediately by the officiants.157 The eyes may be a window to the soul, but the nose was the gateway to the brain.158
Cut Off One's Nose to Spite One's Faith
Although Benjamin associates aromata with essences, the scent is not the bearer of “images” in his discussions of the mimetic faculty. In the fragment in which he speculates about the common origin of aura and mimesis Benjamin explicitly excludes the nose as a center of the mimetic faculty: “In this context a polarity is produced in the center of the mimetic faculty of man. It shifts itself from the eyes to the lips, thereby taking a detour around the entire body.”159 With this formulation, Benjamin has constructed his own rather curious constellation. The usual astrological representation would draw a line connecting the polarities, the extremes. The passage from eye to lip normally would traverse the nose, but according to Benjamin the mimetic faculty takes a long detour. Its circumambulation would miss the nose. The eyes perceive similarities, and the lips produce them. By contrast, the nose neither generates signs nor recognizes them. Benjamin usually represents smells either as signs of themselves—“of all sensual impressions it will ally itself only with the same scent” (OB 184)—or as symbols of Jewish bourgeois life. Although this analysis has uncovered both splenetic and redemptive aspects of Benjamin's discussion of smell and the olfactive emanations of aura, his smells do not engender critical similarities but rather remain, on the surface, ideal, nostalgic, and personal simulacra of dialectical images.
Benjamin's phylo- and ontogenetic history of the mimetic faculty suggests another reason for the omission of the nose. At its origin mimesis is the drive to become the other, yet Benjamin's discussion of the visual, the vocal, and their conjunction in the written leaves a residue of difference: the mimetically producing and comprehending self that smell threatens to overcome. The nose becomes the other; it becomes itself a sign.
The nose is a sign of the Jew that, until the development of rhinoplasty, no assimilation could remove. The Jewish nose was the visual correlate of the Jewish stench. In Moses Hess's Rom und Jerusalem, a work Benjamin read and respected,160 the Jewish nose blew the belief held by many Jewish reformers that the German perception of Jewish religion as ritualistic and atavistic was the primary obstacle to emancipation. Hess wrote that the German “objects less to the Jews' peculiar beliefs than to their peculiar (p.293) noses.… Jewish noses cannot be reformed.”161 And unlike that indubitable and indelible diacritical “circumcision,” the nose is present and visible in both Jewish men and women.
The traditionally comic character of such noses and other stereotypically Jewish physical features played a role in speculations about a physiological predisposition toward mimetic behavior that predated Benjamin's own. Freud's 1905 discussion of comedy focuses upon an “impulsion … to imitation” (Drang … zur Nachahmung) and an “ideational mimetics” (Vorstellungsmimik). Comedy arises from the recognition of the difference between another person's exaggerated and/or inexpedient movement and “the one that I should have carried out myself in his place.” This mimesis-based comedy of movement is the source of all other comedy, such as that of “bodily shapes and facial features … for they are regarded as though they were the outcome of an exaggerated or pointless movement” that the audience imagines itself imitating. Freud's examples of such comedy—“Staring eyes, a hooked nose hanging down to the mouth, ears sticking out, a hump-back”162—fill the repertoire of Jewish caricature. The compulsion to imitate hence results in the construction of the stereotypical Jew.
Dialectic (of Enlightenment) at a Standstill
Freud too appears to evoke the assimilating Jew who tries to pass for a Gentile—along with the figure of the gesticulating or miming Jew—when he explores the visible effects of the reactivated memory-traces, which he calls “ideational mimetics”:
Freud's examples of the mimetic response, like Klages's aping Jew, snare antisemitism into the signifying web of Benjamin's notion of mimesis: the Jew is the imitator, the imitated, and the difference between.
If … a member of certain races, narrates or describes something, it is easy to see that he … also represents its subject-matter in his expressive movements: he combines the mimetic and the verbal forms of representation.… He may have broken himself of the habit of painting with his hands, yet for that reason he will do it with his voice; and if he exercises self-control in this too, it may be wagered that he will open his eyes wide when he describes something large and squeeze them shut when he comes to something small.163
This conclusion becomes more explicit in Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment (DE). For Horkheimer and Adorno the Third (p.294) Reich and its attempted extermination of the mimetic Jews is the culmination of the twin histories of Europe: “a well-known, written history and an underground history. The latter consists in the fate of the human instincts and passions which are displaced and distorted by civilization.… The relationship with the human body is maimed from the outset” (DE 231). These histories begin with a theory of the repression of smell and its consequences that has been discussed earlier: “The compulsive urge to cruelty and destruction springs from the organic displacement of the relationship between mind and body; Freud expressed the facts of the matter with genius when he said that loathing [Ekel] first arose when men began to walk upright and were at a distance from the ground, so that the sense of smell which drew the male animal to the female in heat was relegated to a secondary position among the senses” (DE 232–33).164 These speculations help Horkheimer and Adorno to explain the contradictions, ambivalences, and distortions that shape (Western) civilization's relationship to nature in general. By constellating Freud's discussion of smell with Benjamin's focus on mimesis,165 Benjamin's fellow travelers at the Institute of Social Research become able to develop a construct for the analysis of antisemitism in particular. By this conjunction of extremes, Horkheimer and Adorno read the Jewish physiognomy that marks Benjamin's terms.
Benjamin opens his essay “On the Mimetic Faculty”: “Nature creates similarities. One need only think of mimicry” (MF 333). But where Benjamin then jumpshifts to concerns of epistemology and linguistic philosophy, Horkheimer and Adorno's analysis begins with the natural substrate of mimesis in order to address domination and politics. Their focus is less on the decay or transformation of the mimetic faculty than with civilization's successful or failed attempts to repress it. With their examination of the role of mimesis in protection and defense—on how, for example, the mimetic body stiffens like “circumambient, motionless nature” (DE 180) before any threat to survival—they thereby emphasize, like Darwin, how “imitation belongs to the realm of nature rather than culture, to the inhuman as well as the human, that its practice might be organic, unconscious, and involuntary, that its teleology might be political rather than aesthetic, and that it may serve as a pivot of historical change.”166 The language-focused notion of mimesis Benjamin presents is not opposed to the more corporeal one of his colleagues; rather, their notions provide complementary readings of the phenomenon: Benjamin from the perspective of messianic time, Horkheimer and Adorno from the perspective of the empirical history of modernity. Indeed, their shift to the political does not so much diverge from Benjamin's initial analyses of mimesis as it correlates with (p.295) the contours of Benjamin's later developed notion of the “mimetic shock absorber” and the adaptation processes of the factory worker (cf. OB 175–78).
Horkheimer and Adorno also shift the sensory register in their discussion of mimesis from the visual and aural to the olfactive. Smell, for them, provides the basis for the mimetic faculty.
Horkheimer and Adorno's analysis releases the olfactive dimension implicit to Benjamin's discussion of mimesis. By arguing from Freud's phylogenetic discussion of smell's repression that the olfactive sense betrays the “memory of prehistory” (DE 71), they also implicate smell in the recovery of the lost world of experience—the aromata—that mimetic language mediates.
The multifarious nuances of the sense of smell embody the archetypal longing for the lower forms of existence, for direct unification with circumambient nature, with the earth and mud. Of all the senses, that of smell—which is attracted without objectifying—bears clearest witness to the urge to lose oneself in and become the “other.” … When we see we remain what we are; but when we smell we are taken over by otherness. (DE 184)
They also fill in the gap in Benjamin's topography of the mimetic body when they point out several “mimetic ciphers,” including “the nose—the physiognomic principium individuationis, symbol of the specific character of an individual, described between the lines of his countenance.” The context for their invocation of the nose indicates that Horkheimer and Adorno are, however, more concerned with the response to mimesis than to mimetic response. And it is one of many that tie the Jews to mimesis. Horkheimer and Adorno argue, “There is no antisemite who does not basically want to imitate his mental image of a Jew, which is composed of mimetic cyphers: the argumentative movement of a hand, the musical voice painting a vivid picture of things and feelings irrespective of the real content of what is said, and the nose” (DE 185). Implicit to this characterization is the assumption that the Jews, perhaps more than any other people, bear the traces of insufficiently repressed mimesis: “Undisciplined mimicry is the brand of the old form of domination, engraved in the living substance of the dominated and passed down by a process of unconscious imitation in infancy from generation to generation, from the down-at-heel Jew to the rich banker” (DE 184). The assumption of the mimetic Jew belongs to the antisemite: “This machinery [of using suppressed nature in the service of the domination which suppresses it] needs the Jews.… The gentile sees equality, humanity, in his difference from the Jew.… It matters little whether the Jews as individuals really do still have those mimetic (p.296) features which awaken the dread malady, or whether such features are suppressed” (DE 185, 182, 185). Like Benjamin, Horkheimer and Adorno discern that the antisemites justify their hatred of the Jews on spurious notions of instinct and racially different physiology; they also concur with Benjamin's speculation that the repudiation of the physical nature of the Jews is part of a general turning against nature in the modern.167
As part of this analysis of antisemitism, Horkheimer and Adorno examine how the rationalized body, disciplined against nature, reacts with disgust, embarrassment, and ultimately violence before any manifestation of mimetic behavior: be it a gesture or an odor. Benjamin's colleagues evoke the foetor Judaicus when they tie smell to the “disinfecting” intentionality of antisemitism that led to the Shoah:
The sense of smell is considered a disgrace in civilization.… As a despised and despising characteristic, the mimetic function is enjoyed craftily. Anyone who seeks out [wittert] “bad” smells, in order to destroy them, may imitate sniffing to his heart's content, taking unrationalized pleasure in the experience. The civilized man “disinfects” the forbidden impulse by his unconditional identification with the authority which prohibited it; in this way the action is made acceptable.… This is the schema of the antisemitic reaction. (DE 184)
They describe this schema as “deeply imprinted … a ritual of civilization” (DE 171). Antisemitism and its image of the Jew as embodied mimesis are coeval with civilization. In an apparent reversal of Klages, Horkheimer and Adorno depict the relationship of antisemite and Jew as one of antitype and type. Antisemites mimic the mimics rather than nature; they endeavor not to become one with nature but to dominate it—above all, in themselves. Antedating this mimesis of mimesis is a
Antisemitism transforms the Jew into the feared mimetic nature: “The mere fact that a person is called a Jew is an invitation forcibly to make him over into a physical semblance of that image of death and distortion” (DE 186).
false projection. It is the counterpart of true mimesis.… Mimesis imitates the environment, but false projection makes the environment like itself. For mimesis the outside world is a model which the inner world must try to conform to: the alien must become familiar; but false projection confuses the inner and outer world and defines the most intimate experiences as hostile. (DE 187)
(p.297) Horkheimer and Adorno's histories of mimesis and of smell are inextricably tied to the history of Judentum in Europe. As “civilization” developed through its ongoing struggle against humanity's mimetic nature, the Jews became the projection screen for the dominant culture's fears of uncontrolled mimesis. And with the advent of emancipation, assimilating Jews recapitulated that same history:
Having abandoned their old world of Erfahrungen, the stinking Jews became disgusting to themselves.
But especially where a nation (the Jews, for example) was brought by its own destiny to change to a new form of social life, the time-honored customs, sacred activities, and objects of worship were magically transformed into heinous crimes and phantoms.… From the reflex of disgust [Ekel] at excrement or human flesh to the suspicion of fanaticism, laziness, and poverty, whether intellectual or material, there is a long line of modes of behavior which were metamorphosed from the adequate and necessary into abominations. (DE 92)
The Forces, Means, and Relations of (Re)production, or …
To read what was never written.
—BENJAMIN, “On the Mimetic Faculty”
Just as Benjamin had endeavored to reappropriate the notion of the commodity by blasting it out of the homogeneous course of events and then both resituating and revalorizing it within a new configuration,168 so he also sought to rescue mimesis (reproduction) and aura-affiliated smell from their antisemitic associations and release their “image[s] of redemption.” Did Benjamin simply ignore the antisemitic utterances, the social discourse of the stinking mimetic Jew, that traverses the work of Klages and others, and instead rescue what he could from them for his own critical configurations?169 Or was he traumatized by the catastrophic configuration of social representations of smell, mimesis, and antisemitism that those splenetic critics Horkheimer and Adorno would sniff out during that state of emergency for the Jewish people, the Shoah, such that this olfactive image did not so much “flit by” or dissipate as leave its mimetic (rather than semiotic) traces on his corpus? Or finally, did he, however unconsciously and however contradictorily, embrace these allegations and revalue them? Even as this chapter has mapped out Benjamin's olfactive shock experiences and their consequences, even as it has recovered from (p.298) his part-ideological, part-traumatic anosmia the seemingly “inconsequential and buried” (AP 364/PW 460 [J77, 1]) scents that configure his work, a case can be made for this last redemptive possibility.
In writing about aura, Benjamin had also sought to configure the idea of redemption in a profane age. Yet, for Benjamin, aura is absent from the modern world except in the intimate gaze of a (nature) lover or in the mémoire involontaire of a Proust; or rather, aura is ever present in such grotesque simulacra of itself as the fetishized commodity and the Führer. The name Aura in Benjamin's critical vocabulary does not so much describe what is as much as it embodies the difference between the modern and prehistory. And it is doubly emblematic of the great gulf between the noumenal and the phenomenal that characterizes the modern: in its utopian-nostalgic form, aura endeavors to satisfy our longings for a world before separation and difference, a world suffused with the noumenal, a world of unmediated mimetic interaction. And conversely, in its illusory form, aura severs all ties with the sacred even as it simulates the ritual relationships of distance and domination; moreover, it occludes its own unsaid conditions of production beneath the veils of the natural and the supernatural. Redemption, for this modern ersatz aura, is death. Moreover, restoring the prehistoric aura and its noumenal effusions as the basis of material social life appears impossible.
Yet just as aura was paired with mimesis in prehistory, it was also opposed, in the “Work of Art in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility,” to “reproduction.” Just as the development of language led to transformations in the disposition of the mimetic faculty, modern technological change has also had its effects. In his response to the 1936 version of Benjamin's theses on art, Adorno dismissed the revolutionary possibility of reproduction—its production of a more critical and thereby a domination-resisting audience—that it announced.170 He also failed to recognize Benjamin's notion of “reproduction” as portending mimesis's second nature, a transformation by the hybridization of nature with technology that will “overcome” (überwindet) capitalist relations of production.171 Benjamin generated this essay in order to define the tendencies of the development of art under then-present conditions of production and how these “neutralize a number of traditional concepts [that had been denied to Judentum], creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery.” The first thesis begins by invoking Benjamin's materialist forebear: “When Marx undertook his analysis of the capitalist mode of production.…” Benjamin then argues that Marx's approach allowed him to demonstrate how capitalist production would lead to “the creation of conditions which would make (p.299) it possible for capitalism to abolish itself.” In the remaining theses the morphemic/semantic field of Reproduktion takes over. When “production” returns in the essay, it becomes reproduction. Just as the Dadaists abolished the aura when “they branded [their works] as reproductions with the very means of [their] production” (WA 119), so too will technological reproduction, Benjamin appears to imply, generate the political conditions for the abolition of capitalism.
New forms of reproduction have facilitated the possible triumph of a new objectivity in which the (non)sensuous similarity of the reproducible fact would become truth and supplant both the aura and mimesis. In “Work of Art” Benjamin examines the new forms of reproductive art such as photography and film. Such art contravenes the values of auratic art because it subverts the authority and authenticity of the original, erases distance, undermines tradition, and opens access. Rather than denigrating these arts, he analyzes how they offer access to regions that are elided in the auratic arts: they
Technological reproduction can undercut the authority of the simulacra, the unoriginal originals of commodified art, and reveal the phenomenological and the structural conditions for representation; that is, it can betray the disjunction between appearance (mimetic/realistic semblance) and its production (assemblage). This is not simply demystification: countering the veiling of the forces, means, and relations of production by the forms of appearance by eradicating (vernichten) those veils. Rather, the revaluation of reproduction could engender a transformation of the subject's engaged perception that mirrors the aesthetic portrayed in Benjamin's discussion of Ottilie in his essay on Goethe's Elective Affinities: “For the beautiful is neither the veil nor the veiled object but rather the object in its veil.”172
can bring out aspects that are accessible only to the lens (which is adjustable and can easily change viewpoint) but not to the human eye; or [they] can use certain processes … to record objects which evade natural optics altogether.… [They] can place the copy of the original in places that the original itself cannot attain. (WA 103)
Although Benjamin privileges photography and, especially, film in the essay, he recognizes that “the tasks which face the human apparatus at historical turning points cannot be performed solely by optical means.… They are mastered gradually—taking their cue from tactile reception—through habit” (WA 120; emphasis in original). Technological reproduction can generate new forms of sensory appropriation of the world by which the receptor (p.300) begins to embody, that is, to mime,173 the otherness of the world. It can explode the “prison-house” of the modern everyday—“Our bars and city streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories”—and “bring to light entirely new structures of matter … disclose quite unknown aspects within” familiar movements. A “space informed by human consciousness gives way to a space informed by the unconscious” (WA 117). Such reproduction presents the redemptive possibility of providing a countervailing force to the culminating appearance of the ersatz aura: fascism.
With its ties to smell, however, the name Aura itself implicates a different configuration that escapes the ideologically constrained intentionality of Benjamin's language. Since all language is, by definition, imbued with the noumenal “aromata”174 as well as with the historical unsaid (i.e., with the conditions for its production, such as exclusion), every linguistic act has an objective—olfactive—character. Readers, by following their noses, may recover another dimension of experience, the other language emanating from Aura. While fragrance recalls the nostalgic idyll of childhood prehistory, the redemptive character of such sweet smells is compromised by this idyll's all-too-personal character and by its inner contradiction: childhood memory draws upon a phantasmagoria generated by bourgeois artifice, self-delusion, and expropriation. But the odorous remainder emitted by aura also suggests that a derogatory Jewish identification—the telltale stench of the miming Jew—as well as a particular strand of Jewish messianic thinking are being reworked in Benjamin's work. In writing about Aura and Mimesis Benjamin did not generate an analysis of the Jewish Question; rather, he was engaging the Other Jewish Question. That is, as a mediation of his situation, Aura also entailed a transfiguration of Jewish identification that contributed to the redemptive possibilities opened by the term. And Aura, in particular, represents a redemptive moment in which olfaction, as the sense of materiality and as the character of that which the dominant class fears and thus seeks to foreclose, escapes the optics of discipline and control. Adorno, who with Horkheimer had released the odorous dimension of mimesis in order to analyze antisemitism, concluded his introduction to the first edition (1955) of Benjamin's Schriften by invoking an olfactive reverie of Nietzsche's Zarathustra to describe the redemptive power of Benjamin's thought: “And a new scent, one bringing salvation, already surrounds [the earth]—as does a new hope.”175 This profane stench, as the trace of otherness in the everyday, seeps by means of reproduction through the “strait gate” (TPH 264 [Thesis xviiiB]) of the redemption from the forces of totality and identity.
(p.301) Thus, as Kafka puts it, there is an infinite amount of hope, but not for us.
—BENJAMIN, “Some Reflections on Kafka”
As this and the preceding chapters have shown, engaging the Other Jewish Question is a dangerous business: these Jewish-identified individuals made themselves vulnerable to legitimating the views of the oppressors and to yielding to self-hatred,176 as well as to internment in “historicism's bordello” (TPH 262 [Thesis xvi]).177 The problems of Jewish identification in Europe since the Enlightenment could not be overcome by either acculturation or achievement. Each individual Jewish strategy was met in the dominant culture by a counter interpretation. Acculturating Jews were informed: Jews cannot become Europeans, they can only imitate them. And the accomplished Jews were told: Jews cannot create; they can only either re-create or corrupt. In this hostile environment, the Jews may not have been completely self-determining, but neither were they totally at the mercy of their enemy's power to define and represent, not just themselves as Jewish-identified, but also the means, especially the corporeal signifiers, by which that power was exercised. It is the genius of the individuals examined in this work that has granted insight into the complex forms, institutions, and practices of identification of this particular time and place. While the present reader already knows—as those examined in The Other Jewish Question eventually learned—that redemptive self-fashioning and utopian social integration by the Jewish-identified were not realizable in their present, he or she has been able to observe how they endeavored to effect a Stillstand and defer any of the Endlösungen to the Jewish Question that would result in their nihilation178—alas, not indefinitely, as the reader also knows. More, he or she has also recognized another set of responses by these individuals to their Other Jewish Question: how those shards of representation, by which they (and all the Jewish-identified) would be excluded, had been, in part, subjected to acts of bricolage, gathered up and reassembled so as to portray the rise and possible demise of those forces, means, and relations of exclusion called modernity.
During the course of The Other Jewish Question and its epidemiological collation and physiognomic examination of diverse Jewish corporeal identifications, those quasi-objects mediating the Zweiheit of Deutschtum and Judentum between the Enlightenment and the Shoah, the reader may have “set off calmly on journeys of adventure among its far-flung debris” (Benjamin, WA 117), but found him- or herself repeatedly banging into the apparent flotsam of catastrophic representation (“the pile of debris”/Trümmerhaufen; TPH 258 [Thesis ix]), while hoping these remains were instead (p.302) the jetsam of messianic recuperation. And at the conclusion of its presentation (Darstellung), he or she may then expect a resolution or at least a distillation of this conflux. Instead, the reader and I find ourselves standing before one of Benjamin's theses on the concept of history, one drawn from the paraliponema that were included in the editorial apparatus for the Gesammelte Werke's republication of the canonical selection and arrangement of the “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” This extract draws upon a syntagm of a “nodal point,” a “quasi-object,” already engaged in this work: Zopf (queue).
Found among Benjamin's Nachlaß, the passage comes from “New Theses C”; one can only speculate whether it would have been added to and thereby completed some “final” collation:
Or rather, like any good supplement—or a fetish such as the Zopf—this thesis might substitute for the disavowed, phantasmically whole original. The beauty of this braid—Benjamin's prose remainder? what it depicts?—implicates the apparently manifest truth of this historiographical extension, but the violence it both conceals—
Only when the course [Ablauf] of historical events runs through the historian's hands smoothly, like a thread, can one speak of progress. If, however, it is a frayed bundle [Strang] unraveling into a thousand strands that hang down like unplaited hair [aufgelöste Flechter], none of them has a definite place until they are all gathered up [aufgenommen] and braided [geflechten] into a coiffure.179
—and calls forth—that is, whether like the Zopfabschneider, for whom “the need to carry out the castration which he disavows has come to the front”180 or those who are initiated to rebellion by “cutting off of the queue, the queue being a sign of subjection”181—betrays the truth of its construction. Yet is the only alternative, to paraphrase Chairman Mao, may a thousand strands unravel?
just as … no document of civilization … is not at the same time a document of barbarism … barbarism taints also the manner in which it is transmitted from one owner to another (TPH 256 [Thesis vii])
Yet another Jewish question.
(1.) Benjamin, letter to Gershom Scholem (October 22, 1917); Correspondence, 98.
(2.) Cf. Arendt, “Introduction,” 17–18.
(3.) Benjamin, letter to Florens Christian Rang (18 November 1923); Benjamin, Correspondence, 215.
(4.) These opposing interpretations of Benjamin, most prominently represented by Scholem and Adorno, respectively, are summarized by Jennings, Dialectical Images, 5–11.
(5.) See Benjamin, “Image,” 214.
(6.) Benjamin, letter to Gershom Scholem (22 October 1917); Briefe, 1:153; Correspondence, 99.
(7.) In concluding “Heine und die Folgen” (Heine and His Consequences), an indictment of contemporary Germanophone journalism and journalists and their supposed sources in the Jewish-identified writer Heine and his work, a denunciation that provoked years of controversy and polemic in Germanophone literary circles, Karl Kraus observes: “Heine was a Moses who with his staff struck the rock of the German language … water did not flow out of the rock … but rather Eau de Cologne”; translated in Reitter, The Anti-Journalist, 105. Originally published in Die Fackel 329–30 (August 1911): 6–33 and as a separate pamphlet; the essay has been republished in Goltschnigg, Kraus Über Heine (165–88), along with other writings on Heine by Kraus.
(8.) Benjamin, “Image,” 214.
(9.) This chapter focuses on the specific names Aura and Mimesis (as well as their mimetic correlates Ähnlichkeit and Reproduktion); I engage a more extensive analysis of Benjamin's problematic of the “name” in Geller, “Aromatics.”
(10.) Unlike Benjamin's similarly characterized “trace” (see n. 105 below), while we may have preserved only a trace, a remnant, of our mimetic ability, mimesis itself does not originate with the remnant, the trace, of the object.
(12.) See Salzani, Constellations, esp. 28–29, on the making-present (in the senses of both darstellen and vergegenwärtigen) of what cannot be “pinned down” (deuten).
(13.) Benjamin, “Image,” 205.
(14.) Benjamin's olfactive organ apparently eluded Gerhard Richter's recent physiognomic study, Benjamin and the Corpus. Not only did it not make the series of chapter-heads “Corporeality,” “Face,” “Body,” “Ear,” and “Eye,” but “Smell” failed even to rate an entry in the index.
(15.) As Pulzer notes in Rise of Political Antisemitism, “The decline of the overtly antisemitic organizations after 1900 is deceptive. In Germany the various parties quarreled and vegetated; at the same time antisemitism was more openly accepted than before by several other parties, an increasing number of political and economic interest groups, and many nonpolitical bodies, such as students' corps.… [Hence] a decline in sectarian fanaticism and in the vehemence of antisemitic propaganda combined with the widespread acceptance of mild, almost incidental antisemitic opinions” (189). In his “Third Thoughts” published some forty years later, Pulzer intensified his earlier observation: “The ideological component of nationalism and of the more popular völkisch organizations, to the extent that they were increasingly accepted in the population, should have received greater attention. This would have helped in better understanding the spread of ‘secondary antisemitism’ as one component of a larger cluster of political emotions” (“Third Thoughts,” 168).
(16.) In “A Berlin Chronicle,” Benjamin describes wandering the streets of Berlin on Rosh Hashanah in search of the Reform synagogue when “an immense pleasure filled [him] with blasphemous indifference toward the service [Gottesdienst], but exalted the street in which I stood as if it had already intimated to me the services of procurement [Kupplerdienste] it was later to render to my awakened drive” (BC 53). Dienst performs a metonymic service of conjoining sect and sexuality. Scholem had reservations about the retention of this section, now titled “Sexual Awakening,” in Berlin Childhood: “I urgently advised [Benjamin] to delete this section because it was the only one in the whole book in which Jewish matters were explicitly mentioned, thus creating the worst possible associations”; cited in Scholem, “Benjamin and His Angel,” 206. Also see Kafka, Father, 74–85, and Scholem, From Berlin. Schnitzler, Road, brilliantly depicts the comparable situation of Germanophone Austrian Jews.
(17.) See M. Goldstein, “Deutsch-jüdischer Parnaß,” 192; cf. Arendt, “Introduction,” 30–31, and Scholem, “Jews and Germans,” 88–89.
(18.) Cf. G. Smith, “Benjamins frühe Auseinandersetzung,” and Rabinbach, “Between Enlightenment.”
(20.) Briefe, 1: 61–62; cited in G. Smith, “Benjamins frühe Auseinandersetzung,” 329.
(21.) Letter to Ludwig Strauß, 10 October 1912; Briefe, 1:69.
(22.) Letter to Ludwig Strauß, 10 October 1912; Briefe, 1:69–70.
(23.) Scholem, From Berlin, 28–29; cf. Scholem, Friendship, 35: “even his [i.e., Benjamin's] grandparents celebrated Christmas as a ‘national festivity.’ ”
(24.) Or western: Benjamin believed that he was related on his father's side to the Van Gelderns, a family of Dutch court Jews which included among others Heinrich Heine's mother and Salomon van Geldern who was famous in the eighteenth century for his travels in North Africa; cf. Scholem, Friendship, 18.
(25.) Cf. Benjamin, Berlin Childhood, 100–103. Benjamin stocks his memory with details from Schiller's nationalist ode to the German bourgeois household, “Das Lied von der Glocke” (The Song of the Bell). Benjamin's family, like many assimilated Jews, may well have endeavored to prove their Germanness by mimetically reproducing the stock self-images of the German bourgeoisie offered up by their national poet. As Scholem observed, “The significance of Friedrich Schiller for the formation of Jewish attitudes toward Germany is almost incalculable. … For to generations of Jews within Germany [Schiller] represented everything they thought of, or wished to think of, as being German—even when, in the last third of the nineteenth century, his language had already begun to sound hollow” (“Jews and Germans,” 79).
(27.) Kant, Anthropology, 50, 50–51; cf. Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics, 139–40.
(28.) Other evocative references include the depiction of the pedestrians' restlessness and gesticulation, which were a part of the standard inventory of Jewish caricature; the image of servility too was a frequent component. Buttressing the implicit analogy is Benjamin's qualifier and renewed citation that follow this passage: “One might think [Poe] was speaking of half-drunken wretches. Actually, they were ‘high-class people, merchants, lawyers, and stock-jobbers’ ” (OB 171; translation modified).
(29.) One of the most famous accounts appears in Interpretation of Dreams where Freud recalls his father's account of his assault as a young man (c. 1830s) by a Christian lout on the sidewalks of Freiberg (Interpretation, 197); on Freud's acting out and working through see Geller, On Freud's.
(30.) Gomperz, “Über die Grenzen,” 384, 386; cited in Reitter, The Anti-Journalist, 49.
(32.) Hartmann, Das Judentum, 168.
(34.) Including women and their necessary role in human reproduction. Indeed, that necessity as prima facie evidence of the “autonomous and autochthonous” male's unavoidable dependence and derivativeness engendered an all-the-more extensive structure of representations and institutions to keep these irreplaceable actors in their appropriate and separate place. See Planert, “Der dreifache Körper”; also see Schaser, “Einige Bemerkungen,” 70, drawing on Planert's work; and Geller, “Hegel's Woman.”
(35.) In Das Judentum, amid his characterization of the Jews as experts in disguise (Verhüllung, 178) and the reproductive arts, von Hartmann implicitly analogizes the Jews who readily enter journalism to indecent actresses: since “[d]ecent natures [Anständige Naturen] resolve to put themselves at the service of the press only with difficulty and reluctance, just as a decent [anständiges] young woman only resolves to go on stage with difficulty and reluctance” (171). On writing for money as prostitution, see Gallagher, “George Eliot.”
(36.) On the millennia-old moral critique of mimesis, also see Derrida, “Double Session”; Agacinski, Mimesis; and Jay, “Mimesis and Mimetology.”
(37.) And it remained a leifmotif on into the twentieth: in his 1925 diatribe on the role of those of Jewish descent in literary studies, the leading völkisch and later National Socialist literary critic and historian Adolf Bartels wrote, “The Jewish people have and always had the propensity for [the theater, because] the Jews have a very great talent for mimicry, they can imitate almost everything other [than themselves]” (Herkunft, 37); cited in Kilcher, “Theater,” 212.
(38.) Characterized as a prostitute of problematic gender by the Viennese satirist Kikeriki in his Sarah's Reisebriefe, Sarah Bernhardt epitomizes the mimetic Jew. Cf. Gilman, “Salome,” and Ockman, “Jewish Star.”
(39.) Ockman, “Jewish Star,” 123 and n. 6, discusses the Jewish identification of both Bernhardt and Rachel (born Elisa-Rachel Félix), who was generally considered as the other great French actress of the nineteenth century, as well as the identification of the Jews with the theater, best exemplified by French novelist and playwright Octave Mirbeau's antisemitic screed, “Le Théâtre juif.”
(40.) Nietzsche, Gay Science, 317.
(41.) Cited in Maugue, L'Identité masculine, 37.
(42.) Stoecker, “Unsre Forderungen,” 147, 153; English trans. in Massing, Rehearsal, 281, 287.
(43.) Treitschke, “Unsere Aussichten,” 11–12; English trans. in Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, Jew in the Modern, 344.
(46.) Cf. Robertson, Kafka.
(47.) Darwin, Journal of the Beagle, 206; cited in Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity, 75.
(48.) Darwin, Origin, 205; cited in Norris, “Darwin,” 1232.
(49.) Lombroso, Antisemitismus, 53; cited in Hart, Healthy Jew, 120–21.
(50.) Andree, Zur Volkskunde, 153.
(51.) Cf. Norris, “Darwin,” 1233–34, who writes that for Nietzsche, “certain organic processes (protective imitation, camouflage, adaptive behavior, morphological resemblance) and intellectual acts (deception, lying, trickery, rationalization, self-delusion) are treated as homologous and analogous.”
(52.) Hundt-Radowsky, Judenspiegel, 90–91.
(53.) Klages, “Typische Ausdrucksstörungen,” 60.
(54.) See Klages, “Einleitung,” 81; citing Klages, “Typische Ausdrucksstörungen,” 60–62; Graphologie, 78–80 and nn.
(55.) Klages, “Einleitung,” 81, 81.
(56.) Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, 18–19. Wittgenstein, although born and raised a Catholic, nevertheless perceived himself as a Jew because of his Jewish forebears (three born-Jewish grandparents)—and his mental picture became officially recognized under the Nuremberg Laws in his native Vienna after the Anschluss. At some point between 1939 and 1940 Wittgenstein would return to this botanical image when describing the lack of genius in himself and in that of another “Jewish thinker,” Sigmund Freud: “I believe that my originality (if that is the right word) is an originality belonging to the soil rather than to the seed. (Perhaps I have no seed of my own.) Sow a seed in my soil and it will grow differently than it would in any other soil. Freud's originality too was like this, I think. I have always believed—without knowing why—that the real germ of psychoanalysis came from Breuer, not Freud” (ibid., 36). Whether Wittgenstein was making a claim for Josef Breuer's genius or merely adopting a different rhetorical strategy to diminish Freud is unclear, since he had earlier wondered, given that Breuer too was Jewish: “Can one take the case of Freud and Breuer as an example of Jewish reproductiveness?” (ibid., 19).
(59.) Herzl, Complete Diaries, 1:10. Although the entry is dated Whitsuntide, 1895, Herzl is recalling a conversation from the previous summer with Ludwig Speidel.
(60.) Lessing, Jüdischer Selbsthaß, 174, mentions the eponymous collection, Apostata, in which “Sem” appeared, but not the essay itself. That essay, like its companions, had been published originally in the influential journal Die Gegenwart (The Present) that he obviously sought to supersede with the appearance of his own journal, Die Zukunft (The Future), the following year.
(61.) See the not-incorrect literal reading of Robertson, ‘Jewish Question,’ 305–06.
(62.) Harden, “Sem,” 147, 154.
(63.) Perhaps initially it was quoted more by antisemitic writers than by Jews; however, in recent years the article's depiction of the Western European Jew's “unathletic [unkonstruktiven] build … narrow [hohen] shoulders … clumsy [ungelenkte] feet … sloppy roundish [weichliche Rundlichkeit] shape” (Rathenau, “Höre, Israel!” 458; English trans. adapted from Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, Jew in the Modern, 268) has been repeatedly cited as an exemplary illustration of the representation of the “feminized Jew.” Also see the discussion of this essay in the introduction to this volume.
(64.) Among the perfidious effects of the Jewish-identified Heine on Germanophone journalistic imitators claimed by Kraus in Heine und die Folgen (Heine and His Consequences; see n. 7 above) was the transformation of contemporary writing into an ornament that masquerades as what it allegedly adorns. See Reiter, The Anti-Journalist, esp. 96–105
(65.) Rathenau, “Höre, Israel!” 458, 457. English trans. adapted from Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, Jew in the Modern, 268.
(66.) Nordau, “I. Kongressrede,” 51.
(67.) Lessing, Jüdischer Selbsthaß, 50; English trans. in Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, 274.
(68.) Perhaps it was a different kind of irony that led Lessing to omit discussion of an essay by one of his prime examples of a self-hating Jew, Harden's “Sem,” discussed above.
(69.) Weissenberg, Jüdischer Typus, 329; cited in Omran, Frauenbewegung, 49.
(70.) Blüher, Secessio Judaica, 19. Fritz Lenz argued in Baur, Fischer and Lenz, Menschliche Erblehre, that if diasporic Jewry does not appear to look so different from their hosts, it is because those Jews with an innate talent for mimicry had a selective advantage for survival over those without this ability—as can be observed in several varieties of butterflies; see Essner, Die “Nürnberger Gesetze,” 54–55.
(72.) Cf. Robertson, who also argues (Kafka, 164–69) that the application of Darwinian “mimicry” to the discussion of Jewish assimilation relates to Kafka's story. In his discussion Robertson notes how earlier criticism by Sokel (Kafka) and Norris (“Darwin”) had acknowledged the importance of imitation to the story but had failed to recognize the specifically Jewish provenance of Kafka's concern.
(73.) The search of early-twentieth-century Germanophone Austro- Hungarian Jews for any way out (“Weg ins Frei”), including mimesis, is the principal theme in Schnitzler, Road.
(74.) Kafka, “Report,” 258.
(75.) In “To Scholem on Kafka,” Benjamin notes: “Kafka's work is an ellipse; its widely spaced focal points are defined, on the one hand by mystical experience (which is, above all, the experience of tradition) and, on the other hand, by the experience of the modern city dweller. … The citizen of the modern state” (325). Benjamin offers an alternative characterization of the “experience of the modern city dweller”: the world according to the modern physicist also “displays the characteristic Kafka-gestus” (325).
(76.) Benjamin, “Franz Kafka,” 804, 805–06.
(77.) E.g., Parerga, 2:370, 375–76.
(78.) See Jaeger, Entdeckung.
(79.) See Berillon, “Psychologie de l'olfaction.”
(80.) See Günther, Rassenkunde.
(81.) Andree, Zur Volkskunde, 68.
(82.) Nietzsche, Anti-Christ, 161.
(83.) Benjamin was quite familiar with the work of this now rather obscure writer. In 1930 Benjamin composed a radio talk in which he discussed Panizza's work along with that of E. T. A. Hoffmann. Although Benjamin does not specifically refer to this story, he does refer to others from the collection in which it appeared (“Hoffmann und Panizza,” 645, 647). Moreover, one of Benjamin's favorite authors, Mynona (Salomo Friedländer), had earlier written a parody of “The Operated Jew,” “The Operated Goy,” a translation of which can be found in Zipes, Operated.
(84.) Heine, Complete Poems, 688. Then again, by doubling the source of Donna Bianca's olfactive discomfort, Heine deploys the stereotype in order to undermine its alleged Jewish specificity.
(85.) Horkheimer and Adorno, DE 184; cf., inter alia, Corbin, Foul; Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics; Rosario, Erotic Imagination; Rindisbacher, Smell of Books; Le Guérer, Scent; Gray, “Dialectic of ‘Enscentment’”; Howes, “Olfaction”; and Classen, Howes and Synnott, Aroma.
(87.) Kant, Anthropology, 50; also see Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics, 139–40.
(88.) Cf. Jaeger, Entdeckung, 108.
(89.) G.E. Smith, Comparative Anatomy, n.p.; cited in Ellis, Sexual Selection, 46.
(90.) Ellis, Sexual Selection, 55.
(91.) Freud, Civilization, 99 n., 106 n., 106 n., 106 n.
(92.) Benjamin, “Eduard Fuchs,” 495–500; in his discussion of upright gait in the Passagen-Werk, Benjamin (AP 80–81/PW 131–32 [B10, 2—B10a, 1]) shifts the terminology from the implicitly moral (i.e., “a kind of perversion”) to the mechanical (i.e., vertical and horizontal) and also cites Wilhelm Lotze, who questions the significance usually placed on the shift in orientation. Already in a 1920 fragment, “Wahrnehmung und Leib” (Perception and Body; 67) Benjamin had mused in a general way about the transformation in perception with the assumption of an upright gait.
(93.) Freud, Civilization, 100 n.
(95.) Not surprisingly, these last implications are not expressly argued by Freud. Whether motivated by ambivalence, identification, or disciplinary demands—especially the fear that psychoanalysis would be dismissed as an outgrowth of particular Jewish predilections rather than accepted as universal science—Freud rarely directly engaged antisemitism, yet his arguments were often deformed around unacknowledged racial representations. In his work he endeavored to undercut the presuppositions of antisemitic discourse, to appropriate and transform (or at least mitigate) its negative valuations, or to repress its conclusions, and, on occasion, he acted them out. See my On Freud's.
(96.) From the original version of his vignette “Mummerehlen,” in Berlin Childhood, 130. Cf. Stoessel, Aura, 178. Benjamin suggested the primordiality of such resemblance-seeing in a fragment found in his Nachlaß: “May one assume that the look was the first mentor of the mimetic faculty?” (“[Das Ornament],” 958).
(97.) While Illuminations was a translation of Illuminationen, a German collection of selected works, Reflections had no corresponding German volume or title.
(98.) “For the tasks which face the human apparatus of perception at historical turning points cannot be performed solely by optical means—that is, by way of contemplation. They are mastered gradually—taking their cue from tactile reception—through habit” (Benjamin, WA 120; emphasis in original). See, inter alia, G. Richter, Benjamin and the Corpus; Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity; Paterson, Senses; and Frisby, Fragments of Modernity. This citation from Benjamin's “Work of Art” is recontextualized below.
(100.) Buck-Morss does, however, acknowledge that “sight was not exclusively affected. Perfumeries burgeoned in the nineteenth century, their products overpowering the olfactory sense of a population already besieged by the smells of the city” (ibid.). She then cites Benjamin on smell drugging the sense of time (OB 184). While her comment on olfactive anaesthesia is quite accurate (see Corbin, Foul), as I discuss below her illustrative quote moves in a contrary direction.
(101.) Stoessel, Aura, 11.
(102.) When this verse emerges in “Some Motifs” it serves as a gloss on the notions of correspondances and mémoire involuntaire in the section (x) preceding Benjamin's introduction of the notion of the aura. See the discussion of this particular citation below.
(103.) Cf. Howes, “Olfaction”; Classen, Howes, and Synnott, Aroma.
(104.) Benjamin, “Image,” 214.
(105.) Indeed, this aspect of smell bears a similarity to the trace which Benjamin opposes to the aura: “The trace is the appearance of proximity, however remote the object that left it behind. Aura is the appearance of distance, however close the object that evokes it” (AP 447/PW 560 [M16a, 4]). Yet the overcoming of the Proustian and the Kantian subject by smell is more characteristic of the effect of aura: “In the trace we take possession of the object; in aura it takes possession of us” (ibid.). Also see Rolleston, “Politics of Quotation.”
(106.) Kant, Anthropology, 50.
(107.) That moment, Augenblick, literally translates as “eye glance” (one that is, apparently, a blink of the eye in duration), suggesting how the German language may constrain the understanding of epistemology to visual metaphors.
(108.) Benjamin, Origin, 35.
(109.) Benjamin's synesthestic evocation and sign of paradise sharply contrast with the confusion of senses, “smell, with your eyes, as if your nose resided in them,” in Lichtenberg's parodistic representations of the abysmal discussed in chapter 2 of this volume.
(110.) Cited from Rey, Fabricant de cachemires, 201–02.
(111.) For one such fantasy, see Schlegel, Lucinde, 61–63.
(112.) Benjamin prefaces this entry with “The bourgeois who come into ascendancy with Louis Philippe sets store by the transformation of nature into the interior.”
(113.) Benjamin had earlier yielded to such a bourgeois “nostalgic utopia” when he employed a vision of smell to mediate the romantic bourgeois opposition between city and nature. In his 1927 essay on Gottfried Keller, the (p.414) nineteenth-century German-Swiss realist novelist whose work enshrined as well as olfactively coded that opposition, Benjamin writes that Keller's “vision of the world” can be characterized by two odor-laced lines from the old Swiss national anthem: “Loveliest rose, although all others faded/you still smell sweetly on my barren shore” (Benjamin, “Keller G,” 292; “Keller E,” 58). On Benjamin's essay as a “nostalgic utopia”, see Witte, Walter Benjamin, 106. On the olfactive dimension of Keller, see Rindisbacher, Smell of Books, 72–86; and the discussion of Klages below.
(114.) Undated letter, 2:591; also see Fittler, Kosmos der Ähnlichkeit 340, n. 424.
(115.) He continues: “I believe that a whiff of the air was still present in the vineyards of Capri where I held my beloved in my arms” (Berlin Childhood, 39).
(116.) On the relationship between stars and aura in Benjamin's work, also see Mosès, Angel of History.
(117.) Nietzsche, “History,” 121, 121, 121.
(118.) On Nietzsche's privileging of olfactory perception for his genealogy of culture, see Blondel, Nietzsche, 113–24. Blondel writes, “Genealogy is properly speaking Otorhinology, a listening to an olfactory perception of the distant or profound body” (113), and then proceeds to cite an extensive selection of passages from Nietzsche's work that draw upon an olfactive hermeneutic.
(119.) Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, 326; 233.
(120.) Letter of Theodor W. Adorno to Benjamin (2 August 1935); Benjamin, Correspondence, 497–98. In response, Benjamin argues for the retention of Klages as part of a critique of his and Jung's notions of the archaic image. Cf. the editorial notes to “Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism,” which include Benjamin's correspondence with Adorno, Horkheimer, and Scholem on this matter; Tiedemann and Schweppenhäuser, “Anmerkungen,” 1066–92, esp. Benjamin's letters to Adorno (23 April 1937  and 10 July 1937 ), to Scholem (5 August 1937 ), and to Horkheimer (28 September 1938 ).
(121.) Roberts, Walter Benjamin, 178.
(122.) Fuld, “Die Aura”; Stoessel, Aura, 11 and n.
(123.) Just as Robespierre looked to ancient Rome in a time of crisis (TPH, 261 [Thesis xiv]), so too Benjamin—to the Rome imagined by Alfred Schuler. Although delivered during World War I, the lectures were not published until World War II (1940).
(124.) Roberts, Walter Benjamin, 104–09.
(125.) Also see Le Guérer, Scent, 196–97.
(126.) Klages, “Einleitung,” 8–9, 20–21.
(p.415) (127.) Wolters, Stefan George, 138; cited in Klages, “Einleitung,” 83. Klages apparently confirms the privilege of aroma, if not the judgment about his discernment of the native and the foreign, since he emphasizes this odorous—for him odious—passage. In “Einleitung,” Klages omits its author's name, claims the born-Protestant Wolters is Jewish (although under 1940 German law he could be so classified, since he was the grandson of a Russian-Jewish poet and translator), and changes the title of Wolter's book to The Book of Vengeance.
(128.) Letter to Scholem, 14 January 1926; Correspondence, 288; emphasis added. Also see Ziege, “Bedeutung,” 153–56, on Klages's antisemitic reading and reception of Bachofen. In a later letter to Scholem (15 August 1930), Benjamin alludes to Klages's antisemitism while praising his new philosophic tract, The Spirit as Adversary of the Soul: “It is without doubt a great philosophical, regardless of the context in which the author may be and remain suspect” (Correspondence, 366).
(129.) Wagner, Judaism, 83.
(130.) Luther's Bibel is more literal: “mein Riechen wird sein bei der Furcht des Herrn.”
(131.) Cited in Patai, Messiah Texts, 28–29. This talmudic passage is part of a tradition that ties smell to judgment and redemption. It was the smell of the sacrifice that bound Gd to humanity, and incense was perpetually burned at the Temple (cf. Exod. 30:7–8). Such aromatic offerings were a sign of a redemptive covenant. After the flood waters subsided Noah left the ark and “built an altar to the Lord … and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man’ ” (Gen. 8:20–21). Conversely, the censers of incense that Korah and his follow rebels wrongfully carried set them apart from the remainder of the Israelites and distinguished them alone for Gd's punishment (Num. 16:16–35); whether these censer-bearers would ever be redeemed remained a matter of much rabbinic debate (Patai, Messiah Texts, 198). This scene also shaped Benjamin's understanding of messianism. In his “Critique of Violence” Benjamin sees an image of the messianic end of human history (as well as of revolutionary change) in Gd's expiating annihilation of the odorous company of Korah (297–300).
(132.) While Benjamin plays upon the typicality and kitschiness of the lavender sachets of his reminiscence, he personalizes the experience.
(133.) Cf. his description in “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire” (48; “Das Paris,” 583) of the poet as the one who “comes to a halt every few moments to gather up the refuse he encounters.”
(134.) Cf. AP 349–50/PW 441 (J68, 4), in which he quotes Baudelaire, “Of Wine and Hashish,” describing the ragpicker as one who not only collects the (p.416) refuse of the city but catalogues it as well. Benjamin claims that Baudelaire the poet identifies with the ragpicker. Irving Wohlfahrt (“Et Cetera?”) depicts Benjamin the historian as ragpicker.
(135.) Benjamin, “Aussenseiter,” 225. See Witte, Walter Benjamin, 118.
(136.) Benjamin, “Das Paris,” 521; cf. “Paris,” 8. Also cf. AP 349–50/PW 441–42 (J68, 3—J68a, 6); Benjamin focuses on the ragpicker as proletarian, garbage as objects to be collected, and wine. See the discussion of the proletariat, lumpen and otherwise, in chapter 6 of this volume.
(137.) Baudelaire, Fleurs du Mal, 114.
(138.) “Das Paris,” 522; cf. “Paris,” 8.
(139.) The one quasi-exception (AP 343/ PW 433 [J64, 5]), in which Benjamin correlates a Baudelairean lament over the loss of spring's fragrance with the loss of aura in the modern, is discussed above.
(140.) Corbin, Foul, 146, 178, 185–86, 205–06.
(141.) Daudet, “Baudelaire,” 213, 254–55.
(142.) Corbin, Foul, 229, 229.
(143.) Cf. Harsin, Policing Prostitution; Bernheimer, Figures; Corbin, Women.
(145.) Cf. Kant, Judgment, 48–49 (§39).
(146.) Kant, Anthropology, 50; also see Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics, 139–40.
(147.) Kant, Judgment, 173–174 (§48).
(148.) Because it indicates even as it repudiates the real, the material, the detritus left over from history's victorious swath through the past—in sum, the objective realm that Benjamin hopes to redeem, to have redeemed—the disgusting smell embodies the ambivalent value-determinations that the word Ekel had long had for Benjamin. In his memoir of his friendship with Benjamin, Scholem recounts how “Ekul, which in contrast to Ekel was used in a highly positive sense” (Friendship, 55) was a favorite pet name shared between Benjamin and his wife Dora.
(149.) See Benjamin, WA 105–06, on the cult of beauty.
(150.) Adorno, “Actuality,” 128.
(151.) Among the other traits that were coded Jewish and played significant roles in Benjamin's work are atavistic ritual, urbanism, and France.
(152.) Benjamin, “[Das Ornament],” 958.
(153.) Benjamin, “Doctrine,” 697–98.
(154.) Benjamin, “Surrealism,” 179.
(155.) Benjamin, “Protokolle,” 588; 598. And with possible Jewish associations. During the early twentieth century, “[e]ven when betraying its closest affinity with other contemporary discourses, Jewish-national rhetoric favored this botanical metaphor [i.e., Stamm] over the preferred volkisch figure of (p.417) ‘blood.’ … [T]he concept of Stamm was generally used to identify the Jews as non-Germans” (Spector, Prague Territories, 162–63).
(156.) Neusner, Torah, 155.
(157.) And does not interfere with human reproduction.
(158.) Cf. Gonzalez-Crussi, Five Senses, 73.
(159.) Benjamin, “[Das Ornament],” 958.
(160.) Benjamin, “Juden,” 809. Cf. Scholem, Friendship, 36, 138.
(161.) Hess, Revival of Israel: Rome and Jerusalem, 58–59.
(162.) Freud, Jokes, 192, 191, 191, 190, 190.
(163.) Freud, Jokes, 192–93; emphasis added.
(164.) If these twin histories began with the repression of smell, then the return of smell—like mimesis and aura—offers Horkheimer and Adorno, if not a whiff of redemption, then a pessimistic commentary on humanity's dialectical fate. The concluding note of their work, “The Genesis of Stupidity,” begins with an allusion to Goethe's Faust I (cf. “Walpurgisnacht,” ll. 4067–68): “The true symbol of intelligence is the snail's horn with which it feels and (if Mephistopheles is to be believed) smells its way” (DE 256). If it scents any obstacle, it recoils, “becoming one with the whole” (ibid.). This oscillation of progress and petrification continues both ontogenetically and phylogenetically with a crucial dialectical shift: if mimetic defense impedes intellectual progress, the defense against mimesis distorts it. In an earlier discussion of the myth of Odysseus and Circe, Horkheimer and Adorno (DE 71 and n. 41) had already noted speculations about the relationship between smelling and reason. Having determined with the aid of Freud's footnotes from Civilization that “in the image of the pig the pleasure of smell is already reduced to the unfree snuffling of one who has his nose to the ground and renounces his upright carriage,” they cite a note from Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Heimkehr, 191: “Schwyzer has quite convincingly related noos [autonomous reason] to snorting and snuffling” etymologically. Smell, the zero-degree sense of intelligence and of mimesis, comes to symbolize, for Horkheimer and Adorno, the horn(s) of humanity's dilemma.
(165.) While Jay (Dialectical, 269–70) provides only the most incidental of genealogies for Horkheimer and Adorno's use of the term mimesis, Susan Buck-Morss (Origin, 87–88) at least mentions its long-playing role in the history of aesthetic speculation, from Plato and Aristotle on. In invoking Horkheimer and Adorno's adoption of the term, she discusses Benjamin's understanding of the notion; she does not relate that adoption to their application of the term to the analysis of antisemitism, nor in fact does she pay any but the most indirect attention to its use in that analysis.
(166.) Norris, “Darwin,” 1233. These consequences of Darwin's study of animal imitation for later understandings of mimesis are clearly borne out by Horkheimer and Adorno (DE 180–82).
(p.418) (167.) Cf. letter to Scholem (22 October 1917): “A principal component of vulgar antisemitic as well as Zionist ideology is that the gentile's hatred of the Jew is physiologically substantiated on the basis of instinct and race, since it turns against the physis.… that whatever basis and grounds [this principal component] may have, in its most primitive and intensive forms it becomes hatred for the physical nature of the one who is hated” (Benjamin, Correspondence, 99).
(168.) Cf., inter alia, Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity; Stoessel, Aura; Roberts, Walter Benjamin.
(169.) For example, one of Benjamin's biographers, Julian Roberts, serves up apologetic in the face of Benjamin's failure to explicitly repudiate their antisemitic positions, if not their work: “He knew perfectly well that Klages was an antisemite and near Fascist, and, what is more important, he wove Klages's ideas brilliantly into his own critique of that position” (Walter Benjamin, 218); also see McCole, Antinomies, 178–80. A more problematic view of such appropriation can be found in Adorno's response to Benjamin's Passagen-Werk exposé; letter of Theodor W. Adorno to Benjamin (2 August 1935); Benjamin, Correspondence, 494–503, esp. 497–98. Among other problematic influences on Benjamin, Carl Schmitt has been and remains contentious; cf. Weber, “Taking Exception”; Brederkamp, “From Benjamin.”
(170.) See Adorno's 18 March 1936 letter to Benjamin; Adorno and Benjamin, Complete Correspondence, 127–34. In Dialectic, “reproduction” functions as the “reproduction of the same thing” (DE 134).
(171.) Benjamin describes this second nature in the concluding section, “To the Planetarium,” of an earlier work (completed 1926), One-Way Street: “In technology, a physis is being organized through which mankind's contact with the cosmos takes a new and different form from that which it had in nations and families” (487). While Benjamin did not employ “[technische] Reproduktion” in that work, he did mobilize the language of so-called natural reproduction to characterize the means by which the current situation will be overcome. Benjamin concludes the section and therefore the work with the following incantation: “Living substance conquers [überwindet] the frenzy of destruction only in the ecstasy of procreation [Zeugnis]” (487). The opening dedication to One-Way Street already signaled this as a transformed and transformational reproduction: “This street is named/Asja Lacis Street/after her who/as an engineer [Ingenieur] /cut it through the author [im Autor durchgebrochen hat]” (444). The text and its trajectory resulted from a woman, characterized as a male technologist (Benjamin wrote Ingenieur, not Ingenieurin), having penetrated, broken the hymen of (durchbrechen is the German verb usually employed to describe the act of defloration) the male author.
(173.) To illustrate the new forms of apperception that take up these tasks, such as the recognition of the relation between appearance and production, Benjamin (WA 127 n. 22) invokes the mime: “[M]imesis [is] the primal form of all artistic activity. The mime [Nachahmende] presents what he mimes merely as semblance. And the oldest form of imitation had only a single material to work with: the body.… The mime presents his subject as a semblance. One could say that he plays his subject [Sache].” Also see Hansen, “Room-For-Play.”
(174.) Cf. Benjamin, “Doctrine” and “Mimetic.”
(175.) Nietzsche, Zarathustra, 189; cited in Adorno, “Introduction,” 16.
(176.) There is a not-dissimilar risk in my exhibiting the connections among anti-Jewish representations. By discussing such material—by reproducing the slurs of a Weininger or a Wagner—I navigate between the dual threat of the pornographic and the kitschy. I subject myself and my reader to the imagistic onslaught of verbal violence against the Jews. Yet I also risk trivializing those utterances and attitudes that would have such tragic consequences. But this material, even though it is obscene, is hardly trivial.
(178.) Also see Y. Weiss, “Identity and Essentialism,” 50–51.
(179.) Benjamin, “Paraliponema,” 403.