For whom there is no archive

‘It is more arduous to honour the memory of the nameless than the renowned. Historical construction is devoted to the memory of the nameless', wrote Walter Benjamin in 1939-40. Around eight years before, he had constructed a diagram of forty-eight names, formed into constellations via a network of lines.* He named those on the diagram as ‘primal acquaintances’ (Urbekanntschaften): family relations, school comrades, mistaken identities and travel companions. Though most of those on the diagram have known or knowable lives, one has always evaded identification: Alice Weylorz, positioned in the top left of the diagram between Asja Lācis (below) and Erich Unger (above). This paper stages a number of possible figurations of Alice Weylorz: as a missing person, a mistaken identity, even an imaginary friend. It asks if the historical task should be devoted to the memory of the nameless, what of the memory of those for whom only a name remains?
*Image courtesy of the Walter Benjamin Archive, ARC. 4° 1598 04 75, the National Library of Israel (detail).

Author: 
Institute of Modern Languages Research
Speaker(s): 
Sam Dolbear (Berlin/IMLR); Chair: Anna Nyburg (London)
Event date: 
Wednesday, 24 March 2021 - 6:00pm