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ISSN 0869-5377
The Logos Journal

“The Moscow Diary”: On the Method of Reasoning, Love, Madness, and Revolution

Author: Fokin Sergei

About author:
Head of Department of German, Romance and Scandinavian Languages and Translation, Faculty of Humanities; Professor of Department of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Field of Languages and Literature, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences (Smolny College), St. Petersburg State University of Economics (UNECON), 4 Moskatelny ln, St. Petersburg 191023, Russia. St. Petersburg State University (SPbU), 58–60 Galernaya str., St. Petersburg 190000, Russia.

This article aims to study The Moscow Diary through the notion of “method of reasoning,” and the challenges that prompted Benjamin’s visit to Moscow: love and revolution, madness and the discovery of the other, the impossibility to saunter along the icy streets of the Soviet capital, and the inability to grasp the truly revolutionary elements of the Russian avant-garde of the 1920s. Attention is drawn to one of the main aggravating circumstances of Benjamin’s Moscow experience: what would seem perfectly natural in Berlin or in Paris—to stand firmly on one’s feet, walk around, saunter and watch the city, eyes wide open—demanded supernatural and even surreal efforts on the icy streets of Moscow. In other words, it was not as a European flaneur that Benjamin walked the Moscow streets of 1926–1927, trying to observe with thought and gaze his close friends, casual acquaintances, strangers, street vendors, preoccupied locals, churches, markets and bars: he moved carefully, watching his step to avoid slipping on ice, thus losing the essential capacity of the stroller that lies in the close connection between walking and watching. The author emphasizes that the experience gained by Benjamin in Moscow was not based on the optimistic-utopian idea of the Revolution that originally led the traveler to the Soviet capital, but on a kind of revolutionary melancholy that undermined the subsequent creative endeavors of the philosopher from within. Its elements — the trauma of the fading-away of the revolutionary impulse, as well as unfulfilled sensual expectations—compelled the thinker to conform the experience of the fracture and openness of consciousness with forms of writing marked by disjunction and fragmentation. The Moscow Diary is the last completed work of Benjamin, and all subsequent texts can be considered only as sketches, passages, and transitions to the yet to come—but never to be completed—book: the Passagen-Werk.

Keywords: Russian revolution; Walter Benjamin; “The Moscow Diary”; Russian art; Vsevolod Meyerhold

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