A Bolshevik , in the twenties she became famous for her proletarian theatre troupes for children and agitprop in Soviet Russia and Latvia. She believed that children's theater could be used as the cornerstone for the children's general education, which was especially important with poor, proletarian children who often had little or no other educational opportunities. In she met the German philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin in Capri , and the duo would have an intermittent affair for the next several years as he visited her in Moscow and Riga. She has been cited as a factor in Benjamin's embracing Marxism. In during Stalin 's Great Purge she was deported to Siberia. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. This did not happen. The publication of Benjamin's Schriften saw the removal of the dedication of One-Way Street to his 'girl-friend in Riga'; the name of Lacis as co-author of the 'Naples' essay was also stricken. Credit given her as co-author of "Naples" in Benjamin's collection of essays, Reflections, linked her name irrevocably with Benjamin's.

The blurb on the back of the English translation of Benjamin's Moscow Diary offers a succinct summation of this myth: Perhapsthe primaryreason for this trip was his affection for Asja Lacis, a LatvianBolshevik who would remainan importantintellec- tual anderoticinfluenceon him throughoutthe twentiesandthirties. All quotationsfromLacis's work are my own. Peter Demetz, trans. Walter Benjamin, Moscow Diary, ed. Gary Smith, trans. On anotherlevel, it is the storyof a failedromancewith the RussianRevolution.

The parallelism in this passage between Benjamin's romance with both Lacis and the revolution suggests that the former has been fashioned to fit the narrative of a "failed romance.

An obituary and a book review represent the extent of the inter- est Lacis has thus far generated in English. His life and 4. The standardmonographon Lacis is in Latvian:M. Miglane, et al. Susan Ingram his works have acquired the aura of a legend, and the decisive turning-pointsin his career, from his semi-deliberate failure to secure the Habilitationcertificationrequiredfor teaching at a Ger- man university, to his suicide after crossing the Pyrenees and reaching Port Bou in Spain in September , have been describedso often and with such reverencethat they begin to seem like set-pieces froman orthodoxhagiography.

One could point to such cultifying spinoffs as Jay Parini's fictional Benjamin's Crossing and Larry McMurtry's autobiographical musings in Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, to Shadowtime, an opera based on Benjamin's life and writings,12 or to Trilectic, a record by Jewlia Eisenberg, the lyrics of which are based on Benjamin's writ- ings. As this study of Asja Lacis demonstrates, the mythological parame- ters of the ironic hero that have contributed to the rise in Benjamin's popularity have also substantially influenced the fashioning of his sup- porting cast.

The first section of this article introduces Lacis as she was introduced to scholars west of the Iron Curtain in the heady days of the '68ers, while a second section queries the canonical view of her as it takes shape in Benjamin's Moscow Diary and its inter-texts.

A final sec- tion then offers an alternate view of Lacis based on material hitherto unaddressed in what Mark Kingwall has described as "one of those weird confluences of the popular and the scholarly that our culture produces 7.

See CharlesBernstein,"11 InterrogationsfromShadowtime,"boundary2 Eschewingthe typicalbiographicalsketch,"Bor on a countryestate in Latviain , Anna ErnestovnaLacis was the only daughterof trades- folk,"let me introduceLacis as HildegardBrennerdid.

Brennerhad con- tacted Lacis in Riga for informationabout Benjaminand the result, a long, detailed letter, was printedin Alternative. HildegardBrenner- All of Benjamin'slettersare kaput. I can only offer you some observations,"which she thenproceedsto do. Her initial requestresultednot only in the Alternativeselections but also in a vol- ume of memoirs,Revolutionirim Beruf; which was publishedin to coincide with Lacis's eightieth birthday,and which includes an after- word by BrennerenumeratingLacis's accomplishmentsand relevance.

For Brenner,Lacis was an importantlink in reconstructingthe circum- stances of intellectuallife in the WeimarRepublicin generaland of the proletarianworker'smovementin particular. Lacis concentrateson what she was able to add to knowledgeaboutwell-known,left-leaning,male The endingof the letteris also of interestas it drawsattentionto the responsive natureof Lacis's writingin German:"OfcourseI had a strongpoliticalinfluenceon W.

But my influence only had an effect becausethe groundhadalreadybeen laid. I triedto be a similarinfluenceon Werner Kraus but I failed: he remainedthe reactionaryhe was.

Rolf Tiedemann'sassertionis ridiculous. I could writean entirebook aboutBenjamin- but I'll close now - perhapsyou don't need such materialat all. Furtherreminiscences, which formedthe basis of her memoir,were publishedas "Stadteund Menschen. Erin- nerungen,"Sinn undForm 21 : SusanIngram personalities. Both Lacis's personalcircumstancesand her theatricalcon- nections are downplayed,for example, in glosses: "A decisive stage for me was working in Riga.

Personal circumstanceshad brought me back. Thus it was in the guise of an impersonalMarxistfunction- arythatLaciswas firstintroducedinto scholarshipin the West. This guise was not to improveprimarilydue to the fact that,four years after this second edition, and 53 years afterthe fact, WalterBenjamin's Moskauer Tagebuchappearedwith Suhrkamp.

In the afterwordto the English translation but notably not in the original "Editorische Notiz" , editor Gary Smith informsus that the diary had not been pub- lished earlier,"fortwo reasons. First,the publishinghouse decidednot to issue the diaryduringthe lifetime of Asja Lacis she died in Sec- ondly, the diary was scheduledfor publicationin the sixth volume of Benjamin'sGesammelteSchriften,which containsall of his extantauto- biographical writings and fragments, other than those of the Paris ArcadesProject.

As pointedout in both GershomScholem's preface and Gary Smith's afterword both of which I will discuss aftera briefreadingof the diaryitself , Lacis is inte- gral to the diary's narrativeand thematicstructures. The diary begins with Benjamin'sarrivalin Moscow, on December6, , where he is met by, andimmediatelydisplaces,Asja's husband,BernhardReich: Then, as I was making my way out of the Belorussian-Balticrail- way station, Reich appeared We loaded ourselves and the two suitcases into a sleigh.

A thaw had set in that day, it was warm. We had only been underway a few minutes, driving down the broad Tverskaia with its gleam of snow and mud, when Asja These circumstancesinvolved a harrowingtrip across civil-war-tomLatvia to be with herdying mother,who died shortlybeforeshe could get there. Lacis,Revolutionar im Beruf Gary Smith,"Afterword,"MoscowDiary All quotationsfrom Benjamin's diaryare takenfromSieburth'stranslation,hereaftercited parentheticallywithinthe text.

As I was aboutto get in, havingsaid good-byeto herone moretime,I invitedherto rideto the corer of Tverskaiawith me. I droppedher off there,and as the sleigh was alreadypullingaway,I once againdrewherhandto my lips, rightin the middleof the street. She stoodtherea longtime,wav- ing. I wavedback fromthe sleigh. At first she seemedto turn aroundas she walkedaway,thenI lost sightof her.

Holdingmy largesuitcaseon my knees,I rodethroughthe twilitstreetsto the stationin tears. December 8: "Asja droppedby in the morning" 12 ; December 9: "Asja again came by in the morning" 14 ; December "We go see Asja in the morning" 16 ; December "Reichtook a walk with Asja in the morning" 19 ; December 14 writtenon the 15th : "I shall not see Asja today" 21 ; December "Reichsteppedout briefly after he got up and I hoped I would be able to greet Asja in private.

But she didn't turn up" 25 ; December "I was writing my diary and had given up hope that Asja would stop by. Then she knocked.

As she enteredthe room, I wanted to kiss her. As usual, it proved unsuccess- ful" Therecan be no "perhaps"aboutLacis being the primaryrea- son for Benjamin'scoming to Moscow, as indicatedon the back of the English translation;nor does the visit appearto have gone very well. After the first three mornings, their visits seem to have droppedoff somewhat,while Benjaminseems to have remainedcocooned in con- siderationsof whether he would really want a relationshipwith her, ignoring her feelings on the matter,not to mention the very awkward position his attentionsput her in, not to mention the fact that she was In the original, the final word is "Bahnhof': "Mit dem grolen Koffer auf meinem SchoBefuhrich weinenddurchdie dammerndenStraBenzum Bahnhof,"which, given the NorthernGermanexpression,"ich verstehenur Bahnhof' [I don't understand anything],provesa poignantsummationof Benjamin'sdifficultiesin the Russiancapital.

Susan Ingram not well and had been hospitalizedfor a serious neural disorder and not, as her Germanmemoirindicates,a nervousbreakdown,a point on which I elaboratein the concludingsection. Benjamindoes not seem to have had much sympathyfor the state of Lacis's healthor for the diffi- culties of her situation.

As her stay in the sanatoriumapproachesan end, Benjamininvites Reich for a cup of coffee and recountstheir con- versationin the entryfor December26 as follows: He spoke of Asja's chronicbouts of anxiety,which for the most part were focused on Daga, and he went into the whole story of her Mos- cow residence once again.

I had often marveledat the patience he showed in dealing with her. And even now he was not showing the slightest traces of ill humor or bitterness,only the tension that this talk with me was releasing.

He lamentedthe fact that Asja's 'ego- ism' was failing her precisely now that everythingdependedon tak- ing it easy and letting things follow their course. Her anxiety about where to live next, the thought that it would most probablyentail moving, greatly tormentedher As a matter of fact, I had not noticedher anxiety. It would only strikeme the following day. Rather,she was like Moscow, an "almostimpregnable fortress" 34 , there for the conquering, or the impregnating.

On December20, for instance,he describesthe frustrationshe faces as: so many bastions, and it is only the total impossibilityof advancing any further,only the fact that Asja's illness, or at least her weak- ness, pushes our personalaffairsinto the backgroundthat keeps me frombecomingcompletelydepressedby all this. In the original,Benjaminwritesof findinghimself facing "eine fast uneinnehm- bare Festung" Sieburth'stranslationechoes a commentby Scholem in the preface: "Sie bleibt nur als Empfangerinseiner Berichte," 14 , [she is there only to receive his reports;to note is that"empfangen"also means"toconceivea child"]as well as Benjamin's own commentlaterin the passagethat,"TodayI told herthatI now wantedto have a child by her" 35, italicsadded.

Herresponseto this commentgoes conspicuouslyunnoted. As Michael Andre Berstein has pointed out, we would do well to be waryof such self-servingself-representation: Likeanyauthor,Benjaminconfronted rejectionandindifference; but compared,say, to Adoro's early work, Benjamin's commanded considerablymoreattentionandrespect. Evenhis immenselydiffi- cultbookon Germantragicdramawas favorablyreviewedin many of his country'srelevantperiodicals,as well as in importantjour- nals in Hungary,France,Austria,and England.

And yet it is the imageof Benjaminas a marginal,disregarded geniuswhoseradical insightsonly posterityhas beenableto appreciate thathas become partof ourown repertoire of receivedideas,fixedso securelythat, perhaps,no factualcounter-evidence willeverquitedislodgeit. It is in Scholem'sprefaceto MoscowDiary thatthe vilifyingof Lacis is most blatant. Scholem is not likely to have been kindly disposed to the personhe consideredhis maincompetitorin the battleplayedout between Judaismand Marxismin the second half of the s for Benjamin's allegiance,the personhe held responsiblefor interferingwith the arrange- mentshe had made for Benjaminto receivea stipendwhich was to bring him to Jerusalemto study Hebrew.

Bernstein,accessedvia the internetdatabaseAcademicSearchElite. Given that Scholem was also closely acquaintedwith Benjamin'swife, Dora,andthathe receivedher accountingof the entiredivorceprocess,it is understandable thathe wouldblameLacis for havingarbitrated over and severedwhathe saw as Benjamin'slife-line to his Judaictradition.


Lacis, Asja (1891–1979)

Her father was a worker who took part in the Revolution in Latvia. Her family later moved to Riga. Petersburg for a two year study. In St. Petersburg she got familiar with the theatre of Meyerhold. With the outbreak of the first world war, she moved to Moscow , where she discovered the work of Vladimir Mayakovsky.

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Asja Lācis

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