Walter Benjamin on Déjà Vu

The phenomenon of déjà vu has often been described. Is the term really apt? Shouldn’t we rather speak of events which affect us like an echo–one awakened by a sound that seems to have issued from the darkness of past life? By the same token, the shock with which a moment enters our consciousness as if already lived through tends to strike us in the form of a sound. It is a word, a rustling or knocking, that is endowed with the power to call us unexpectedly into the cool sepulcher of the past, from whose vault the present seems to resound only as an echo. Strange that no one has yet inquired into the counterpart of this transport–namely, the shock with which a word makes us pull up short, like a muff that someone has forgotten in our room. Just as the latter points us to a stranger who was on the premises, so there are words or pauses pointing us to that invisible stranger–the future–which forgot them at our place.

Walter Benjamin

Translation by Howard Eiland

Photo credit: Walter Benjamin by tellini

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~ by matt on 15 May 2008.

One Response to “Walter Benjamin on Déjà Vu”

  1. This passage of Benjamin’s has always intrigued me. Benjamin has had an extraordinary impact on our conception of time and history–see, for example, his famous interpretation of Klee’s “Angelus Novelus” (e.g, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Walter_Benjamin)

    For some reason, Benjamin deleted the passage posted here from his last draft of Berlin Childhood. It appeared in his penultimate drafts (1932-34?) at the start of the section “News of a Death”. I can’t think of a reason why WB deleted the passage–can you?

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