After Walter Benjamin died, his friend Theodor Adorno wrote that we must keep alive Benjamin’s intellectual and spiritual pursuit to, “metamorphose into a thing in order to break the catastrophic spell of things.” This quote (and this challenge) has captured my imagination since the first time I encountered it. It was with me on my first day of this class and it found me again as we approach the last. I turn this line over and over in my head, as if I were trying to polish a rough stone…what does this mean and what does this imply…that we must become a thing in order to break the spell of things. That we are the ones who are encouraged to change and to engage in this act of becoming…that the spell of things is deemed catastrophic…that the spell itself is something that should be broken…these are all ideas that I can now challenge. But I also see the statement as a whole from a nuanced perspective: that by becoming a thing we break through the divide that separates us from things, and we are able to enter into the interstices of all the dialectics and binaries that have calcified over time. The spell is the illusion that stops us from fully engaging with the world, with each other, and with ourselves.
Breaking the spell of things