While self-exposure provides power, the promise of identity as well as the perverse pleasures of vertigo and exposure, it is also a means of re-collection. The past recaptured. Walter Benjamin qualifies his mode of collecting the past, referring to the process as one of gathering reminiscences rather than writing autobiography, which implies a chronological flow of time.
Benjamin’s recollection of life emerges as a form of respect, a reverence for pockets of time perfectly restored and finished. Benjamin appears as a collector par excellence. The process of collection—of objects, of images—requires great delicacy, the “cautious probing of the spade in the dark loam” of memory (Reflections
26). Like an archeologist, Benjamin gently chips away at the smooth surfaces of remembrance, until he exposes “the real treasure hidden within the earth: the images, severed from all earlier associations, that stand—like precious fragments or torsos in a collector’s gallery—in the prosaic rooms of our later understanding” (26).
Benjamin’s severed objects/images do not seek an existence beyond themselves, as part of an organizing totality. Importantly, their significance may only be achieved by their fragmentation. Benjamin’s objects and images, endowed with a type of Keatsian negative capability, may only achieve value by their dis-connection, their lack of closure.From an earlier publication