An Investigation Into the Reappearance of Walter Benjamin

History tells us that the influential German literary critic died more than seventy years ago. So how is it then that Benjamin is now out doing lectures and has published a new book?

September 11, 2014

Walter Benjamin

On the night of Jan 2, 1940, while fleeing Nazi Germany, the literary critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin overdosed on morphine pills at the Franco-Spanish border. He had with him a heavy black briefcase he said contained a manuscript. What those papers may have been remains unresolved.

Now, seventy-four years after his death, Walter Benjamin is releasing Recent Writings, a new collection of nine essays written between 1986 and 2013. “I have been dead since 1940,” Benjamin explains, in his new book, “but it seems I am also alive today in a certain way.” The About The Author page adds: “In 1986—many years after his tragic death—Walter Benjamin reappeared in public with the lecture “Mondrian ’63–’96” organized by the Marxist Center in Ljubljana.”

Grainy video footage of that talk exists online. In it, a bespectacled middle-aged man with a British accent speaks to a classroom full of expressionless students, chins resting in hands. The lecturer, ostensibly Walter Benjamin, starts discussing six Piet Mondrian paintings hanging on a wall behind him. The earliest painting is dated 1963; the latest 1996. A perplexity here is that Mondrian died in 1944. Another is that the talk was held in 1986 (or 1987), while one painting on view was made a decade later. “I don’t know if it makes sense to say this picture originated in 1996,” Benjamin says at one point in the talk, “or that it would perhaps be more correct to say that it will originate in 1996?”

“Mondrian ’63–’96” presents itself as a nonsensical attempt to make sense of something that evidently makes no sense. Anyone watching the footage, like anyone perusing Recent Writings, which includes a transcript of that lecture, will find themselves wondering what exactly is (will be? was?) going on here.

“Such simple pictures and such complicated questions,” Benjamin comments, bringing up various elemental questions raised by these pseudo-Mondrians. The only thing we can accept with any certainty, he posits, are the questions themselves—most of which aren’t answerable at all. “To be honest,” Benjamin allows, “I’m rather perplexed by all these questions.” But that state of doubt, he adds, is at the core of all art. To ponder Mondrian’s posthumous paintings is to attain a “problematic understanding of art as a reflection of the uncertainty of the human soul.”

Taking that uncertainty one step further, Benjamin suggests that we try to imagine ourselves viewing an imitation Mondrian painting made in the future exhibited alongside the actual original of that same painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York today. Looking at one, then the other,

suddenly we feel the earth beginning to shake under our feet. We look quickly at the wall... and we see that it’s shaking too. The thought flashes through our heads: an earthquake! We immediately realize how our beautiful edifice of history, change, progress, is being shaken from its foundations and slowly but surely collapsing. With horror we watch paintings, sculptures, all those masterpieces of our civilization crashing down together with the edifice. But what is happening with our picture? The second Mondrian picture? It is completely still. It practically hovers in its non-existent place, as if it isn’t touched by anything going on around it.

The spectacle of fake Mondrians being discoursed upon by a resurrected Walter Benjamin—an impersonator dissecting forgeries—makes for a kind of willfully ambiguous performance that blends conceptualism with criticism. There’s clearly a point to it, although what that may be isn’t clear. Some humor is intended: as the video progresses, all but two of the students walk out. (“LOL, in theory,” writes the lone commenter on Vimeo.) By the end of the piece, however, one question overshadows all the others: what does this whole thing mean—if anything? Benjamin himself doesn’t seem to know. “Perhaps it is not possible to give any definitive answer just yet,” he offers.


The obvious way to begin making sense of this entanglement would be to figure out who is behind it. Whomever that may be isn’t keen to be identified. Interviewers have on occasion asked Walter Benjamin 2.0 pointedly who he really is. “Who am I?” he responds. “Of course, I am Walter Benjamin. I could also ask, who are you? How do you feel asking this question to someone who happens to be dead for more than seventy years?”

There were hopes that the book launch party for Recent Writings in Brooklyn might provide some further clarity. Alas, instead of catching a glimpse of the reincarnated writer himself, the audience was treated to a lengthy, digressive talk by an anonymous “technical assistant” with a Slavic accent. Members of the audience pressed him for explanations. “I won’t be able to answer… I am a technical person; Benjamin is a theoretician,” he offered. “The only thing I could say about how the reappearance of Benjamin could be interpreted is as a consequence of the notion that history is just a story—it’s not the story, but a story. Anyone who appears as a character in this story [history] not only existed as a human being once, but also becomes a character in a story. There are different ways to interpret certain characters, so there are different takes on a different historical person.”

Now, seventy-four years after his death, Walter Benjamin is releasing Recent Writings, a new collection of nine essays written between 1986 and 2013. “I have been dead since 1940,” Benjamin explains, in his new book, “but it seems I am also alive today in a certain way.”

Putting aside the fact that some unidentified person alive today is responsible for the reappearance of Walter Benjamin—who is, as the same time, undeniably deceased—there’s something Benjamin-esque about the notion of real people becoming characters in a story called history. The original Walter Benjamin was deeply engaged with idea that facsimiles and copies have revolutionary potentialities. The opening paragraph of “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” argues that capitalism has built-in “conditions which would make it possible to abolish capitalism itself.”

Revolutionary sentiment remains a key ingredient in Recent Writings. One of its recurring themes is the possibility of short-circuiting the history of art as a means of ushering in a new paradigm. “You have to know art history in order to be able to overcome it,” Benjamin argues. If the aspiration to “overcome” art history seems imperious—most people today don’t see art history as an enemy to be defeated, nor capitalism as a system to be abolished—these essays remind us that the idea of modern art, as we know it today, is essentially an century-old narrative that finds its terminus in the morass of contemporary postmodernism, and that something different and for now unimaginable will necessarily have to come next, sooner or later. Recent Writings sees this in political terms, with Benjamin intent on bringing about structural upheaval (the sort in which the MoMA crumbles before our very eyes) by turning the known into the unknown, by turning art into non-art, and by turning dead people into living characters.

If this jumble of ideas doesn’t quite add up to a coherent whole, it’s worth recallng that almost any writer today who adopts a Benjamin-esque voice ends up condemning their musings to the vast academic graveyard of unreadable cultural theory. But in this particular case, the faux-Benjamin seems to be genuinely “trying to belong to some new logic,” as the Slovene art theoretician Beti Žerovc noted (somewhat dubiously) in a 2005 interview entitled “My Dear, This Is Not What It Seems To Be.” Or, as the technical assistant at the Brooklyn book launch put it: “This is something that is uncharted territory.”

It may be uncharted, but it’s covering a lot of ground. Over the past few years, Benjamin has been made numerous international appearances. He has lectured in Chinese at the Times Museum in Guangzhou, in Spanish at the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporaneo in Mexico City, in English at the Arnolfini in Bristol, and in French at Vancouver’s Institutions by Artists convention. Different actors are hired to play his part at each of the presentations. Midway through his Vancouver event, “Benjamin” experienced some technical difficulties with a projector. He excused himself by saying, “I am not good at technology, I am from another age.”

The original Walter Benjamin wrote extensively about the effects of technology on artworks, particularly with regards to copies and originals. In his renowned essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Benjamin put forward the notion that an original artwork has “auratic” qualities: a uniqueness the viewer basks in like some kind of holy light. Mechanical reproduction (photographic prints, say, or digital files) eliminates the aura while still permitting an audience to experience the artwork’s inherent power. The result, Benjamin concluded, was that copies would usher in new modes of expression, new forms, new ways of being—all of which would have Marxist ramifications.

Whoever is pretending to be Walter Benjamin today also hopes that their writings will have transformative effects. They’re using Benjamin’s name for that very reason. Lifting someone’s identity would have likely appealed to the original Benjamin. He himself wanted to write books composed entirely of passages taken from others’ works. In other words, and in others’ words, he endorsed the idea of copying. He wrote of how copying out a text, as opposed to merely reading it, modifies our soul and reveals hidden aspects of our inner self. Benjamin also prophesized that technical reproduction would put copies into situations beyond the scope of the original. Still, he likely didn’t realize that would entail the original of him being reproduced.


The essays in Walter Benjamin’s Recent Writings are, as far as one can deduce, entirely original offerings—although they are preoccupied with the meaning of copies. “A copy is a meta-original,” trumpets the dust-jacket. It rapidly emerges that our new Benjamin has a fixation with the prefix “meta.” (At one point, he earnestly refers to an institution as “a meta-(meta-place).”)

Benjamin’s meta-reappearance, the book tells us, is “a story within a story, which is within yet another story.” These nesting dolls of narrative aren’t easy to unpack. But mid-way through the book, as the layers begin to unfold, Benjamin’s vision becomes somewhat less abstruse, even if he isn’t quite deploying zingers like 1932’s “when we love, our existence runs through nature's fingers like golden coins that she cannot hold and lets fall to purchase new birth thereby,” or 1936’s “boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience.” But at its heart, this book is a convoluted, meta-earnest attempt to find new ways of thinking about art.

Although Recent Writings isn’t what most readers might consider “accessible,” it’s worth remembering that its author’s namesake also had a penchant for circuitousness. Both The Arcades Project and Berlin Childhood Around 1900 eulogizethe serendipitous discoveries that happen when lost, straying, or flaneuring. As a schoolchild, Benjamin the first often doodled labyrinths onto his textbooks. One of his formative memories was of losing his way among the twisting streets of Berlin during a storm. Another was becoming aware of a precocious erection –what he called the “first stirring of his sexual urge”—during an afternoon walk in which he couldn’t find the place he was looking for and missed his appointment. Nobody would describe Recent Writings as boner-inducing, but it does thrust us into unfamiliarity.

You have to relish disorientation to appreciate Benjamin’s modern-day prose, which can be as tedious and prolix as it also is invigorating and vitalizing. At times, hacking my way through a particularly dense meta-thicket, I felt a vertiginous sense of stumbling toward the edge of an abyss of senselessness within which jaws of meaning were snapping away aimlessly. The confusion and irritation is intentional; as Benjamin writes, “Confusion is sometimes the first step toward learning or relearning.” The end goal, you have to keep reminding your confused self, is not so much didacticism as revolution.

Much of Recent Writings investigates the possibility of a transition from our present way of making art and understanding history to something Benjamin Jr. calls a meta-paradigm. (If you find the word meta infuriating, you will likely not appreciate this book.) “I don’t want to sound overdramatic but finding or establishing meta-positions in relation to history is today perhaps one of the most important challenges facing humanity,” he declares, meta-dramatically.

The transformations Benjamin is predicting won’t happen overnight. They could take place without our noticing them, gradually, even with a certain pleasurability. Either way, he assures us, “it’s going to be a real, radical, and fundamental change.” Exact descriptions of this meta-paradigm aren’t provided, as the meta-paradigm hasn’t been established yet. Still, Benjamin allows, this brave new world will be both similar and different from our own, “a world (or worlds) where almost everything we know, everything that is familiar to us, becomes unknown, strange and unfamiliar.”

In this alternate paradigm, things like individual identity will no longer apply. We’ll all be able to adopt multiple identities, or no identity whatsoever—like the author of this book. Which brings us, again, to the project’s central lacuna (at least from this present-day paradigm’s perspective): exactly who, or what, is behind the return of Walter Benjamin?


New Documents, the Los Angeles and Vancouver-based publisher of Recent Writings, readily provided an email address for Walter Benjamin. (He uses Gmail.) I started the interview by asking him what was it like being dead. “I am afraid there is nothing to report from the ‘other side,’” he responded. Because he exists outside of history, and belongs instead to something he calls “meta-history,” Benjamin today claims to be “timeless.”

Is he the same Walter Benjamin he used to be? “It is a role that could be played by anyone,” [email protected] answered.

In his former life, when he still belonged to time, Benjamin filtered his intellectual thought through the prism of Marxism. To this day, he remains engaged with interpreting the material conditions of cultural production, but he says he is less interested in abolishing capitalism than he is in “blending it with feudalistic (non-market) principles.” Doing so, he claims, would change the way we perceive both ourselves and our surroundings, so that the way we presently view the universe will soon seem as outdated as the notion that the sky is a crystal sphere covered with candles.

Lifting someone’s identity would have likely appealed to the original Benjamin. He himself wanted to write books composed entirely of passages taken from others’ works. In other words, and in others’ words, he endorsed the idea of copying. He wrote of how copying out a text, as opposed to merely reading it, modifies our soul and reveals hidden aspects of our inner self.

Part of the strength of Walter Benjamin’s original writings derived from the tensions between his political and theological, even mystical, inclinations. In the last sentence of his last major essay, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” he wrote that every second is “the small gateway in time through which the Messiah might enter.” Today, Benjamin speaks of religion as a thing of the past, no longer relevant. What changed? “Messiah is a metaphor for another paradigm,” he told me. “Indeed, every second is a gateway in time through which a meta-paradigm could enter our world.”

Traces of this meta-paradigm can be glimpsed throughout Recent Writings, which often feels like a dispatch from some other space-time continuum. Many of the essays and interviews in the book revolve around a German institution Benjamin collaborates with called The Museum Of American Art. The MoAA opened in Berlin in 2004, in a ground floor apartment on Frankfurter Allee. Benjamin’s bio lists him as one of the Museum’s “associates.”

The MoAA isn’t what we’d normally think of as a museum, however. Like the author, it’s a copy. The museum’s centerpiece is a permanent collection called “The Museum of Modern Art.” It consists of a two meter by two meter recreation of the entire 1936 MoMA exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art. Visitors to the institution (open by appointment) can peer in at miniature copies of Picassos, Matisses, and Duchamps. The MoAA has done variations on this theme elsewhere. Their 2012-2013 show at Le Plateau in Paris featured large-scale replicas of the 1936 Cubism show, but with the chronology of the artworks shifted a century into the future. Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, in other words, was dated 2007; the birth of Dadaism, 2016; and so on. At the MoAA’s 2011 Cubist exhibition at the Times Museum in Guangzhou, the 1:1 sized artworks had their chronology moved back a century into the past. Benjamin spoke in Chinese at the exhibition’s opening; the concerns he raised resonated with the local audience. In China, as one curator commented, “We do not believe in the importance of the idea of the original.”

The essays in the book provide a theoretical framework for comprehending the MoAA’s museum-within-a-museum, which in turn helps readers make sense of the author’s intentions. Benjamin depicts his colleagues’ curatorial actions as comments on the way modern art is presented, packaged, and understood. The MoAA exhibits are about art, and they inhabit the artworld context, but he insists they are not actual works of art. Looking at these replications of modern art, Recent Writings insists, can take us outside of art history and put us into “another territory we could call a meta-modernity.” Copiesof modernist abstract paintings are not abstract, Benjamin argues; they’re actually representational, as they are intended to look like works already in existence. On top of that, they’re not modern. They are, instead, something like modernity viewed through medieval glasses. Benjamin’s point here is that the works on view at the MoAA are capable of bringing us closer to the imminent meta-paradigm, which will feature feudalistic, pre-modern, identity-free qualities. This argument appears to be made in full sincerity, although it could also be meta-ironic, or at least made by the sort of person who can conceive of what it might be like to look at the world today through medieval glasses.

Who else is involved in the museum? Perhaps they could help clarify this situation? Another of the museum’s key figures turns out to be Alfred Barr. Yes, the founding curator of the real MoMA has also returned from the grave, and he now plays a curatorial role at the MoAA, working closely with Benjamin. “We are very good colleagues and we have a friendly and productive relationship,” Benjamin says. “I am more a theoretical person and Alfred is more a practical museum person interested in exhibitions. As you know, we both died a long time ago, but this was in the story called art history in which, as far as I remember, we never met. Now we are alive again.”

Together, they participate in seminars and lectures that look at systems of thinking about art and modernity. At a talk in Beirut last month, they were joined by yet another historical figure: Gertrude Stein. Indeed, Benjamin affirmed via email, “she is still around, hosting salons, giving lectures…”


Another name crops up in conjunction with many of the activities Benjamin has written about. It’s the name of someone else who used to be involved in the art world, but not at a recognizable level, and who in this case still happens to be alive: Goran Djordjevic, a self-described “former artist” who moved to New York from Belgrade in the early 1990s. Djordjevic had been an important figure in the politico-analytic line of Belgrade conceptual art in the 1970s and early 1980s. His best-known work was made roughly synchronously as that of other key figures “appropriation art” movement, such as Sherrie Levine (who photographed Walker Evans photographs) and Mike Bidlo (who painted Picasso paintings). Djordjevic’s thing was copying the likes of Cezanne, Malevich—and, yes, Mondrian.

At a talk in Beirut last month, they were joined by yet another historical figure: Gertrude Stein. Indeed, Benjamin affirmed via email, “she is still around, hosting salons, giving lectures…”

In his writings of the time, Djordjevic contended that copies can be more significant than originals. They embody all the visual characteristics of the original, but also open doorways into stories that go beyond the original’s wildest imaginings. Benjamin’s imprint can be felt. Djordjevic also believed that other appropriation artists did not realize the real potential of the copy: the revolutionary potential.

To an outsider, it’s clear that there are similarities to Benjamin’s writings. Djordjevic, for his part, has opined that “it is completely unnecessary, I also believe completely wrong, to try to read [these anonymous projects] through the biography of ‘an author.’” Some quarters, disagreeing with this assessment, also assume that he is Walter Benjamin. For example, MoMA’s Roxana Marcoci, in an essay on art in the former Yugoslavia in Sweet Violence, her monograph on Sanja Iveković, maintains that Djordjevic himself has given lectures as Walter Benjamin.

Djordjevic considers these “incorrect and misleading statements.” His name has never appeared in any of the announcements or printed material for any of these events, he argues. The MoMA, according to Djordjevic, has acknowledged the book’s mistakes and promised to correct them in subsequent editions. The suggestions that he is behind Benjamin, Djordjevic concludes, are “only assumptions published in later interpretations by someone else.”

One can see how such assumptions might be made. To begin with, there are those Mondrian paintings Djordjevic copied. He also started working with the Museum of American Art in Berlin in 2004, from the outset, helping to install the museum’s permanent, and now its temporary, exhibits. He has painted duplications under pseudonyms, written theoretical texts on the revolutionary potential of art, and worked on a reenactment of the 1913 Armory Show in Belgrade in 1986 (the exhibition was dated seven years in the future). “I participated in the realization of these happenings exclusively in a technical sense,” he protests, “as someone who helps these exhibitions and lectures to appear in public.”

In that same vein, he has also been involved in the Salon de Fleurus in New York—a project Benjamin has written about, and which also involves Gertrude Stein. The Salon de Fleurus is a recreation of the collection of early modernist artworks assembled by Gertrude and Leo Stein in Paris around 1905. Copies of the paintings that hung on the walls of their salon, at 27 Rue de Fleurus, are exhibited here. Djordjevic’s role in the Salon de Fleurus is doorman and caretaker .“I am the doorman,” he told the New York Times, who did not reveal his name. “You have seen plays and films in which you have a postman or a doctor. I am the doorman. It’s like acting.” Even though Djordjevic has acknowledged his role as doorman in other publications, it could still be argued that whoever is behind it—whoever is the actual author of the Salon de Fleurus, as well as the MoAA, and Walter Benjamin—remains anonymous.

That said, anonymity has been a key aspect to Djordjevic’s practice since he “quit” art (or, as some critics have put it, “stopped producing authorial work in the field of art”) in 1985. While still active as an artist, he attempted to organize an International Artists’ Strike in 1979 as a “protest against the ongoing repression of the art system and the alienation of artists from the results of their work.” He mailed invitations to numerous artists around the world, asking if they would be willing to take part in the general strike.

He received thirty-nine, mainly unsupportive responses from the likes of Sol Lewitt, Lucy Lippard, and Vito Acconci. The best answer came from Susan Hiller: “I have, in fact, been on strike all summer, but it has not changed anything and I am anxious to begin work again, which I shall do very soon.” The Dutch artist Joep Bertrams responded with a single sentence: “Anonymous is the answer.”

That concept resonated with Djordjevic, but he didn’t immediately abandon his authorial position. First, he assembled a retrospective of the strike, which he called "Against Art." The exhibition, shown in a private apartment in Belgrade, opened with the following declaration: "A work of art expresses, among other things, certain attitude towards art. The works showed at this exhibition are not works of art. They are only attitudes towards art. More precisely, they are attitudes against art.”

During the strike, he began to wonder: “Is there anything that would be pointless to do in art today?” He published a book, Philosophical Treatise on Meaninglessness (Traktat o Besmislu). His essay, “On The Class Character Of Art,” makes the case that art is an instrument used by the hegenomy to enforce the status quo. Djordjevic sought a way out of this aporia by fighting art with art in hopes “of more humane relations between people and between man and his environment, thereby permitting a greater degree of liberty for each member of society as well as for the community in general.”

Following the strike, Djordjevic deepened his anarchical pursuit of “radical copyism” by using copies to attack art through the weapon of art itself. The apogee of this work would be 1983’s Copying Mondrian in National Museum, Belgrade, (or How to Copy). This conceptual performance involved him taking out an easel and copying the Mondrian painting hanging on the wall before him. As he did so, a guard approached to inquire why he hadn’t chosen a more complicated painting. Djordjevic acknowledges that, from the perspective of learning technique, what he was doing was “completely idiotic.” But it had deeper conceptual ramifications—ramifications that Benjamin’s Recent Writings explores at length.

The book, with it’s emphasis on the copy having as much relevance as the aura of an original, also seems to touch on other issues that are bubbling up in popular culture today. Benjamin’s ideas, as muddled as they are, seem in some way to relate to the actor Shia LaBeouf’s meltdown last winter, in which he plagiarized the work of cartoonist Daniel Clowes. In the aftermath, LaBeouf tweeted copy-and-pasted apologies from a number of other famous apologies, and then posted a “Metamodernist Manifesto” which he claimed to have authored but which was in fact yet another copy. Observing that whole episode, which LaBeouf claimed was a statement about art and appropriation, about the obsolescence of intellectual property, and about the need for copyright law to “give up on its obsession with ‘the copy.’” Clearly, Walter Benjamin’s current writings seem relevant to the incoherence LaBeouf found himself immersed in. Whether reading Djordjevic’s Philosophical Treatise on Meaninglessness could help make any sense of his plagiarisms is another question entirely.


What, exactly, I found myself wondering, is Goran Djordjevic’s role in the Walter Benjamin project—beyond being a technical assistant? I tracked him down and asked him if those Mondrian paintings he did in the 1980s were a catalyst for Benjamin’s return. “It might be that the appearance of those Mondrian's paintings ‘were a catalyst for his return,’ but those are not the paintings I did,” Djordjevic responded. He’d signed his copies under his own name, while those that that appeared in Benjamin’s lecture were signed PM, or Piet Mondrian. A significant difference, apparently, at least in the world of copied Mondrian paintings made in the 1980s in Serbia and Slovenia.

Djordjevic is adamant that he first encountered Walter Benjamin when some friends took him to the Mondrian lecture in Ljubljana. Since then, he’d helped out with a couple of the lectures, but just as a technician.

“What is it like being his technician?” I asked him.

“Quite interesting,” Djordjevic replied, genially. “I like to hang the exhibitions.” He later precised that calling him Benjamin’s “technician” isn’t entirely correct, as he is rather a technical assistant of the Museum of American Art, where his main duties are installing their exhibitions around the world. Walter Benjamin himself corroborated this, when I asked how he knows Djordjevic. “I think we met a couple of times when he assisted in some of my lectures,” Benjamin told me, “but I do not remember if we engaged in any serious conversation. As far as I know he is a technician who primarily helps in installing the MoAA’s temporary exhibits.”

When Djordjevic responded to my initial queries, he didn’t answer everything I’d asked, but he did offer that he might be able offer some “off the record” information, “primarily to clarify the distinction between Mr. Benjamin and me.”

I cannot reveal anything he said, but I can attest that Djordjevic vehemently insists that he is not Walter Benjamin. “I am now a former artist Goran Djordjevic who remembers something that he did as an artist,” he says in an interview, called Who Is “Goran Djordjevic” with the Serbian art journal Prelom. “But I could also speak as Goran Djordjevic, the doorman in the Salon de Fleurus in New York.”

Later in the interview, he does just that: he stops talking as himself and starts talking as the doorman, who also happens to have read Benjamin’s text On Copies. After speaking at length on Benjamin’s ideas, he then returns to his “initial role” in the interview, which, he says, is “’the person trying to remember what he used to do and what he thought about.’”

If it’s convoluted for readers to follow, it’s equally so for Djordjevic, who finds himself getting confused as he switches from role to role. After going on about “the paradox of the copy,” apparently as himself, the interviewers have to ask him which position he is actually speaking from. Toward the end of the conversation, Djordjevic concedes that such murkiness “becomes more and more of a problem that I should be aware of in situations like this.”

In the end, even though he may have assisted in a couple of Benjamin’s presentations, he assured me in our exchanges that the extent of his connection with Benjamin was simply that of an audience member at some of his lectures.

“Have you ever contacted him?” I asked, directly.

“I have no recollections,” he answered, seeming to me then like he was possibly even speaking about the original Walter Benjamin, the one who actually died in 1940. “It has been such a long time.”