“Unpacking my Library”: Walter Benjamin’s Magic Encyclopedia

Thus there is in the life of the collector a dialectical tension between the poles of disorder and order. Naturally, his existence is tied to many other things as well: to a very mysterious relationship to ownership, something about which we will have more to say later; also a relationship to objects which does not emphasize their functional utilitarian value—that is, their usefulness—but studies and loves them as the scene, the stage, of their fate. The most profound enchantment of the collector is the locking of the individual items within a magic circle in which they are fixed as the final thrill, the thrill of acquisition, passes over them. Everything remembered and thought, everything conscious, becomes the pedestal, the frame, the base, the lock of his property. The period, the region, the craftsmanship, the former ownership—for a true collector the whole background of an item adds up to a magic encyclopedia whose quintessence is the fate of his object.

SOURCE: Benjamin, Walter. "Unpacking my Library: A Talk about Book Collecting," in Illuminations, translated by Harry Zohn, edited and with an introduction by Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), pp. 59-67. This quote: p. 60.

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