A divagation away from book reviews today, inspired by my leafing through an old notebook and seeing an item from 6 years ago: notes on a review of Beatrice Hanssen’s study (published by Bloomsbury now) of Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project (my copy of the text in English, trans. Howard Eiland, Kevin McLaughlin; The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass and London, 1999). This is the fascinating proto-postmodern montage of notes and essays started in 1927 and left unfinished at Benjamin’s mysterious death (suicide to escape Nazi arrest as he tried to cross the Pyrenees into Spain) in 1940, representing his musings on the 19C ‘passages’ or arcades of Haussmannised Paris, ranging from ‘physiognomy of a flâneur’ to peregrinations through the city’s streets, with Marxist aphorisms and quotations from a huge range of obscure texts interspersed.
Some time ago I wrote a post about Leopardi’s similar project of collected texts, Zibaldone (link HERE), likening it to other florilegia such as that by Chamfort.
There are some striking phrases in the review, arising from the text of The Arcades: ‘The Historian as Chiffonier’; ‘Politics of Loitering’; ‘Peregrinations through Paris’; ‘anamnestic intoxication’. This adjective sent me to the online OED (thank you, Cornwall Library Service, for making it available to cardholders for free; it’s a magnificent resource): ‘the recalling of things past; recollection; reminiscence < Greek ἀνάμνησις remembrance, n. of action < ἀναμνα– stem of ἀναμιμνήσκειν to remember, < ἀνά back + μνα– call to mind, < μένος mind.
Then there’s ‘The Colportage Phenomenon of Space’; a ‘colporteur’, says OED, is
A hawker of books, newspapers, etc. esp. (in English use) one employed by a society to travel about and sell or distribute Bibles and religious writings.
The etymology is curious: ‘French agent-noun < colporter, apparently < col neck + porter to carry’, referring to the practice of carrying a tray or box (of books) held by a strap round the neck.
When I first looked this up in a print dictionary, probably Chambers, I noted this entry nearby: colpopoiesis: surgical construction of an artificial vagina. There’s no entry for this word in OED, but a quick Google search took me to an online medical definition, derived from the Greek for vagina plus ‘poeisis’ – making (as in poet as ‘makar’ (Scots) or maker.
Strange how one word leads to another.