“Collecting Souvenirs [Andenken] in Walter Benjamin’s Late Work”

Adam R. Rosenthal, U.S.A., ID LLCE2016-290;        Collecting, for Benjamin, was both a topic of theoretical interest and a passion he enjoyed. As essays on children’s toys and personal libraries both attest, it was a practice that for him had wide-ranging social meaning, as well as one that he indulged in. This paper is an exploration of Walter Benjamin’s late writings on collecting. It focuses on those writings from the last ten years of his life in which, I argue, he begins to view the practice of collecting as an antidote to what he had elsewhere diagnosed as the “decline of the aura.” Precisely at the historical moment that mass technological reproduction begins to take hold in Europe, the collector arises and, Benjamin stresses, renders personal those material objects that had become largely impersonal. By examining the logic of collecting that Benjamin draws out in texts such as “Unpacking my Library,” “Convolute H,” and “Central Park,” I show in this paper that the practice of collecting not only serves for Benjamin as the alternative to what was otherwise experienced as a liquidation of memory, but also that it opens new possibilities for memory and memorialization within modernity.

Key Words: Collecting; Walter Benjamin; Souvenirs;