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Homes for Ghosts: Walter Benjamin and Kurt Schwitters in the Cities


  • Esther Leslie

    () (School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7HX, UK)


Under the influence of Freud’s dream analysis, Benjamin writes down a dream about Goethe’s house, which he has visited before and in whose visitor’s book he finds his name ‘already entered in big, unruly, childish scrawl’ and at whose dinner table he finds places set for his relatives, ancestors and descendants. This leads him to exclaim: when the ‘house of our life…is under assault and enemy bombs are taking their toll, what enervated, perverse antiquities do they not lay bare in the foundations!’. Benjamin’s other homes, his exile homes, real and those imaged—such as the cave-like arcades—are considered in this essay as repositories of ‘perverse antiquities’ 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 ‘Merzbau’ home-museums, each one as incomplete as Benjamin’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 exile—these are read alongside the effort to produce a safe domestic space, at whose centre is the death mask of his son.

Suggested Citation

  • Esther Leslie, 2013. "Homes for Ghosts: Walter Benjamin and Kurt Schwitters in the Cities," Societies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(4), pages 1-13, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsoctx:v:3:y:2013:i:4:p:414-426:d:30034

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mazower, Mark, 1991. "Greece and the Inter-War Economic Crisis," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198202059, June.
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    More about this item


    Walter Benjamin; Kurt Schwitters; Merzbau; Goethe; scraps; dreams;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • A14 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Sociology of Economics
    • P - Economic Systems
    • P0 - Economic Systems - - General
    • P1 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems
    • P2 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies
    • P3 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Institutions and Their Transitions
    • P4 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems
    • P5 - Economic Systems - - Comparative Economic Systems
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics


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