I met Walter Benjamin during one of the meetings of Contre-Attaque- the name of the ephemeral fusion of groups headed by Andre Breton and Georges Bataille, in 1935. Later he assiduously attended the College of Sociology, an emanation intended to make “exoteric” the closed and secret group Acephale (crystallized around Bataille, following his rupture with Breton). From this point on he was sometimes present at our secret meetings.
Disconcerted by the ambiguity of “acephalean” a-theology, Walter Benjamin disagreed with us, arguing that the conclusions he then was drawing from his analysis of German bourgeois intellectual evolution, namely, that the “increasing metaphysical and political buildup of what was incommunicable” (according to the antinomies of capitalist industrial society) was what prepared the favorable ground for nazism. For the time being he was trying to apply his analysis to our own situation. He wanted to keep us from slipping; despite an appearance of absolute incompatibility we were taking the risk of playing into the hands of a “prefascist aestheticism .” He clung to this interpretative scheme, thoroughly colored by Lukacs’s theories, in order to surmount his own confusion and sought to enclose us in this kind of dilemma.
There was no possible agreement about this point of his analysis, whose pre suppositions did not coincide at all with the basic ideas and past history of the groups formed successively by Breton and Bataille, especially Acephale. On the other hand, we questioned him even more insistently about what we sensed was his most authentic basis, namely, his personal version of a “phalansterian” revival. Sometimes he talked about it to us as if it were something ” esoteric , ” simultaneously ” erotic and artisanal , “underlying his explicit Marxist conceptions . Having the means of production in common would permit substituting for the abolished social classes a redistribution of society into affective classes. A freed industrial production, instead of mastering affectivity, would expand its forms and organize its exchanges, in the sense that work would be in collusion with lust, and cease to be the other, punitive, side of the coin.
— 1969 Pierre Klossowski, “Entre Marx et Fourier, ” Le Monde, May 31, 1969, supplement to no. 7582 (special page devoted to Walter Benjamin). This is available in translation () On Walter Benjamin: Critical Essays and Recollections, Gary Smith ed. Translation from: Hollier, Denis, ed. 1988. The College of Sociology, 1937-39. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.p.389
In 1937 Benjamin, still in Paris, was struck dumb by the Moscow trials, in what Dennis Hollier called a case of ‘political aphasia’.
The destructive effect of the events in Russia, […] will necessarily continue to spread. And what is sobering about this is not the hasty indignation, of unshakeable combatants for ‘freedom of thought’ what seems to me far sadder, and at the same time far more necessary, is the silence of those who think, who, precisely because they think, have a hard time considering themselves as people who know. That is my case.
— Walter Benjamin, “To Fritz Lieb,” 9 July 1937, Briefe, eds. Gerhard Scholem and Theodor Adomo (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1966) 224. Quoted in Denis Hollier and Betsy Wing (Trans.), ‘Desperanto’, New German Critique, No. 67, Legacies of Antifascism (Winter, 1996), pp.19-31.
Bataille in 1938 just before the Munich crisis, seems to be not only experiencing, but even advocating a similar silence, prefiguring his silence (and illness) throughout the German occupation of France.
“I only have this to add: whatever one could say about any other subject wouldn’t be any more cheerful. I like to hope that you don’t read the newspapers (this exercise has never been more futile): the only serious and informed people that I have seen say that all the reasoning and all the interpretation are absurd, that we have absolutely no way of knowing what may happen. I hope you are enjoying this bad September without a care.”
— Georges Bataille, “Letter to Michel and Zette Leiris,” Sep. 1938 (just before the Munich crisis).