Benjamin's Passages: Dreaming, Awakening
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In transposing the Freudian dream work from the individual subject to the collective, Walter Benjamin projected a "macroscosmic journey" of the individual sleeper to "the dreaming collective, which, through the arcades, communes with its own insides." Benjamin's effort to transpose the dream phenomenon to the history of a collective remained fragmentary, though it underlies the principle of retrograde temporality, which, it is argued, is central to his idea of history.
The "passages" are not just the Paris arcades: They refer also to Benjamin's effort to negotiate the labyrinth of his work and thought. Gelley works through many of Benjamin's later works and examines important critical questions: the interplay of aesthetics and politics, the genre of The Arcades Project, citation, language, messianism, aura, and the motifs of memory, the crowd, and awakening.
For Benjamin, memory is not only antiquarian; it functions as a solicitation, a call to a collectivity to come. Gelley reads this call in the motif of awakening, which conveys a qualified but crucial performative intention of Benjamin's undertaking.
may perhaps be understood in terms of Hans Blumenberg’s argument that a culture harbors certain “answer positions” for which appropriate questions are no longer available or not yet formulated.13 Benjamin’s manner of displacing a problematic in no sense eliminates it but rather fractures it in order to reconstitute its elements.14 Thus, with the notion of aura, Benjamin proceeds by displacing a conceptual register, so that aura functions not so much as a concept or idea but rather as a
fetishism simply as a hidden code whose solution would bring immediate enlightenment and a release from the state of enchantment. In Marx’s classic formulation commodity, fetishism arises from an inversion whereby the “deﬁnite social relation between men themselves” assumes “the fantastic form of a relation between things.”55 Kevin McLaughlin has described Marx’s idea of fetishism as, “this peculiar animation that sticks to commodities . . . [it] is itself essentially concealing . . . Or, more
were undergoing profound changes in his lifetime. As Norbert Bolz concluded, “Walter Benjamin’s aesthetics is a doctrine of perceptual experience [Lehre von der Wahrnehmung]—more properly: of perceptual experience of the collectivity—more properly: of a techno-medially organized collective experience.”61 In consequence of this orientation to the collectivity, Bolz goes on, Benjamin “laid out the matrix of a transformation of the conception of art. Nothing could be more untimely today.” If we
satire at a form of idées reçues that gained particular signiﬁcance in a slightly later period—the discourse of the popular press. Its salient characteristic is what Benjamin refers to in calling “die Phrase” “an abortive product of technology” (SW 2: 435, trans. modiﬁed; GS 2: 336). What both Kraus and Benjamin focus on is not so much the content of journalistic writing but rather the system as a whole—production, reproduction, and dissemination—whereby the report of a local incident becomes
namely, the two exposés—“Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century”—and the book draft, “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire,” although this last certainly marks a deviation from the Passagen project into a new one. But a different approach to the question may be sought in what Benjamin termed the “magical aspect of language,”17 whereby a past is identiﬁed in terms of an unknown future. Benjamin’s task was to treat the citations, 17. Cf. Menninghaus, Theorie der Sprachmagie, 231–33.