Letters from the Pandemic 34: To Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin, Paris, 1938

Letters from the Pandemic 34: To Walter Benjamin
by Linda Quibell


Walter Benjamin was a German philosopher, literary critic, translator, and cultural observer. He attempted to escape the Nazis, but in 1940 took his own life in Portbou, Spain — Ed.


February 20, 2021

My dear melancholic friend,

Please, tell me about exile. I need to know.

When you were forced to flee everything familiar to you and strike out into the unknown, how did you survive? What role did hope play in your life? When you set out on your last trek, an unfinished manuscript and a bottle of morphine in your bag, were you frightened? When did the shock arrive, the struggle cease, and resignation set in?

The Walter Benjamin Memorial at Portbou, Spain, by Israeli architect Dani Karavan, 1989. Photo courtesy David Harding

You packed your suitcase and left Paris, escaping imminent incarceration and death; I have no such threat, just a yawning greyness which threatens to swallow me whole. You carried your you-ness with you, even in flight: philosopher, writer, polymath, Jew. Your identity endures long after your death. My identity trickles through my fingers as I try to hold onto it, for what is a theatre without an audience? (If a tree falls in the forest … you know the rest.)

My pandemic is not difficult, I’m almost ashamed to admit. I have a home, food, love. Last year I spent many weeks in quarantine in my West End apartment, which was not onerous in the least. I have wifi and many, many books. You were a book collector yourself; I wonder what you would have thought of the internet? I think you would have loved it and loathed it, as I do.

You’ve taught me many things: the value of notebooks, the shimmer of Paris, how to be be in the midst of the crowd yet alone within myself. The fact of your existence makes this roaring vacuum bearable. I’ve ordered coffee; please, tell me.



Linda Quibell

Linda Quibell is an actor, singer, playwright, and theatre maker who lives in Vancouver and Seattle.


The Ormsby Review. More Books. More Reviews. More Often.

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of B.C. books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

The Walter Benjamin Memorial at Portbou. Photo courtesy ricard planas camps


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