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

THE ARCADES PROJECT

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

Contents

Translators Foreword
Convolutes 27
Early Drafts
Addenda
Dialectics at a Standstill by Rolf Tiedemann 929
Translators Notes 955
Guide to Names and Terms 1016
Index 1055
Copyright

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About the author (1999)

Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was the author of many works of literary and cultural analysis.

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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