March 29, 2009

A German Spring

Poverty of experience. This should not be understood to mean that people are yearning for new experience. No, they long to free themselves from experience; they long for a world in which they can make such pure and decided use of their poverty -- their outer poverty, and ultimately also their inner poverty -- that it will lead to something respectable. Nor are they ignorant or inexperienced. Often we could say the opposite. They have "devoured" everything, both "culture and people," and they have had such a surfeit it has exhausted them. . . . Tiredness is followed by sleep, and then it is not uncommon for a dream to make up for the sadness and discouragement of the day -- a dream that shows us in its realized form the simple but magnificent existence for which the energy is lacking in reality.

The existence of Mickey Mouse is such a dream for contemporary man. His life is full of miracles -- miracles that not only surpass the wonders of technology, but make fun of them. For the most extraordinary thing about them is that they all appear, quite without any of his supporters and persecutors, and out of the most ordinary pieces of furniture, as well as from trees, clouds, and the sea. Nature and technology, primitiveness and comfort, have completely merged. And to people who have grown weary of the endless complications of everyday living and to whom the purpose of existence seems to have been reduced to the most relief to find a way of life in which everything is solved in the simplest and most comfortable way, in which a car is no heavier than a straw hat and the fruit on a tree becomes round as quickly as a hot-air balloon. And now we need to step back and keep our distance.

We have become impoverished. We have given up one portion of the human heritage after another, and have often left it at the pawnbroker's for a hundredth of its true value, in exchange for the small change of the "contemporary." The economic crisis is at the door, and behind it is the shadow of the approaching war. Holding on to things has become the monopoly of a few powerful people, who, God knows, are no more human than the many; for the most part, they are more barbaric, but not in the good way.
--Walter Benjamin, "Experience and Poverty," 1934

Photomontage: John Heartfield