– Autumn/Winter 2016

Not Now: A Conversation with Walter Benjamin

David Morris

Walter Benjamin, ‘Mondrian ’63–’96’, lecture at Cankarjev dom, organised by the Marxist Center and ŠKUC gallery, Ljubljana, 1986. All images courtesy Walter Benjamin

At the time of writing, the adult life of Walter Benjamin – the period of thirty years between 1910 and 1940 – is equal to the thirty years that have passed since the reappearance of Walter Benjamin into public life, in a cultural centre in Ljubljana in 1986.1 Benjamin’s writing these past thirty years (collected in the 2013 volume Recent Writings2), and the projects that surround him (such as the Museum of American Art3) have developed a theory of the copy as a meta-original, which is bound up with an ‘almost ethnographic’ approach towards the belief systems that sustain the field of contemporary art. Here the story of art is told through its founding myths, its rituals, believers and agnostics – its familiar events are retold and repeated until cracks and loops form in the historical record. If this approach is sometimes playful, it seems to say: how else to approach an analysis of the many terrible crises of the contemporary moment, except with a smile? It is also perhaps a counterweight to a much bigger joke, that of trying to step