The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin

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"To great writers," Walter Benjamin once wrote, "finished works weigh lighter than those fragments on which they labor their entire lives." Conceived in Paris in 1927 and still in progress when Benjamin fled the Occupation in 1940, The Arcades Project (in German, Das Passagen-Werk) is a monumental ruin, meticulously constructed over the course of thirteen years--"the theater," as Benjamin called it, "of all my struggles and all my ideas."

Focusing on the arcades of nineteenth-century Paris-glass-roofed rows of shops that were early centers of consumerism--Benjamin presents a montage of quotations from, and reflections on, hundreds of published sources, arranging them in thirty-six categories with descriptive rubrics such as "Fashion," "Boredom," "Dream City," "Photography," "Catacombs," "Advertising," "Prostitution," "Baudelaire," and "Theory of Progress." His central preoccupation is what he calls the commodification of things--a process in which he locates the decisive shift to the modern age.

The Arcades Project is Benjamin's effort to represent and to critique the bourgeois experience of nineteenth-century history, and, in so doing, to liberate the suppressed "true history" that underlay the ideological mask. In the bustling, cluttered arcades, street and interior merge and historical time is broken up into kaleidoscopic distractions and displays of ephemera. Here, at a distance from what is normally meant by "progress," Benjamin finds the lost time(s) embedded in the spaces of things.


About Walter Benjamin

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Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was the author of many works of literary and cultural analysis. Rolf Tiedemann is the literary executor of Adorno and of Walter Benjamin and the editor of the German editions of Adorno's collected works and his posthumous writings.
Published December 10, 1999 by Harvard University Press. 1088 pages
Genres: History, Travel, Literature & Fiction, Arts & Photography, Professional & Technical, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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This kaleidoscopic work is arranged in 36 categories with such loosely descriptive headings as —Prostitution,— —Boredom,— —Catacombs,— —Dream City,— and —Theory of Progress.— It makes sense why Benjamin would refer to this work as —the theater of all of my struggles and ideas.— Everything seems t...

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London Review of Books

Maybe this was one of the fantasies of the book – the book to beat capital at its own game – which drove the convolutes mad.

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Project MUSE

By examining The Golden Bowl in terms of the mass cultural alienation that Benjamin called "dream-sleep" and the related phenomenon of the flâneur, this essay demonstrates a Benjaminian anthropological vision present within James's text.

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Project MUSE

Up until Harvard University Press's English rendering of Benjamin's Gesammelte Schriften by Suhrkamp Verlag in Frankfurt, Benjamin has been largely known in this country for writings, say in Illuminations or Reflections, toward the condensed or polished extreme of his script, such as "The Task of...

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