The notebooks

[All these notes from Leslie’s Walter Benjamin’s Archive]

Benjamin’s archives were strategically placed to parasitize on the preservation of other people’s papers. He did a form of redundant storage, sending typescripts and notebooks on different subjects to different people, with lots of duplicates and drafts floating around, and in such a way that these items would be filed and archived with the recipient’s papers. To Alfred Cohn in 1928: “I will continue to ensure the completion of your collection of little grasses and stems from my field. This way, at least, there is the benefit, more for me than you, of there being another complete herbarium somewhere apart from my own.”

He kept several notebooks in parallel. Some for a diary, travel notes, and drafts of texts and letters; then a Catalogue of Items Read, and a booklet for the collection of epigraphs (“‘Attendre, c’est la vie’ / Victor Hugo.” or “‘Just as every town signifies a giant play room to a Gulliver, even the most scientific book contains its author’s playthings.’ / Else Lasker-Schüler / Concert Berlin / 1932”) — that same notebook was used for a collection of curious book titles.

His handwriting was so small that the 63-page notebook in the Scholem bequest contains 20 drafts or complete transcriptions of works — including both the Hölderlin essay and the Surrealism essay.

He used color and shape coding extensively: circles, squares, triangles (using them on strips of paper to set up pools of related material for longer texts like the Kafka studies).

To Scholem, 31 May 1933: “But now the moment has come when you must allow me to shake a few meager fruits from the tree of conscientiousness which has its roots in my heart and its leaves in your archive.”

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