Homes for Ghosts: Walter Benjamin and Kurt Schwitters in the Cities
Under the influence of Freudâ€™s dream analysis, Benjamin writes down a dream about Goetheâ€™s house, which he has visited before and in whose visitorâ€™s book he finds his name â€˜already entered in big, unruly, childish scrawlâ€™ and at whose dinner table he finds places set for his relatives, ancestors and descendants. This leads him to exclaim: when the â€˜house of our lifeâ€¦is under assault and enemy bombs are taking their toll, what enervated, perverse antiquities do they not lay bare in the foundations!â€™. Benjaminâ€™s other homes, his exile homes, real and those imagedâ€”such as the cave-like arcadesâ€”are considered in this essay as repositories of â€˜perverse antiquitiesâ€™ and spaces inhabited by ghosts not just the ghosts of Goethe, but of friends who committed suicide in protest at war. These ghost-filled homes are set alongside those of a fellow exile, Kurt Schwitters, who built for himself three â€˜Merzbauâ€™ home-museums, each one as incomplete as Benjaminâ€™s Arcades Project, each one wrecked by war, like that project too. Schwitters addresses the ghosts of the cities head on in his stories and artworks from exileâ€”these are read alongside the effort to produce a safe domestic space, at whose centre is the death mask of his son.
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