Adorno on Benjamin as friend

“The predominance of spirit in him had alienated him from his physical and even his psychological existence to an extreme degree. Something Schönberg said of Webern, whose handwriting reminded one of Benjamin’s, was true of Benjamin as well: he had imposed a taboo on animal warmth; a friend was hardly even permitted to put a hand on his shoulder, and even his death may be linked to the fact that on the last night in Port Bou the group with which he had fled gave him a single room for the sake of modesty, with the result that he was able to ingest unobserved the morphine he had in reserve for the utmost emergency. …

“In spite of this [the suicidal darkness], however, his aura was warm, not cold. He had a capacity to make others happy that far surpassed any such spontaneous capacity to make others happy: that of unrestrained gift-giving. The virtue Zarathustra praises as the highest, the gift-giving virtue, was Benjamin’s to such a degree that everything else was overshadowed by it: ‘Uncommon is the highest virtue and not useless; it is gleaming and gentle in its splendor.’ And when he called his chosen emblem — Klee’s Angelus Novus — the angel that does not give but takes, that too redeems one of Nietzsche’s ideas: ‘Such gift-giving love must approach all values as a robber,’ for ‘the earth shall yet become a site of recovery. And even now a new fragrance surrounds it, bringing salvation — and a new hope.’ Benjamin’s words, his silent, incorporeal, fairy-tale smile, and his silence all bear witness to this hope. Every time one was with him something otherwise irrevocably lost was restored — celebration. In his proximity one was like the child at the moment when the door to the room where the Christmas presents lie waiting opens a crack and the abundance of light overwhelms the eyes to the point of tears, more moving and more assured than any brightness that greets the child when he is invited to enter the room. All the power of thought gathered in Benjamin to create such moments, and into them alone has passed what the doctrines of theology once promised.” [From “Introduction to Benjamin’s Schriften”]

“Although he was not ascetic, and did not make the impression of being so, even in his appearance, there was something almost incorporeal about him. Benjamin, who had a control of his own ego that few others do, seemed alienated from his own physical being. … Just as his thought forms the antithesis to the existentialist conception of the person, empirically he seems, his extreme individuation notwithstanding, hardly a person at all but rather an arena for the movement of the content that forced its way to expression through him. … A remark Benjamin once made about his own handwriting — he was a good graphologist — to the effect that its chief intention was to reveal nothing, bears witness if nothing else to his attitude toward this dimension of himself.” [From “Benjamin the Letter Writer”]

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