Ben Lerner and the Art of Curation

Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04, carries the following epigraph:

The Hassidim tell a story about the world to come that says everything there will be just as it is here. Just as our room is now so it will be in the world to come; where our baby sleeps now, there too it will sleep in the other world. And the clothes we wear in this world, those too we will wear there. Everything will be as it is now, just a little different.

Like any good Hassidic story, this one has a convoluted genealogy. In his acknowledgements at the back of the book, Lerner says that he came across it in Giorgio Agamben’s The Coming Community, although it is, he writes, ‘typically attributed to Walter Benjamin’. What Lerner doesn’t say is that Benjamin said that he heard the story from Gershom Scholem, and that, before writing it down himself,  he had recounted it to Ernst Bloch, who transcribed a variation of it (‘just a little different’)  in Spuren:

A rabbi, a real cabbalist, once said that in order to establish the reign of peace it is not necessary to destroy everything or to begin a completely new world. It is sufficient to displace this cup or this bush or this stone just a little, and thus everything. But this small displacement is so difficult to achieve and its measure is so difficult to find that, with regard to the world, humans are incapable of it and its necessary that the Messiah come.

This version also appears alongside Benjamin’s in The Coming Community. In citing Agamben, Lerner leads us back to this second story, such that it becomes a kind of  shadow– or alter– epigraph to 10:04, working in relief to the printed version of the tale. Continue reading “Ben Lerner and the Art of Curation”