"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.
“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
“Some of us don't read fiction. We live on history, biography, criticism, reporting and what used to be called belles-lettres. We will be feasting on Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project for years to come. Just published in its first full English edition, The Arcades Project should also win readers with broader tastes. By any standard, the appearance of this long-awaited work is a towering literary event. A sprawling, fragmented meditation on the ethos of 19th-century Paris, The Arcades Project was left incomplete on Benjamin's death in 1940. In recent decades, as portions of the book have appeared in English, the unfinished opus has acquired legendary status. The Arcades Project surpasses its legend. It captures the relationship between a writer and a city in a form as richly developed as those presented in the great cosmopolitan novels of Proust, Joyce, Musil and Isherwood. Those who fall under Benjamin's spell may find themselves less willing to suspend their disbelief in fiction. The city will offer sufficient fantasy to meet most needs.”―Herbert Muschamp, New York Times
“At last, we can glimpse Benjamin's avowed masterpiece, The Arcades Project, and pay homage to this strange, vulnerable man, for whom letters and thought and books were everything. It was thirteen years in the making, and scribbled beneath the 'painted sky of summer'--the huge ceiling mural of Paris' Bibliothèque Nationale...Benjamin claimed The Arcades Project was 'the theater of all my struggles and all my ideas.' This struggle, and those ideas, aimed to chronicle the whole history of the nineteenth century, over which Paris, majestically, presided, whose arcades symbolized the city's heart laid bare...Harvard's Belknap [Press] is brave to publish such an esoteric and pricey specimen. Along with its two recent volumes of Benjamin's Selected Writings, and with a concluding collection in its way soon, we are now much better able to assess the man--foibles and all--and his legacy as a creative whole.”―Andy Merrifield, The Nation
- Publisher : Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press; Third Printing edition (March 30, 2002)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 1088 pages
- Item Weight : 3.33 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.3 x 1.86 x 10.3 inches