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For every second of time was the strait gate through which the Messiah might enter.There are hardly enough superlatives for this amazing collection of essays concerning Baudelaire, Proust, Kafka, messianism and the aesthetic tension between the cultic and the exhibitional I had read Unpacking My Library a half dozen times previously and it still forces me to catch my breath The thoughts on Kafka explore the mystical as well as the shock of the modern The shock of the urban and industrial is a For every second of time was the strait gate through which the Messiah might enter.There are hardly enough superlatives for this amazing collection of essays concerning Baudelaire, Proust, Kafka, messianism and the aesthetic tension between the cultic and the exhibitional I had read Unpacking My Library a half dozen times previously and it still forces me to catch my breath The thoughts on Kafka explore the mystical as well as the shock of the modern The shock of the urban and industrial is a recurring theme in these pieces Likewise is the dearth of actual experience and the onslaught of involuntary memory It was a strange juxtaposition that this very morning I put down Illuminations and was enjoying my breakfast Before me in the recent Bookforum was an article by Geoff Dyer about August Sander s People of the Twentieth Century Benjamin s idea of aura has likely morphed into something strange over the intervening 70 odd years SentimentalityI still talk aboutThe Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction30 years after I first read it.I don t remember it as a purely political tract, even though that is how it is all dressed up.I think Benjamin displayed some degree of sentimentality and attachment to the original work of art Its uniqueness, its cult value, its authenticity, its ability toilluminate.Ironically, the way that we relate to mechanically reproduced books now replicates this sentimentality, eve SentimentalityI still talk aboutThe Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction30 years after I first read it.I don t remember it as a purely political tract, even though that is how it is all dressed up.I think Benjamin displayed some degree of sentimentality and attachment to the original work of art Its uniqueness, its cult value, its authenticity, its ability toilluminate.Ironically, the way that we relate to mechanically reproduced books now replicates this sentimentality, even though it s rare for a book to be a single surviving copy although I bet that it happensthan we suspect.Digital ReproductionIf Benjamin were to write his book now, it would probably be called and reconceived asThe Work of Art in the Age Of Digital Reproduction.Everything now has the ability to be digitally replicated and available.Even though he might have appreciated the increased access to culture provided that you have cable , his attachment to his library parallels his appreciation ofilluminations.I like mine too, just like I love my CD collection.However, there are many people out there here who don t care for CD s and paper inserts, they just want the mp3, the music.The Container versus the ContentsThe method of reproduction is preoccupied with the container, whereas many people are nowinterested in the contents The wine versus the bottle I originally thought this analogy was from Nicholas Negroponte sBeing Digital However, it might actually come from John Perry Barlow sSelling Wine Without Bottles.The Future of SentimentalityJust as we have become sentimental about mechanical reproduction, I suspect that those who follow us will become sentimental about something else.If we re lucky, it might be the verb experiencing the act of communication rather than the noun the receptacle of the content.The Message is the MessageMany of us grew up to believe that the medium is the message One day, the message might be the message again.I just hope that the quality of the message remains The introductory essay by Hannah Arendt who also did duty as editor of this wonderful collection serves up her usual insight and reliably delivered via her rather dense language in categorizing Benjamin as a poetic mind who approached cultural and literary criticism in a unique manner, one that left a lasting influence upon those who followed in his wake Benjamin s opening sally, a short piece on the eccentric inner workings of the book collector, resonated in a warmly satisfying way, describ The introductory essay by Hannah Arendt who also did duty as editor of this wonderful collection serves up her usual insight and reliably delivered via her rather dense language in categorizing Benjamin as a poetic mind who approached cultural and literary criticism in a unique manner, one that left a lasting influence upon those who followed in his wake Benjamin s opening sally, a short piece on the eccentric inner workings of the book collector, resonated in a warmly satisfying way, describing idiosyncrasies and behaviors that fit me like a glove Currently approaching some six thousand titles, my personal library is of comparable size to that of Herr Benjamin s back when he put pen to paper the learned author comes off as aintelligent kindred spirit to this reviewer, one whose book based similarities both measure and explain the bibliomaniac s obsessions and joys with a reassuring abundance of lucidity and enthusiasm It underscores why I could never abandon the printed book for its electronic changeling I m crazy about, and require, its physical manifestation, with its covers, front and back, and fleshy pages redolent with human imagination, intelligence, and spirit A book is a microcosm of life itself each page a separate day, with its own unique events, thoughts, conversations, and actions Each page is necessary for those that follow, for establishing a linear narrative for that which occurs as pages are turned and as yesterday and the day before will eventually fade and dim in memory s retreats, so what took place several dozen pages past will be an etiolated projection of that which is occurring in stark detail on the current page with which the reader is occupied Yet just as we must endeavor to plumb memory for its stored images if we are to make sense of, and survive within, the bewildering labyrinth of existence, we similarly must recall the pages we ve already perused if we re to understand the lines of type arrayed in their ordered ranks before our eyes Thus, if you love books you must perforce bear some love however imperceptible it seems for life itself and by this measure Benjamin s passion for existence must have been deep.My favorite of Benjamin s intellectual recipes is his brief essay on translation confounding and difficult a dialectic prose puzzle but flush with profound insight and a depth of analysis that rings very true to me, especially that of a good translation advancing the suitor language, of necessity accessing the ur language inherent to conveyed experience and which exists on a higher level even to the original tongue By Benjamin s theory, civilizations existing in isolation will conceptually lag those wherein multiple tongues dance with each other, soar ever higher in an effort to transcend the barriers of differing vowel and consonantal pairings and patterns I ll never read another translated work without giving it serious thought from what I take to be Benjamin s proposition.I entered into the essay The Image of Proust with some trepidation, as I ve yet to read his endlessly lauded literary paradigm and did not want to receive spoiling details Thankfully, Benjamin avoids giving anything of importance away while spinning another measured web on the prime role recollection and forgetting played in the life, and lifework, of this indolent reminiscer The entire piece is a wonder wending the difficult prose reveals remarkable burnishing of Proust s image, the two sided tapestry his great text wove, in which story and characterization were the penumbral opposite of recollection, the structural key in which details of existence were salvaged from the slate gray interweaving of forgetting s loom The manner in which Benjamin probe s the peculiar coincidence of a bedridden life combining with Proust s fascination with French high society and envy for the innate ability of servants to inhale the entirety of the manners and s of their social betters is striking, as is the diligent effort he expended towards decoding the hidden language of the aristocracy in order to preserve its timeworn rituals and routines in his immortal search The end result is but further pressure put upon myself to make that goddamn commitment to this three thousand page siren and get in on the goods, already.The final entry Theses on the Philosophy of History, written at a particularly grim stage of the Twentieth Century besides its arresting wordplay in contrasting Historicism with Historical Materialism, offers food for thought in expounding the messianic component in the latter, and the violence and barbarism ingrained in the cultural objects proudly carried along in the onrushing stream of progressivism.And it s such gorgeous writing, too Experience has fallen in value And it looks as if it is continuing to fall into bottomlessness Every glance at a newspaper demonstrates that it has reached a new low, that our picture, not only of the external world but of the moral world as well, overnight has undergone changes which were never thought possible With the First World War a process began to become apparent which has not halted since then Was it not noticeable at the end of the war that men returned from the battlefield grown silent not richer, but poorer in communicable experience What ten years later was poured out in the flood of war books was anything but experience that goes from mouth to mouth And there was nothing remarkable about that For never has experience been contradictedthoroughly than strategic experience by tactical warfare, economic experience by inflation, bodily experience by mechanical warfare, moral experience by those in power A generation that had gone to school on a horse drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body. These are meandering thoughts on the book especially on Benjamin s Mechanical Reproduction essay If you have any thoughts, insights, critique on my view I appreciate any comments The topic of art is something I m endlessly fascinated by and always love discussing I loved the preface by Hannah Arendt, gives insight into mindset and analytical style of Benjamin Offers perceptive bio framing his life against historical issues and cultural landscape including situation of Jewish bourgeoisie i These are meandering thoughts on the book especially on Benjamin s Mechanical Reproduction essay If you have any thoughts, insights, critique on my view I appreciate any comments The topic of art is something I m endlessly fascinated by and always love discussing I loved the preface by Hannah Arendt, gives insight into mindset and analytical style of Benjamin Offers perceptive bio framing his life against historical issues and cultural landscape including situation of Jewish bourgeoisie in Europe at the time which is Benjamin s background, she also interweaves details from Kafka who also came from this milieu and struggled with similar identity issues facing European Jewish bourgeoisie of that era The story of Benjamin s final days and attempt to escape the Nazis from France to Spain is tragic and heartbreaking I had no idea of this backstory There are several essays on Kafka and Proust Very interesting, Proust is kind of a weird guy but Benjamin offers a lot of insightful commentary on his life and how this influenced Proust s work and his way of dealing with time, memory, past, present, and how this all plays a role in examination of the self Makes me want to read some Proust but not sure I have the patience for it either, seems very solipsistic and maybe a different time and place in my life I would have beenintrigued I didn t realize the extent of Proust s health issues and suffering which seem to have had a large part in shaping his work I also enjoyed the essay on Baudelaire which interweaves analysis on modern city life and Baudelaire s connection and then disillusionment with this situation Following paragraphs are my thoughts like I said meandering on Benjamin s essay on Mechanical Reproduction, I will do my best, this would be an essay to reread carefully because there is a lot there, and I don t doubt I ve missed certain nuances and points but that won t stop me from writing about it haha This is a very good essay as it hits upon a lot of interesting insights but I have some issues Let me preface this by saying that I think Benjamin truly knows how to dance around and with a subject, poking and prodding it allowing him to expertly and gradually drill to core issues So sometimes I disagree with his tone or view, but his insights are keen It was interesting how he presented the evolution of the purpose of art, how it morphed and changed from cultish function often times religious social glue tothe idea of art for art s sake Benjamin delves into issues of who manufactures art and its quality In this realm he references Alduous Huxley, who brandishes a viewpoint I find mindblowingly elitist and aggravating to my sensibilities To reduce it, Huxley comes across as the type of guy who thinks only one type of person genius is fit to produce art his example is based on the art of writing , his view is that a greater amount of people creating due to greater amount of reading public has led to a high output of garbage art literally he calls it garbage and vulgarity that caters to lowest common denominators It s one of theaggravating excerpts I ve read, I ve always had good thoughts about Huxley but this passage was a disappointment for me, smacking of a real aristocratic superiority It s a view that not so subtly hints that art should be walled off, and created and consumed by only a specific subset of people It s hard for me not to get emotional with such a viewpoint because it touches a raw nerve for me, kind of makes me want to punch people in the face As if art needs to strive to be only one thing, nestle itself into a small box, and needs to cater to a certain elite cultured chosen Huxley seems to have a narrow definition, that only great art should be made by the men of genius and all else is garbage I assume garbage is anything that doesn t speak to him or his particular sensibilities I don t even know what good art is How can one apply such qualitative assessments on what is good and therefore deserves to be made Is it mastery of technique Style Universality Different things appeal to different people which is why I m happy there is a lot of different kinds of art and diversity of practitioners, creators, and a broad diverse public that consumes the work I know there are things I think are good but it doesn t mean it is universally good, it merely means it speaks to me and has some meaning for me I tend to gravitate towards things that fit my tastes based on style, technique, themes, but I also search for work where the artist seems to have managed to put some truth of their life or experience within their work which I always consider an accomplishment It doesn t need to be technically brilliant and mind blowing, it just needs to communicate to me and make me feel something that I think is important for my life and how I relate to this world, maybe acts as mirror and helps me see things about myself or about others For me art is about communication, that is broad but I can t really figure outspecific parameters Yes it transcends mere passing of information, it is oftenethereal and abstract, nebulous.Of course I judge art based on my time, place, upbringing, experiences, views, tastes, and am influenced by the people and culture around me, but I will never say something is universally good or great, tastes wax and wane and vary across cultures, all that matters is that something speaks to us To project one s personal artistic tastes as being the be all end all definition of what good art is is the height of arrogance and pride imo, so you know I kinda gotta throw Huxley in the doghouse on that one because he might be very brilliant in many ways but from the passage Benjamin quotes he strikes me as the kind of guy who thinks his standard is the only standard you can tell this is a subject that really riles me up right haha Benjamin is muchnuanced and doesn t fall into this elitist trap so easily Too clever hehe He isabout looking at issues and stripping the veneer off the subject matter to get a better look at it, look at how the machinery works and how it has evolved He s not blindly denouncing anything that doesn t fit his standard although he is asking piercing questions that hints at some of his uneasiness some of which is justified for sure It is a very good essay and hits so many interesting points, and there is just so much to talk about But one problem is that I feel he has a fetishization of original object his argument is that reproduction leads to a destruction or withering of aura breaking the art away from tradition and history He seems to place traditional art forms painting on a pedestal, I feel he has a lot of nostalgia for this mode In his eyes the modern art techniques like film are not all bad, in fact they have a lot of potential due to the force of their democratizing possibilities, but they also feature a capacity to exploit, dominate, indoctrinate, and subjugate people To be fair I think one can make an argument that this is not new at all, for example painting and previous modes of art were exploited in such a manner by the Catholic church, maybe not as broadly due to limitations of the medium but churches and art within them were tools and had broad reach in both physical but also spiritual realms lives of people living in medieval Europe, certainly exploited to gain greater power and exert social control In a similar vein in these eras many paintings were commissioned by powerful elites to project power And acknowledging this doesn t mean I don t like this work, in fact there is a lot of art from this era most especially the Northern Renaissance that I love for multiple reasons, including craftsmanship and style of certain works but also the historical and cultural aspects of the works And it s funny because for me my favorite art form is painting, but I don t attachsignificance to it than I do to film or writing or many other forms of artistic communication It is a tool like all the others and even if I love painting I try my best not to overly fetishize mythologize the art object But hey full disclosure I m not immune to enchantment, I love love love sitting in front of a painting, looking at how it is painted, love knowing the artist s hand was there because it creates a connection to the original creation point and connection to the artist or team of artists if they worked in a workshop that transcends time and space, and there is a meditative quality to looking at the static image As Benjamin mentions this is in contrast to the moving image which by its constant flood of image after image exacts what he calls a shock effect on the viewer, hampering the ability to think and process the constant stream of visual info I don t think this medium precludes the ability to think deeply on the material but it is easy to get lulled into being a mere receptacle Anyways yes I like paintings, I like the static image, but sometimes becoming too obsessed with this mythologization of object we paradoxically becoming blinded to it and what is directly in front of us In my estimation each medium has its own positive and negative aspects, ultimately it comes down to the creators and their ability to leverage whatever medium they choose Maybe my thinking isdemocratic about art and modern techniques because I was raised with them, I ve consumed a lot of visual forms and I enjoy film a lot I don t come from a world where the artist s hand is the only avenue for creation so Benjamin sometimes seems a bit quaint to me with some of these arguments Maybe I miss some of his nuance even though I have to agree that some of his critiques of modern art forms are on point but the negative aspects of the critique are overemphasized vs the positive aspects, while the reverse is true for how he treats the older modes like painting Now this obsession with aura I don t know, tbh it just straight up annoys me but the discussion is rather fascinating I find him overly obsessed with the object and its materiality, and while I do think there is importance to seeing a physical piece in the flesh and witness it in its context I think he goes overboard in placing the art object in this mystical realm He deconstructs film as being too manufactured, too sliced and diced in the effort to create illusion also there is no actual original object, he really doesn t like this But you know, painting is all illusion too, filled with various techniques, color strategies, perspective, composition, all in the effort to create various visual illusions That film is created via the camera lens is a detriment in his eyes, taking away the human hand But eventraditional mediums have artificiality and limitations, for instance the painter is often limited by the very nature of the 2d canvas wood panel well that is the preferred format on average , so there is artificiality within this pursuit as well Sometimes I think the focus on the artificiality of photography and film hasto do with these being new techniques of the modern age, and in a way this newness is frightening to people like Benjamin who were witnessing a flux of new techniques and mediums But to overlook the artificiality of previous modes of creation is a bit silly to me, even if the human hand wasinvolved in past times it was still using tricks of technique to create illusion heck I wonder what he d have to say about the use of the camera obscura going way back, it s highly likely that many artists including Vermeer were using this technique to capture greater realism within their work Does this take away from the paintings so called aura because an artificial lens lens like technique was used to create the illusion Benjamin isbalanced than a lot of the other Frankfurt school philosophers who just hate mass culture and see it as a tool of control that flattens and deadens thought I think Benjamin recognizes both the potential benefits and potential dangers of mass culture and art Now what he says on the issue concerning concentration of viewer vs distraction is interesting Why and how we consume art are key issues and I like the exploration of this question Sometimes if distraction is our only reason for visiting art we become mere receptacles, but if we approach art with concentration we can pierce through content and think through it,of a meeting in the middle But even on this issue I think people should consume art however they see fit, whether it be via concentration or the goal of distraction I prefer the idea of concentration, that s just my preference but yes I do consume things to distract as well So it s not always just one way, it depends As Benjamin explains in the essay originally much art served a cultic or religious function Over time there was a greater shift to the mentality of art for art s sake which as an idea I find a bit silly As I said, to distill my view I see art as a mode of communication that helps us connect with each other and try to better understand this world, life experience, others, ourselves a conduit to share ideas and experience To critique the art for art s sake I d say this, I doubt we would make art if we alone existed and no other humans existed Art is a bridge, and when we are lucky it can help us expand our minds, help us transcend daily reality, allow us to share ideas and experience, make us connect with things beyond ourselves, reveal insights into our own selves and the world we live in These essays are chiefly memorable for 1 The one about the dwarf that lives under the chessboard.2 The one about how he has too many books but they are all his children.3 The one where Kafka has a headache, but everyone keeps asking him for favors.4 The one where Proust eats a cookie.5 The one in which they lose the aura.6 The one where the gang all wear translations as baggy coats.7 The one where Baudelaire gets lost in a crowd.8 The one with the Hannah Arendt encomium to Walter Benjami These essays are chiefly memorable for 1 The one about the dwarf that lives under the chessboard.2 The one about how he has too many books but they are all his children.3 The one where Kafka has a headache, but everyone keeps asking him for favors.4 The one where Proust eats a cookie.5 The one in which they lose the aura.6 The one where the gang all wear translations as baggy coats.7 The one where Baudelaire gets lost in a crowd.8 The one with the Hannah Arendt encomium to Walter Benjamin.9 The one where he cites Lukacs on the novel.These are all voluntary memories though Please eat a cookie to access the involuntary ones Benjamin s writings on Proust, Kafka, Baudelaire and Leskov are really brilliant and engrossing I was especially taken with his history of the storyteller in relation to Leskov s stories, how the verbal communication that was the initial component of storytelling dissipated after the fragmenting of human experience that came along with the realities of the industrial revolution and the barbarism of World War I, as if history itself killed mankind s ability to actually feel and process experienc Benjamin s writings on Proust, Kafka, Baudelaire and Leskov are really brilliant and engrossing I was especially taken with his history of the storyteller in relation to Leskov s stories, how the verbal communication that was the initial component of storytelling dissipated after the fragmenting of human experience that came along with the realities of the industrial revolution and the barbarism of World War I, as if history itself killed mankind s ability to actually feel and process experience, and how this sets the modern novel outside the tradition of storytelling His essay on Proust inspired me to start in on a second reading of Swann s Way, and his ideas on Baudelaire in relation to Poe and the history of the flaneur have been echoed by numerous critics hence Really, anyone interested in the art of writing needs to give some time to this collection The introduction is also a very compelling review of Benjamin s life and thought And thankfully, at least in this collection but less so in Reflections , he does not siphon his ideas on art through his sometimes annoying Marxist filter This is essential stuff I d lie if I said that I understoodthan charitably fifty percent of these essays Besides for the mountains of literary references and the oblique angles from which Benjamin approaches his subjects, his languid, fl neur like writing makes it difficult to follow his train of thought Still, the beauty of such writing, and the tendency toward hyperbole so characteristic of the Frankfurt School, have no doubt played a great role in Benjamin s reputation as a critic.These essays, selected I d lie if I said that I understoodthan charitably fifty percent of these essays Besides for the mountains of literary references and the oblique angles from which Benjamin approaches his subjects, his languid, fl neur like writing makes it difficult to follow his train of thought Still, the beauty of such writing, and the tendency toward hyperbole so characteristic of the Frankfurt School, have no doubt played a great role in Benjamin s reputation as a critic.These essays, selected by Hannah Arendt, focus on a number of Modernist writers Proust, Kafka, Baudelaire, Leskov whom I hadn t heard of , Brecht and their approach to society As a Marxist, Benjamin saw the cultural as tightly embedded in the political as he concludes the most best known essay in the book, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Fascism seeks to make the aesthetic political glorifying war and destruction , and Communism must respond by politicising the aesthetic Thus he sees the decline of the culture of storytelling as symptomatic of the increasing demands on our time placed by industrialisation and urbanisation Boredom, the prime condition for storytelling, no longer exists Reflections on the Work of Nikolai Leskov In another essay, he recalls Poe s and Baudelaire s respective takes on an imagined crowd scene, both regarding with growing horror the single minded intensity of the crowd, and their utter alienation in the Marxist sense from each other and themselves On Some Motifs in Baudelaire Benjamin is fascinated by Proust, focusing on the Bergsonian metaphysics underpinning In Search of Lost Time From what I understand of Bergson s philosophy, he claims that only by ignoring our subjective experience of time and connecting to the atemporal dur e can we transcend causality and experience true freedom Thus Proust searches for his childhood memories, attempting to restore his unadulterated youthful happiness through mental effort Perhaps it is not a stretch to see Benjamin politicising this thought, seeing society as undergoing a similar transformation through the overthrow of the bourgeois societal status quo and the return to theauthentic state of nature.The other essays focus on some literary trends with remarkable prescience One is a deep reading of Kafka s absurdism, and its relation to Jewish culture in 1940, the year of Benjamin s death, Kafka was still a little known figure, at least in the English speaking world A shorter essay describing Brecht s idea of the Epic Theatre stripped of the attempt at realism, and full of meta theatrical devices to confuse and startle the audience presages Tom Stoppard, Samuel Beckett, and countless art films The final essay consists of some rather Gnomic statements on Hegel s Philosophy of History.Contrary to its subtitle, this book is ratherone of Reflections , and less one of Essays , in the Montaignian sense Benjamin swirls his brush into society, politics, and art, and teases out the gossamer threads connecting artistic creation and social change In the finest spirit of Modernism, he delves into the unconscious, seeking to understand the changes we have wrought, the ills in our society, and the ephemeral presence of beauty amongst cruelty and dehumanisation Sadly, he could not escape the march of that inhumanity, which was close on his heels at the time that he took his own life Reading Benjamin makes me realize how 98% of the conversations I have are a waste of time His depth reaches far and his reading spreads vast. {Read} ⚝ Illuminations 1st (first) edition Text Only  Studies on contemporary art and culture by one of the most original, critical and analytical minds of this century Illuminations includes Benjamin s views on Kafka, with whom he felt the closest personal affinity, his studies on Baudelaire and Proust both of whom he translated , his essays on Leskov and on Brecht s Epic Theater Also included are his penetrating study on The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, an illuminating discussion of translation as a literary mode, and his thesis on the philosophy of history Hannah Arendt selected the essays for this volume and prefaces them with a substantial, admirably informed introduction that presents Benjamin s personality and intellectual development, as well as his work and his life in dark times Reflections the companion volume to this book, is also available as a Schocken paperbackUnpacking My Library, The Task of the Translator, The Storyteller, Franz Kafka, Some Reflections on Kafka, What Is Epic Theater , On Some Motifs in Baudelaire, The Image of Proust, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Theses on the Philosophy of History, written , pub me i started trying to do a heidegger thing just finished the basic writings book but am not feeling totally enthused.William ughwhy heidegger me i dunno because he is so central influential it is just a little boring a little, like what s the point William seriouslyi have to finish up my heidegger hoelderlin chapter and i m so bored with heideggerso stodgy and airless me totallyWilliam in contrast, if you read walter benjamin, from walter you can get interested in a myriad of diff me i started trying to do a heidegger thing just finished the basic writings book but am not feeling totally enthused.William ughwhy heidegger me i dunno because he is so central influential it is just a little boring a little, like what s the point William seriouslyi have to finish up my heidegger hoelderlin chapter and i m so bored with heideggerso stodgy and airless me totallyWilliam in contrast, if you read walter benjamin, from walter you can get interested in a myriad of different subjects history, german romanticism, theater, capitalism, brechtwhereas if you read heidegger, it s this lonely little room where it s just fucking BEING all the time