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Walter Benjamin The Arcades Project

ISBN 13: 9780674008021

The Arcades Project

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9780674008021: The Arcades Project
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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.

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You could spend years trying to read Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project--after all, he spent much of the last 13 years of his life doing the research. When he committed suicide in 1940, he destroyed his copy of the manuscript, and so for decades the work was believed lost. But another copy turned up, and Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin have translated it into English. It is a complex, fragmentary work--more a series of notes for a book than a book itself--which probes the culture of the Paris arcades (a cross between covered streets and shopping malls) of the mid-19th century and the flaneur ("the man who walks long and aimlessly through the streets" in an "anamnestic intoxication [that]...feeds on the sensory data taking shape before his eyes but often possesses itself of abstract knowledge--indeed, of dead facts--as something experienced and lived through"). The Arcades Project is, frankly, so dense a work that it may be tricky to find enough time to do more than glimpse fleetingly at its sections--over 100 pages of notes on Baudelaire alone!--though one is sure to look forward to the opportunity to peruse it at leisure. --Christine Buttery

Review:

Arcades is an assemblage of quotations, notes and theses that wrestle with themselves to extraordinary effect. In his lifetime, Benjamin saw published only the fragmentary collection One-Way Street, and he initially conceived The Arcades Project as a continuation of that book...It is a privilege, through this collection, to gain access to the workings of such a distinctive mind.--Guy Mannes Abbott "New Statesman "

The Arcades Project was a legend before it became a book...This large volume reproduces every relevant scrap in the Benjamin archives, reprinting, verbatim, every entry in the more than 30 notebooks that Benjamin had meticulously maintained to organize his observations and pertinent passages from books pertaining to a variety of different topics and themes, from 'Fashion' and 'Boredom' to 'Barricade Fighting' and 'the Seine.'--James Miller "New York Times Book Review "

[Benjamin's] style of writing has a narcotic effect that soon envelops the reader in Parisian ambiance. Picking up The Arcades Project is like visiting a ghostly city. One becomes familiar with its thematic streets and alleys, its peculiar cultural constructs, its architecture, and its literatures...The Arcades Project is indeed a sort of magic encyclopedia, freeing its subject from traditional historical and literary interpretations and re-inventing it as a living, breathing picture. It is a maze of small revelations, its pages as seductive and confused as the streets, dreams, and arcades of Paris.--Jason Cons "Boston Book Review "

A painstaking act of literary reconstruction has fleshed out Walter Benjamin's lost masterpiece...We may consider here Benjamin's wonderful remark that 'knowledge comes only in lightning flashes. The text is the long roll of thunder that follows.' The Arcades Project is the reverberation of that thunder in a thousand different directions...This posthumous volume suggests that, in its incomplete and fissiparous state, his reflections are themselves an unflawed mirror for the world which he was attempting to explore. He seems to have retrieved everything, and anticipated everything.--Peter Ackroyd "The Times "

[Benjamin's] magnum opus, The Arcades Project, has finally been translated into English...If the low price for such a large academic volume is anything to go by, the publishers expect this to be a major event.--Julian Roberts "The Guardian "

Walter's Benjamin's The Arcades Project, a doorstopper of a book by one of the leading intellectuals of the 20th century, starts with the specifics of the technologically innovative Parisian shopping arcade, then spins off into a vast and complex universe of ideas about art, architecture, politics and consumer culture. Not unlike the novels of Umberto Eco and Thomas Pynchon, The Arcades Project uses the template of the past to demystify the present.--Joe Uris "Portland Oregonian "

The Arcades Project is truly a kaleidoscopic montage of a dream of the meanings of society, a dream deferred by the advance of Nazis into Paris. In 1940, when Benjamin fled, he left behind the sprawling, incomplete masterpiece he had begun in 1927. But by then, it had already become, he wrote, 'the theater of all my struggles and all my ideas.'--Forrest Gander "Providence Journal-Bulletin "

If The Arcades Project is still worth reading today, it is not only for the quixotic pleasures of its dead ends, but for the traces of hope it finds within 'the guilty context of the living' (as Benjamin wrote elsewhere). Through an analysis of the 'collective dream' of the 19th century, Benjamin hopes to liberate the 20th.--Diana George "The Stranger "

Presenting some wonderful social history, The Arcades Project is an incomparable work that only Benjamin could have written. It permits readers who would otherwise never have the luxury of comprehension to examine the workings of one of the most remarkable thinkers of 20th-century Europe.--S. Gittleman "Choice "

Knowledge of The Arcades Project is essential for a full comprehension of Benjamin's intentions and achievement in the 1930s--especially his highly original and influential attempt to define the idea of the modern.--Michael W. Jennings

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