Benjamin, Walter


On Hashish by Walter Benjamin

Protocol I: Highlights of the First Hashish Impression [by Walter Benjamin:] Written 18 December [1927]. 3:30 a.m.

1. Apparitions hover (vignette-like) over my right shoulder. Chill in this shoulder. In this context: “I have the feeling that there are 4 in the room apart from myself.” (Avoidance of the necessity to include myself.)

2. Elucidation of the Potemkin anecdote[1] by the explanation, be it suggestion: to present to a person the mask of their own face (i.e., of the bearer’s own face).

3. Odd remarks about aetheric mask [Äthermaske], which would (obviously) have mouth, nose, etc.

4. The co-ordinates through the apartment: cellar-floor/ horizontal line. Spacious horizontal expanse of the apartment. Music is coming from a suite of rooms. But perhaps the corridor [is] terrifying, too.

5. Unlimited goodwill. Suspension of the compulsive anxiety complex. The beautiful “character” unfolds. All of those present become comically iridescent. At the same time one is pervaded by their aura.

6. The comical is not only drawn out of faces but also out of situations. One searches out occasions for laughter. Perhaps it is for that reason that so much of what one sees presents itself as “arranged”, as “test”: so that one can laugh about it.

7. Poetic evidence in the phonetic: for a while at one point, no sooner had I made an assertion than I’d have used the very word in answer to a question merely by the perception ( so to speak) of the length of time in the duration of sound in either of the words. I sense that as poetic evidence.

8. Connection; distinction. Feeling of little wings growing in one’s smile. Smiling and flapping as related. One has among other things the feeling of being distinguished because one fancies oneself in such a way that one really doesn’t become too deeply involved in anything: however deeply one delves, one always moves on a threshold. Type of toe dance of reason.

9. It is often striking how long the sentences one speaks are. This, too, connected with horizontal expansion and (to be sure) with laughter. The arcade phenomenon is also the long horizontal extension, perhaps combined with the line vanishing into the distant, fleeting, infinitesimal perspective. In such minuteness there would seem to be something linking the representation of the arcade with the laughter. (Compare Trauerspiel book: miniaturizing power of reflection). [2]

10. In a moment of being lost in thought something quite ephemeral arises, like a kind of inclination to stylize [a few words here illegible] one’s body by oneself.

11. Aversion to information. Rudiments of a state of transport. Considerable sensitivity towards open doors, loud talk, music.

12. Feeling of understanding Poe much better now. The entrance gates to a world of grotesques seem to open up. I simply prefer not to enter.

13. Heating-oven becomes cat. Mention of the word ‘ginger’ in setting up the writing table and suddenly there is a fruitstand there, which I immediately recognize as the writing table. I recalled the 1001 Nights.

14. Thought follows thought reluctantly and ponderously.

15. The position which one occupies in the room is not held as firmly as usual. Thus it can suddenly happen –to me it transpired quite fleetingly –that the entire room appears to be full of people.

16. The people with whom one is involved (particularly Joël and Fränkel) are very inclined to become somewhat transformed: I wouldn’t say that they become alien nor do they remain familiar, but rather resemble something like foreigners.

17. It seemed to me: pronounced aversion to discuss matters of practical life, future, dates, politics. The intellectual sphere is as spellbinding as is the sexual at times to persons possessed, who are absorbed in it.

18. Afterwards with Hessel in the cafe. Departure from the spirit-world. Wave farewell.

19. The mistrust towards food. A special and very accentuated instance of the feeling which a great many things occasion: “Surely you don’t really mean to look that way!”

20. When he spoke of ‘ginger’, H[essel]‘s writing table was transformed for a second into a fruitstand.

21. I associate the laughter with the extraordinary fluctuations of opinion. More precisely stated, it is, among other things, connected with the considerable sense of detachment. Furthermore, this insecurity which possibly increases to the point of affectation is to a certain extent an outward projection of the inner feeling of ticklishness.

22. It is striking that the inhibiting factors which lie in superstition, etc.,and which are not easy to designate, are freely expressed rather impulsively without strong resistance.

23. In an elegy of Schiller’s it is called “The Butterfly’s Doubting Wings” [“Des Schmetterlings zweifelnder Flügel”].[3] This in the connection of being exhilarated with the feeling of doubt.

24. One traverses the same paths of thought as before. Only they seem strewn with roses.

Protocol II: Highlights of the Second Hashish Impression [by Walter Benjamin:] Written 15 January 1928. 3:30 p.m.

The recollection is less vivid although the reverie [Versunkenheit] was of a diminished intensity compared to the first time. To be precise, I was not as lost in thought [versunken], but more profoundly inward. Also, the gloomy, strange, exotic passages of the rausch haunt the recollection more than the luminous ones.

I recall a satanic phase. The red of the walls became the determining factor for me. My smile took on satanic features: although it assumed more the expression of satanic knowledge, satanic satisfaction, satanic repose than the satanic, destructive effect. The sense of those present in the room as being submerged intensified: the room became more velvety, more glowing, darker. I named it Delacroix.

The second, quite intense observation was the game with the adjoining room. In general, one begins to play games with spaces. Beguilements of one’s sense of direction arise. What’s recognized in an alert state in the quite unpleasant displacement which is accidentally conjured when, traveling at night on the rear seat of a train, one imagines one’s traveling on the front seat or the reverse, can be experienced as beguilement from the translation of motion into the static.

The room disguises itself before our eyes, wraps itself up like an alluring creature in the costumes of the dispositions. I experience the feeling that not only the imperial coronation of Charlemagne, but the murder of Henry IV, the ratification of the Treaty of Verdun and the murder of Egmont were enacted in the next room. Things are only mannequins and even the great world-historical events are only costumes beneath which they exchange glances of assent with nothingness, with the base and the banal. They respond to the ambiguous winking of nirvana across the way. To resist becoming implicated in any way in such assent, then, is what accounts for the “satanic satisfaction” previously referred to. This is also the root of addiction, to immensely heighten the collusion with non-existence by intensifying the dosage. Perhaps it is no self-deception to say that in this state one develops an aversion towards the free, so-to-speak uranian atmosphere in which thoughts of the “outside” become almost agonizing. Unlike the first time, there is no longer the friendly, amiable lingering in the room out of pleasure in the situation for its own sake. Rather, a thick, self-woven, self-spun spiderweb in which world affairs hang strewn about like the corpses of insects sucked dry. Here, too, the rudiments of a hostile stance towards those present in the room take shape; fear that they will become a bother or could drag one down.

Yet despite its depressive elements, this rausch has its cathartic outcome which, if not blissful like the last, nonetheless has its ingenious side which is not without its charm. Except that this comes to a peak as the effect wears off, which sets forth the context of depression more clearly. For this reason the increase of dosage could, under certain circumstances, play a part in the depressive character.

Double structure of this depression: first fear and then indecision in related questions of practicality. This indecision has gained mastery: suddenly a coercive temptation is tracked down to a very concealed motive [Moment]. The possibility of yielding to it somewhat with the prospect of overcoming it is therefore attained.

Hunger set as an oblique axis through the system of the rausch.

The great hope, inclination, longing to approach the new, the untouched in the rausch can hardly be attained any longer in elated fluttering, rather in tired, self-absorbed, relaxed, idle, sluggish downhill mutation. In this descent, one still believes in developing a certain friendliness, a certain attractiveness [Attrativa] in order to carry friends along with one’s dark-edged smile, half Lucifer, half Hermes traducens, no longer the spirit and human being of the last experience. Less human, more daimon and pathos in this rausch.

The bad simultaneity of the need to be alone and the desire to stay together with others intensifies –a feeling which emerges in deeper fatigue, and which one would have indulged. One has the feeling of only being able to abandon oneself to this ambiguous winking of nirvana across the way entirely by oneself in the profoundest silence, and yet needs the presence of others as gently shifting relief figures on the pedestal of one’s own throne.

Hope as cushion which lies beneath one only just now taking effect.

The first rausch made me familiar with the fickleness of doubt; the doubting lay within me myself as creative indifference. The second experiment, however, caused things to appear dubious.

Tooth operation. Noteworthy memory shift. Even now I cannot free myself from the mental image, that the location had been on the left side.

On the way home as well, when the latch on the bathroom door is hard to lock, the suspicion: experimental set-up.

One hears the tuba mirans sonans, plants oneself in vain resistance against the tombstone.

It is well-known that when one closes one’s eyes and gently presses against them ornamental figures appear whose form we have no influence upon. The architectures and spatial constellations which one sees before one’s eyes on hashish have something related to them in their origins. When they appear and what they appear as is, first of all, involuntary, so lightning quick and unannounced do they show themselves. Then when they are suddenly there, effortless imagination comes more consciously in order to take certain liberties with them.

One may well say in general that the sensation of “outside”, “outdoors” is connected to a certain feeling of aversion. One must, however, sharply distinguish between the “outside” and the still quite extended field of vision, which for the person in the hashish rausch has exactly the same relation to the outside that the stage has to the cold street for a theatergoer. Now and then, however, there is something between the intoxicated person and their field of vision which –to continue the metaphor– is like a proscenium through which an entirely different air sweeps through the outside. The proximity of death formulated itself to me yesterday in the sentence: death lies between me and my rausch.

The image of autonomic signaling [Selbstanschluss]: certain mental things of themselves have their say, like toothaches, which at other times are rather fierce. All sensations, mental ones especially, have a more intense gradient and seize the words from their lair.

This “ambiguous winking of nirvana across the way” has certainly been nowhere as vivid as in Odilon Redon.

The first difficult impairment which took place was the inability to make plans in advance. When we examine it closer it is astonishing that we are capable of making plans from one day to the next, i.e. beyond our usual daydreams. Very difficult to have the dreams (or the rausch) on hashish at one’s disposal.

Bloch wanted to gently touch my knee. I had already perceived this touch long before the sensation of it reached me: I perceive it as a highly unpleasant violation of my aura. To understand that one has to bear in mind that all movements appear to gain in intensity and methodicalness and that as such they become perceived as unpleasant.

After-effect: perhaps a certain weakening of the will. But as the effect wears off exhilaration gains the upper hand. Does the recent tendency of my handwriting to incline upwards [aufwärtssteigende Schriftrichtung] (despite more frequent depressions) have anything to do with hashish?[4]

Another after-effect: on my way home I secure the latch and when there is some difficulty in doing so my first (and immediately corrected) thought: experimental set-up?

Although the first rausch stood morally high above the second, the climax of the intensity is indeed increasing. This is to be understood more or less in the following way: the first intoxication loosened and lured the things out of their customary world while the second rausch soon placed them in a new one extensively underlying this interstice.

Concerning the continuous digressions in hashish. First of all, the inability to listen. However disproportionate this seems in relation to that boundless benevolence towards others, it is nonetheless actually rooted in it. Before one’s [conversation] partner has barely opened his mouth, he disappoints us immensely. What he says lags endlessly far behind what we would so gladly have credited him with and believed him capable of had he remained silent. He disappoints us painfully in his unresponsive attitude towards that greatest object of all attention: ourselves.

As for our own distracted, abrupt switch from the subject under discussion, the feeling that corresponds to the physical interruption of contact can be explained thus: we are endlessly allured with whatever we are directly engaged in discussing; we fondly stretch out our arms towards whatever we have a vague notion of. Barely have we touched it, however, than it disappoints us corporeally: the object of our attention withers away under the touch of language. It ages in years, our love has completely exhausted it in a single instant. Thus does it rest until it seems to become alluring enough to lead us back to it.

To return to the colportage phenomenon of the room: the possibility of all things which have potentially taken place in this room is perceived simultaneously. The room winks at one: so, what may have happened to me? The connection of this phenomenon to the colportage. Colportage and caption. To visualize it thus: one pictures to oneself a kitschy chromolithograph on the wall with a longish strip carved out of the lower part of the frame. A ribbon runs along this lower part and now captions alternating with one another appear in the niche: “Murder of Egmont”, “Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne” etc.

In our experiment I repeatedly saw porticos with oriel windows and once said: I see Venice, but it looks like the upper part of the Kurfurstenstraße.

“I feel weak” and “I know myself weak” –those are two radically different intentions. Perhaps the first one alone really carries the punch. But on hashish one can talk almost exclusively about the rule of the second and perhaps that explains why the facial expression is impoverished, despite the intensified “inner life”. The difference between these two intentions is to be investigated.

Further: function shift [Funktionsverschiebung]. I take this term from Joël. The following experience suggested it to me. During the satanic phase I was handed a book by Kafka. The title read Betrachtung [Meditation]. [5] But then all at once this book meant to me what a book in a poet’s hands means to a somewhat academic sculptor who has to sculpt a statue of this poet. It was immediately dovetailed by myself into the sculptural construction of my person and was consequently subject to me in a much more brutal and absolute manner than could have been accomplished by the most withering critique.

But there was still something else: namely, it was as if I were in flight from Kafka’s spirit and now in the moment when he had touched me, I were metamorphisized into stone as Daphne was changed into ivy under Apollo’s touch.

Connection of the colportage-intention with the most profoundly theological. It reflects it opaquely, displacing to the space of contemplation what is intended only in the space of daily life. Namely: time and again the world is the same (that everything which has ever happened could have been enacted in the same room). In a theoretical sense, that is a tired, withered truth, despite all the insight concealed in it, which nonetheless finds its greatest confirmation in the existence of the devout, to whom, as here, the space of imagination serves as all that has been, and thus all things serve to the best. The theological is so deeply sunken in the realm of colportage that one may say: the profoundest truths, aspired to far away from the oppressive, animal truths of men, still possess the violent force capable of adapting themselves to the oppressive and the common, to even mirror themselves in their own way in irresponsible dreams.


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