Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids

16.6.09

À mon chevet: The Arcades Project

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project
À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.
World exhibitions are places of pilgrimage to the commodity fetish. [...] The phantasmagoria of capitalist culture attains its most radiant unfolding in the world exhibition of 1867. The Second Empire is at the height of its power. Paris is acknowledged as the capital of luxury and fashion. Offenbach sets the rhythm of Parisian life. The operetta is the ironic utopia of an enduring reign of capital. (pp. 7-8)

Baudelaire's genius, which is nourished on melancholy, is an allegorical genius. For the first time, with Baudelaire, Paris becomes the subject of lyric poetry. This poetry is no hymn to the homeland; rather, the gaze of the allegorist, as it falls on the city, is the gaze of the alienated man. It is the gaze of the flâneur, whose way of life still conceals behind a mitigating nimbus the coming desolation of the big-city dweller. The flâneur still stands on the threshold -- of the metropolis as of the middle class. Neither has him in its power yet. In neither is he at home. He seeks refuge in the crowd. Early contributions to a physiognomics of the crowd are found in Engels and Poe. The crowd is the veil through which the familiar city beckons to the flâneur as phantasmagoria -- now a landscape, now a room. Both become elements of the department store, which makes use of flânerie itself to sell goods. The department store is the last promenade for the flâneur. [Baudelaire] sides with the asocial. He realizes his only sexual communion with a whore. (p. 10)

-- Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (from the German edition)
Most of this book is an edited cahier of Benjamin's notes for a grand work on the passages of Paris that he was never able to complete. Or did he? The translators of this edition examine the current understanding of the book: was it a "monumental literary fragment or ruin? a torso? Is it "the blueprint for an unimaginably massive and labyrinthine architecture -- a dream city, an edifice?" There is clear evidence the Benjamin revised the entries from much less finished notes. Was the book instead an attempt to create a new literary genre from the process of montage -- "with its philosophic play of distances, transitions, and intersections, its perpetually shifting contexts and ironic juxtapositions" -- indeed, examples are found in Benjamin's later work. Perhaps The Arcades Project is in exactly the form that Benjamin intended.

No comments: