Arcades Project  

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"Method of this work: literary montage. I have nothing to say only to show" [...] -- Walter Benjamin

"I have to admit that the Passage was an unbelievable pesthole. It was made to kill you off, slowly but surely, what with the little mongrels' urine, the shit, the sputum, the leaky gas pipes. The stink was worse than the inside of a prison." --Death on Credit (1936) by Louis-Ferdinand Céline tr. Ralph Manheim

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The Passagenwerk or Arcades Project was an unfinished lifelong project of philosopher Walter Benjamin, an enormous collection of writings on the city life of Paris in the 19th century, especially concerned with the iron-and-glass covered "arcades" (known in French as Passages couverts). Benjamin's Project, which many scholars believe might have become one of the great texts of 20th-century cultural criticism, was never completed due to his death under uncertain circumstances on the French-Spanish border in 1940. Written between 1927 and 1940, the Arcades Project has been posthumously edited and published in many languages as a collection of unfinished reflections.

These arcades began to be constructed around the beginning of the nineteenth century and were sometimes destroyed as a result of Baron Haussmann's renovation of Paris during the Second French Empire. Benjamin linked them to the city's distinctive street life and saw them as providing one of the habitats of the Flâneur (i.e., strolling in a locale to experience it).


Publication history

The notes and manuscript for the Arcades Project and much of Benjamin's correspondence had been entrusted to his friend Georges Bataille before Benjamin fled Paris under Nazi occupation. Bataille, who worked as a librarian at the Bibliothèque Nationale hid the manuscript in a closed archive at the library where it was eventually discovered after the war. The full text of Benjamin's unfinished magnum opus was printed in the 1980s after years of difficult editorial work. The book is hailed as one of the milestones of 20th-century literary criticism, history and critical theory. Nevertheless its publication has given rise to controversy over the methods employed by the editors and their decisions involving the ordering of the fragments. Critics argue that this reconstruction makes the book akin to a multi-layered palimpsest. The Arcades Project, as it stands, is often claimed to be a forerunner to postmodernism.


Primary source

  • Walter Benjamin. The Arcades Project, Ed. Rolf Tiedemann. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, (New York: Belknap Press, 2002), 1088 pages. (English] ISBN 0674008022.

Secondary sources

  • Susan Buck-Morss. The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought), Boston: MIT Press, 1991, 505 pages. (English) ISBN 0262521644
  • Beatrice Hanssen (ed) Walter Benjamin And the Arcades Project (Walter Benjamin Studies), London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006), 256 pages. (English) ISBN 0826463878.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Arcades Project" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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