Walter Benjamin’s Arcades

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And nothing at all of what we are saying here actually existed. None of it has ever
lived-as surely as a skeleton has never lived, but only a man. As surely, however,
<broken off> <Do,3 >

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The impression of the old-fashioned can arise only where, in a certain way, reference is made to the most topical. If the beginnings of modem architecture some extent lie in the arcades, their antiquated effect on the present generation has exactly the same significance as the antiquated effect of a father on his son. [B3,5]

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For the first time in history, with the establishment of department stores, consumers begin to consider themselves a mass. (Earlier it was only scarcity which taught them that.) Hence, the circus-like and theatrical element of commerce is quite extraordinarily heightened. [A4,1]

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Concerning the mythological topography of Paris: the character given it by its gateways. Mystery of the boundary stone which, although located in the heart of the city, once marked the point at which it ended. Dialectic of the gate: from triumphal arch to traffic island.

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How gratings-as allegories-have their place in hell. In the Passage Vivienne, sculptures over the main entrance representing allegories of commerce. [01,1]

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What was otherwise reserved for only a very few words, a privileged class of words, the city has made possible for all words, or at least a great many: to be elevated to the noble status of name. This revolution in language was carried out by what is most general: the street.- Through its street names, the city is a linguistic cosmos. [P3,5]

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Game in which children have to form a brief sentence out of given words. This game is  seemingly played by the goods on display: binoculars and flower seeds, screws and musical scores, makeup and stuffed vipers, fur coats and revolvers. <A 0,8>

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Corresponding to the form of the new means of production, which in the beginning is still ruled by the form of the old (Marx), are inlages in the collective consciousness in which the new is permeated with the old. These inlages are wish inlages; in them the collective seeks both to overcome and to transfigure the immaturity of the social product and the inadequacies in the social organization of production. At the same time, what emerges in these wish inlages is the resolute effort to distance oneself from all that is antiquated-which includes, however, the recent past. These tendencies deflect the imagination (which is given inlpetus by the new) back upon the prinlal past. In the dream in which each epoch entertains images of its successor, the latter appears wedded to elements of prinlal history ( that is, to elements of a classless society. And the experiences of such a society-as stored in the unconscious of the collective – engender, through interpenetration with what is new, the utopia that has left its trace in a thousand configurations of life, from enduring edifices to passing fashions. [Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century]

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Dreams vary according to where you are, what area and what street, but above all according to the time of year and the weather. Rainy weather in the city, in its thoroughly treacherous sweetness and its power to draw one back to the days of early childhood, can be appreciated only by someone who has grown up in the big city. It naturally evens out the day, and with rainy weather one can do the same thing day in, day out-play cards, read, or engage in argument-whereas sunshine, by contrast, shades the hours and is furthermore less friendly to the dreamer. In that case, one must get around the day from morning on; above all, one must get up early so as to have a good conscience for idleness.  <Bo,5>

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Arcades are houses or passages having no outside-like the dream. [Lla,l]

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Trace and aura. The trace is appearance of a nearness, however far removed the thing that left it behind may be. The aura is appearance of a distance, however close the thing that  calls it forth. In the trace, we gain possession of the thing; in the aura, it takes possession of us. [M1 6a,4]

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And so we turn our attention to the arcades that still exist, to the brighter; livelier, and in come cases renovated arcades of the opera district, to the narrow, often empty and dust-covered arcades of more obscure neighborhoods. They work., the arcades-sometimes in their totality, sometimes only in certain parts-as a past become space; they harbor antiquated trades, and even those that are thoroughly up to date acquire in these inner spaces something archaic. Since the light comes only from above through glass roofs, and all stairways to the left or right, at entranceways between the shops, lead into darkness, our conception of life within the rooms to which these stairways ascend remains somewhat shadowy.

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A look at the ambiguity of the arcades: their abundance of mirrors, which fabulously amplifies the spaces and makes orientation more difficult. For although this mirror world may have many aspects, indeed infinitely many, it remains ambiguous, double-edged. It blinks : it is always this one-and never nothing out of which another immediately arises. The space that transforms itself does so in the bosom of nothingness. In its tarnished, dirty mirrors, things exchange a Kaspar-Hauser-Iook with the nothing. It is like an equivocal wink coming from nirvana.  [R2a,3]

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This work has to develop to the highest degree the art of citing without quotation marks. Its theory is intimately related to that of montage. [Nl, lO]

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This resignation without hope is the last word of the great revolutionary. The century was incapable of responding to the new technological possibilities with a new social order. That is why the last word was left to the errant negotiators between old and new who are at the heart of these phantasmagorias. The world dominated by its phantasmagorias-this, to make use of Baudelaire’s term, is “modernity.” [Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century]

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All true insight forms an eddy. To swim in time against the direction of the swirling stream. Just as in art, the decisive thing is: to brush nature against the grain.

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The interest of the panorama is in seeing the true city-the city indoors. What stands within the windowless house is the true. Moreover, the arcade, too, is a windowless house. The windows that look down on it are like loges from which one gazes into its interior, but one cannot see out these windows to anything outside. (What is true has no windows; nowhere does the true look out to the universe.) [Q7a, 7]

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It may be that the continuity of tradition is mere semblance. But then precisely the persistence of this semblance of persistence provides it with continuity. [N19, I]

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As long as there is still one beggar around, there will still be myth. [K6,4]

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“Praise God and all my shops”-saying attributed to Louis Philippe.

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Recall the origin of the modern poster. In 1861, the first lithographic poster suddenly appeared on walls here and there around London. It showed the back of a woman in white who was thickly wrapped in a shawl and who, in all haste, had just reached the top of a flight of stairs, where, her head half turned and a finger upon her lips, she is ever so slightly opening a heavy door to reveal the starry sky. [The Arcades of Paris]

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All this is the arcade in our eyes. And it was nothing of all this. They <the arcades> radiated through the Paris of the Empire like grottoes. For someone entering the Passage des Panoramas in 18 17, the sirens of gaslight would be singing to him on one side, while oil-Iamp odalisques offered enticements from the other. With the kindling of electric lights, the irreproachable glow was extinguished in these galleries, which suddenly became more difficult to find-which wrought a black magic at entranceways, and peered from blind windows into their own interior, It was not decline but transformation. All at once they were the hollow mold from which the image of “modernity” was cast. Here, the century mirrored with satisfaction its most recent past. Here was the retirement
home for infant prodigies . . . [The Arcades of Paris]

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These notes devoted to the Paris arcades were begun under an open sky of cloudless blue that arched above the foliage; and yet-owing to the millions of leaves that were visited by the fresh breeze of diligence, the stertorous breath of the researcher, the storm of youthful zeal, and the idle wind of curiosity-they’ve been covered with the dust of centuries. For the painted sky of sunmmer that looks down from the arcades in the reading room of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris has spread out over them its dreamy, unlit ceiling. [Nl,5]

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All text quoted from Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project.

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