The Arcades Project

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Harvard University Press, 1999 - Literary Criticism - 1073 pages

"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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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - drenglish - LibraryThing

The Arcades is an impossible project: impossible to write, impossible in any ordinary sense to read. The impossibility, for Benjamin, seems to have been the point. For the reader, it makes the Arcades a kind of paradoxical or negative key to the rest of Benjamin's work. Read full review


User Review  - Kirkus

A heavy book, to say the least, from one of the exiting century's greatest thinkers, Walter Benjamin (Selected Writings, Vol. I: 1913-1926, 1996, etc.). Heavy because of its 960 pages, and heavy ... Read full review


Translators Foreword ix
Convolutes 27
A branch of La Belle Jardiniere in Marseilles 47
Le Pont des planetes by Grandville 65
La Casseteteomanie ou La Fureur dujour 164
Exterior of the Crystal Palace London 185
Charles Baudelaire by Nadar 229
Alexandre Dumas pere by Nadar 752
First Sketches 827
The Fourierist missionary Jean Journet by Nadar 813
Expose of 1935 Early Version 893
Materials for the Expose of 1935 899
Materials for Arcades 919
The Passage Choiseul 927
Dialectics at a Standstill by Rolf Tiedemann 929

A page of Benjamins manuscript from Convolute N 457
A panorama under construction 529
Selfportrait by Nadar 680
Rue Transnonain le 15 avril 1834 by Honore Daumier 717
Translators Notes 955
Guide to Names and Terms 1016
Index 1055

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About the author (1999)

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.

Howard Eiland teaches literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kevin McLaughlin is Assistant Professor of English at Brown University and the author of Writing in Parts: Imitation and Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Literature.

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