RQ: Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking my Library”

St. Jerome in his Study, Ashmolean


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Walter Benjamin’s, ” Unpacking my Library: A Talk about Book Collecting.” The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

Why does he invite us to join him in such an intimate moment? OR, what makes the opening few lines so intimate?

What is a collection? What is collecting?

What are some characteristics of a collector?

What is the most important fate of a copy of a book according to a collector?

“How do books cross the threshold of a collection and become the property of a collector” (61).

What distinguishes the way a collector purchases his books from the ways in which students buy text books or people buy gifts for one another?

What role do catalogues play in the collector’s acquisition of books?

Where, according to genuine collectors, do books achieve “true freedom” (64)?

How does Benjamin, and how do other collectors, account for texts (pamphlets, periodicals, family album, etc), which do not fit neatly into their libraries?

What is the soundest way of acquiring a collection?

What does Benjamin mean when he says, “Only in extinction is the collector comprehended” (67)?

In the conclusion, as he is nearly finished unpacking all his books, Benjamin explains the mysterious relationship to ownership that he alludes to in the opening pages by explaining that “ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have with objects” (67)? Why does he think that this is so?

Who is the “he” of the final sentence: “So I have erected one of his dwellings, with books as the build stones, before you, and now he is going to disappear inside, as it only fitting” (67)?