What does this text mean to me, how do I make use of it?
Walter Benjamin, 1928
These are days when no one should rely unduly on his "competence." Strength lies in improvisation. All the decisive blows are struck left-handed.
At the beginning of the long downhill lane that leads to the house of ---------, whom I visited each evening, is a gate. After she moved the opening stood henceforth before me like an ear that has lost the power of hearing.
A child in a night shirt cannot be prevailed upon to greet an arriving visitor. Those present, invoking a higher moral standpoint, admonish him in vain to overcome his prudery. A few minutes later he reappears, now stark naked, before the visitor. In the mean time he was washed.
The power of a country road is different when one is walking along it from when one is flying over it by airplane. In the same way, the power of a text is different when it is read from when it is copied out. The airplane passenger sees only how the road pushes through the landscape, how it unfolds according to the same laws as the terrain surrounding it. Only he who walks the road on foot learns of the power it commands, and of how, from the very scenery that for the flier is only unfurled plain, it calls forth distances, belvederes, clearings, prospects at each of its turns like a commander deploying soldiers at a front. Only the copied text thus commands the soul of him who is occupied with it, where as the mere reader never discovers the new aspects of his inner self that are opened by the text, that road cut through the interior jungle forever closing behind it: because the reader follows the movement of his mind in the free flight of daydreaming, whereas the copier submits it to command. The Chinese practice of copying books was thus a incomparable guarantee of literary culture, and the transcript a key to China's enigmas.
|Fast, Old Curios
Mike Wolf, 2001
Modernity teaches us that no one should rely on competence alone. Naivete bears power. Decisive blows are struck by the untrained hand.
At the beginning of the long downhill walkway that leads to the apartment of my friend, who I used to visit every night, is a gate. She has moved but the gate remains, an ear disconnected from all of the circuitry of hearing.
A child in p.j.'s refuses requests to greet an arriving visitor. Haunted by their own befuddled moralities the adults urge the kid to "get over it." Twenty minutes later the kid is back, now buck naked, in front of the visitor. The mean time was bath time.
The power of a road is different when one walks along it from when one is flying over it in an airplane. In the same way, the power of a text is different when it is read from when it is transcribed. Airplane passengers see how the road was pushed through the landscape, how it unfolds in accordance with the surrounding geologic features. The people who walk the road are opened up to the intricacies of its power, the tactical precision with which it calls forth distances, panoramas, clearings and prospects at each turn. All of which to the fliers are barely more than an unfurled plain. Only the act of transcribing a text commands the desires of those occupied by it, where as the readers won't nearly discover all the aspects of the self that a text can open, a road through some hairy place always closing behind: because the movement of readers is through the undifferentiated space of free flight and daydreams (with peanuts and tiny cups of soda) but the transcribers are at play with the strategies of the text. The practice of transcription, such as seen in the history of Chinese poetry, medieval manuscript illumination, and in the contemporary practice of plagiarism are an incomparable guarantee of literary culture, and the transcript is a key to the enigmas of cultural production.