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Convolute N

In Arcades on September 18, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Benjamin is, very, clear and, far too, concise in his summation of the method of The Arcades Project.  Convolute N, which deals with his historical method and his analysis of that method (moving into the philosophy of method and history), contains a very great deal of material but the following are his key methodological statements on the Project itself.

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.
[N1,10]

Method of this project: literary montage. I needn’t say anything. Merely show. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations. But the rags, the refuse – these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.
[N1a,8]

These two short notes are Benjamin’s expression of the parataxic approach to the study of the past he was engaging in and of its role in his work.  Benjamin was not content to assemble this material and set it side-by-side-by-side rather this was the staring point in his efforts to discern something far greater and far more important; the ‘dialectical images’ or ‘constellations’ to which he constantly refers (not just in The Arcades Project but elsewhere – the Theses on the Philosophy of History for instance) and which The Arcades Project seems to be intended to enable the creation of.  The ‘dialectical image’ is part of Benjamin’s attempt to seize ‘the thread of expression’ [N1a,6] of society and of the study of society [N1a,7] so that we can come to understand both and the connection between them.  This anthropological concern with the past and, simultaneously, with the study of it is what makes The Arcades Project so interesting methodologically.
The Arcades Project is the very parataxic assemblage that Benjamin allows to ‘merely show’ his ‘dialectical images’ (suggesting that the Exposes are Benjamin’s expressions of the dialectical images resulting from this work and thus its most important part rather than ephemera)  and getting to grips with these ‘dialectical images’ is an essential part of reading The Arcades Project as it is they that we ought to be looking to generate in our own analyses.

It’s not that  what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation.  In other words, images is dialectics at a standstill.  For a while the relation of the present to the past is a purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent.-Only dialectical images are genuine images (that is, not archaic); and the place where one encounters them is language.   {Awakening}
[N2a,3]

The final indication of this note – that dialectical images are encountered in language – directs our attention to discourse and its role in our studies and its presence in the objects of our study.  It also indicates the great difficulty we are faced with.  We must realise and understand the discourses we are enmeshed with before we can hope to bring the what-has-been in to imagistic contact with them (establish a ‘heightened graphicness’ for history) and thus establish the dialectical images that Benjamin took to be the starting point of genuine analysis.

Collecting the elements of the montage – establishing the paratxic framework of the what-has-been (practicing history if you like) – is merely time consuming it will be bringing ‘dialectics to a standstill’ that will be difficult.

It is good to give materialist investigations a truncated ending.
[N9a,2]

Reading for September – ‘Convolute N’

In Arcades, reading on September 8, 2009 at 2:02 pm

The next piece of reading that we are going to tackle from the Arcades Project is ‘Convolute N’ (pp.456-488 of the Harvard University Press edition that we are using – details in the bibliography).  This chapter deals with what Benjamin refers to as ‘On the theory of knowledge, Theory of Progress’ and is an important chapter for understanding the method that Benjamin is using in his project, and that we are applying to the seaside promenade in our own.

Our plan is to respond to this chapter by highlighting what we, individually, see as important sections and posting these on here along with our own commentaries.

As always, other contributors are welcome, just get in touch.  There is a free downloadable version of the entire Arcades Project  in 4 parts available here.