ArcadesPromenades

Archive for the ‘Arcades’ Category

“the value of fragments”

In Arcades, reading on June 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

“Just as mosaics preserve their majesty despite their fragmentation into capricious particles, so philosophical contemplation is not lacking in momentum. Both are made up of the distinct and the disparate; and nothing could bear more powerful testimony to the transcendent force of the sacred image and the truth itself. The value of fragments of thought is all the greater the less direct their relationship to the underlying idea, and the brilliance of the representation depend as much on this value as the brilliance of the mosaic does on the glass plate. The relationship between the minute precision of the work and the proportions of the sculptural or intellectual whole demonstrates that truth content is only to be grasped through immersion in the most minute details of subject matter.”

Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, p28-29

 

Here we have The Arcades Project at the point of its inception. The theme of the intellectual mosaic which emerges from immersion in the minutia is writ large in Convolutes H, M, & N and can be seen in operation throughout the body of The AP. The process of walking through the field to be studied (M: flanerie), collecting from that field (H: collection) and then assembling the result parataxically (N: method) which is The AP is already present in the ‘Trauerspiel’ book.

Advertisements

Packaging liminality: the management and commodification of liminal landscapes in tourism

In Arcades, Conferences, Promenades, Publications on April 18, 2011 at 10:40 am

We’ve just had the abstract below accepted for the ATLAS 2011 conference in Valmeira, Latvia.  The theme of the conference is ‘Landscape and Tourism: a dualistic relationship”.  Our plan for this paper is to take the methodology that we’ve been developing on this blog over the last two years and apply it to other tourist spaces, in order to test its value as a new approach.

Documentary photography

In Arcades, photography, Promenades on April 14, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I have been alerted to these two photographers by the sound artist, Reid Dudley-Peirson, who, coincidentally is performing in a new piece called ‘Songs of the sublime’ at the Turner Contemporary gallery in the seaside town of Margate this weekend.

Reid informed me, after reading an early draft of some of our work, that we should supplement our analysis of seaside photography and the Arcades Project with considerations of the work of Eugene Atget and Martin Parr. This may take some time for us to process, but we offer up a couple of images here.

Atget was a contemporary of Walter Benjamin, taking photographs of Paris streets that influenced the surrealists and Dada at the time that Benjamin was working on his study of the Parisian Arcades. Martin Parr is a British documentary photographer, whose study of the seaside ‘The Last Resort’, clearly sheds light on our work on the links between tourism and the everyday within the capitalist constraints of the promenades.

Eugene Atget: avenue des gobelins (1927)

In his ‘little history of photography’, Benjamin makes the case for photography, still in the early stages of its development, to be “moving out of the realm of aesthetic distinctions to social function”. Leslie [2000] locates this movement in the dialectic, claiming that there is always an excess in photography, a residue of the social. In this sense, photography can provide research material, historical evidence that goes far beyond merely that which is represented on the surface of a photographic image.

Leslie goes on to identify three ways in which Benjamin conceptualised photography:

Firstly, as analogical representations of an external reality. Photographs provide a way of capturing natural perception and thus, of making the subjective objective.

Secondly, “the photograph fixes on celluloid a view of reality, held in the consciousness of a class when it imagines itself and the cosmos. Technological art is capable of tendering in ocular form the ideology of the self-representing class” [Leslie 2000: 49]. Benjamin refers to this as ‘optical-unconscious’, a relationship between the unconsciousness of the subject and the a-conscious machine perception of the lens

Finally, photography disrupts the ‘natural’ flow of images and perception and allows for reconfigurations of space and time, new constellations of knowledge.

“Photography…was first adopted within the dominant social class…:manufacturers, factory owners and bankers, statesmen, men of letters and scientists” Gisela Freund, “La Photographie au point de vue sociologique” (manuscript, p.32). Is this accurate? Shouldn’t the sequence be reversed? (Benjamin, AP, Y3, 1)

Alexander Gelley – Weak Messianism: Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project

In Arcades on February 12, 2011 at 11:33 am

 

http://www.faculty.uci.edu/profile.cfm?faculty_id=2758

Émile Cohl: Fantasmagorie & The Hasher’s Delirium

In Arcades on December 24, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Dreams, Drugs and Balconies: A reflection on Convolute M – The Flaneur

In Arcades, reading on August 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm

 “An intoxication comes over the man who walks long and aimlessly rough the streets.  With each step, the walk takes on greater momentum; ever weaker grow the temptation of shops, of bistros, of smiling women, ever more irresistible the magnetism of the next street corner, of a mass of distant foliage, of a street name.  Then comes hunger.  Our man wants nothing to do with the myriad possibilities offered to sate his appetite.  Like an ascetic animal, he flits through unknown districts – until, utterly exhausted, he stumbles into his room, which received him oddly and wears a strange air” (Benjamin AP M1,3)

The intoxication of flanerie is linked explicitly in this convolute to the intoxication produced by Hashish, a drug that Benjamin experimented with in the 1920s.  He makes frequent references to it throughout the Arcades Project and links the hesitant, doubt-filled meanderings of flanerie explicitly to the feelings of “hashish intoxication” (M4a,1), explaining the experiences of walking through crowded streets in these terms too:

“The masses are the newest drug for the solitary.” (Benjamin AP M16,3)

“We know that, in the course of flanerie, far-off times and places interpenetrate the landscape and the present moment.  When the authentically intoxicated phase of this condition announces itself, the blood is pumping in the veins of the happy flaneur, his heart ticks like a clock, and inwardly as well as outwardly things go on as we would imagine them to do in one of those ‘mechanical pictures’ which in the nineteenth century (and of course earlier, too) enjoyed great popularity, and which depicts in the foreground a shepherd playing on a pipe, by his side two children swaying in time to the music, further back a pair of hunters in pursuit of a lion, and very much in the background a train crossing over a trestle bridge…” (Benjamin AP M2,4)

Hashish has dissociative properties as well as hallucinatory ones, and although the preceding quotation emphasises the phantasmagorical, optimistic visions offered by flanerie, Benjamin reports in the first that the flaneur suffers from an inability to settle and finds his own environment suddenly strange on his return.  This process of othering and of the breaking of ties is an characteristic of flanerie that is underdeveloped in contemporary appropraitions of the term. Flanerie involves connections being made in a process that can never be fully grasped in its entirity, as the edifice of the Arcades Projects makes clear.  A mode of flanerie in reading is demanded by the Arcades Project in which the reader must enter into the concept to understand it.  This intoxicated mode is another altered state offered by Benjamin in an attempt to provide a framework for understanding the paradoxes of urban life.  Elsewhere it is the language of dreams that gives us the toolkit for understanding the methods that Benjamin is using (convolute N) or the fantastic architectural and cultural forms of modernity (Convolute K).  Influenced by the surrealists and in turn influencing the situationsists, Benjamin is attempting to bend the logic of dreams and drugs to confront a world of fantasy and excess.  The concept he bequeaths most obviously to later urban thinkers is that of the flaneur.

An illustration of the fantastic landscape of the flaneur is given by reference to a guidebook description of a restaurant menu from 1867, described as “Flanerie through the bill of fare” by Benjamin, but also, uncomfortably, reflecting the labyrinthine construction of the Arcades Project itself:

“’Thirty-six pages for food, four ages for drink – but very long pages, in small folio, with closely packed text and numerous annotations in fine print.’ The booklet is bound in velvet.  Twenty hors d’oeurves and thirty-three soups. ‘Forty-six beef dishes, among which are seven different beefsteaks and eight fillets.’ ‘Thirty-four preparations of game, forty-seven dishes of vegetables, and seventy-one varieties of compote’” (AP M3a,1)

This excess of choice offers no logical path through, no rational decision making process for the consumer.  It invites you to soak up is luxury, marvel at its generosity and, ultimately, to open your wallet in a delirium.  This a dreamscape designed to extract profit, a Disneyworld bound in velvet.

Sharon Zukin (1993) summarises the landscapes created by Disney world as ‘The power of facade / the facade of power’ , noting that the production of a constantly evolving, interactive, fantasy landscape that can meet the physical, emotional and social needs of its visors relies on “the centralization of economic power typical of modern society” (224).  Disney create dreams as landscapes, supported by an infrastructure of convenience that means that dream, and the landscape, are unbroken for miles, and for days at a time.

“Landscape – that, in fact, is what Paris becomes for the flaneur.  Or, more precisely:  the city splits for him into its dialectical poles.  It opens up to him as a landscape, even as it closes around him as a room” (Benjamin AP M1,4)

This is the personalisation of landscape, the creation of an architectural form that is both expansive and inspiring on the one hand, and personal and inviting on the other.  Benjamin folds the internal and external together by emphasising the way in which the streets of the city become the living space of ‘the masses’.

“Streets are the dwelling place of the collective.  The collective is an eternally unquiet, agitated being that – in the space between the building fronts – experiences, learns, understands, and invents as much as individuals do within the privacy of their own four walls.  For this collective, glossy enamelled shop signs are a wall decoration as good as, if not better than, an oil painting in the drawing room of a bourgeois; walls with their ‘post no bills’ are its writing desk, newspaper stands its libraries, mailboxes its bronze busts, benches its bedroom furniture, and the cafe terrace is the balcony from which it looks down on its household.  The section of railing where road workers hang their jackets is the vestibule, and the gateway which leads from the row of courtyards out into the open is the long corridor that daunts the bourgeois, being for the courtyards the entry to the chambers of the city.  Among these latter, the arcade was the drawing room.  More than anywhere else, the street reveals itself in the arcade as the furnished and familiar interior of the masses.” (Benjamin AP M3a,4)

But we shouldn’t solely understand this as an emancipatory perspective on the reclamation of urban space by the oppressed, a common tendency in urban theory, but instead look at what Benjamin is pointing us to here.  This section of writing is structured around a series of oppositions between the possessions of the wealthy and the possessions of the masses:

Oil paintings vs. Shop signs

Writing desks vs. Street walls

Libraries vs. Newspaper stands

Bronze busts vs. Mailboxes

Bedroom furniture vs. Benches

Balconies vs. Cafe terraces

Vestibules vs. Railings

Drawing rooms vs. Arcades

This list, drawn out here to emphasise its absurdity, highlights the different material positions of the two classes.  To be outside is, in this case, to be kept outside, barricaded off from a world that is as fantastic as the velvet wrapped menu.  The creative possibilities offered by the street are a substitution for the material advantages of wealth, but in no way emancipation from the logic of capital.   The flaneur, taking in this ‘division’ (AP M5,8) as if in a dream, and entering into it with a jouissant  attitude, coasts along on the crest of commodification and offers no challenge to an order which appears as if in a dream:

“Empathy with the commodity is fundamentally empathy with exchange value itself.  The flaneur is the virtuoso of empathy.  He takes the concept of marketability itself for a stroll.  Just as his final ambit is the department store, his last incarnation is the sandwich man.” (Benjamin AP M17a,2)

Images of the liminal

In Arcades, Promenades on July 1, 2010 at 5:08 pm

This is a slideshare version of our paper from the Liminal Landscapes conference, given today in Liverpool.

the physical presence of the liminal

In Arcades, Promenades on May 17, 2010 at 2:00 pm

At St Pancras Station there is an instance of the liminal made physical because the there is a division within the station between the internal (sub-urban & national) rail system and the international (eurostar) rail system.  The international is made present at the station and there is a clear sense in which to be in one space is to be in one status (stand in Weber’s sense) and to be in the other space is to be in another status.  As these to status-spaces share the same volume and because the status transformation involved is problematic and socially difficult (the national/international is always a significant division) there is a strict regulation, strict enforcement, of the distinction between the two (principally  marked by ‘passport control’).

One of the means of policing this division is found in what is now the upper level of the station; a glass wall.

the physical presence of the liminal

This wall seems to be the very epitome of transparency and openness but this is merely the appearance as it is of course a fortification.  Moreover, it is a governmentally regulated fortification whose restrictions extend beyond the merely physical.

the sign of the discreet functioning of governmentality

This is all indicative of the need to treat such actually transformative and problematic spaces as hazards requiring tight control and classification.  What is at stake here is the Purity and Danger (Douglas 2002) of liminal spaces.  Liminality involves transformation and socio-cultural movement and all societies seem to require the tightest regulation of such movement; preferring the classificatory status quo to any instability of categories.

the orientation of the boundary marks the play of power

the reflective surface of this boundary is more connotationally significant than we at first assume

the purpose of this division and distinction becomes clear when we consider its fucntion

This manifestation of the limit is atypical in its urgent efforts to disappear from plain sight and give the appearance of not being there but the network of power relations this is the expression of are utterly typical.  The liminal is always policed because the system of power in a society cannot bear to much status (stand) disruption.

here the shared light in the volume masks the divisions and distinctions of the space

the volume masks the division and distinction between the two spaces

here the 'international' space can be seen to be 'overwriting' the 'national' space

In the case of St Pancras liminality is managed and policed by allowing one space (the international) to ‘overwrite’ the other (the national) so that the purity of the two is aggressively maintained.

A Collection on Convolute H

In Arcades on May 5, 2010 at 8:38 am

“What is decisive in collecting is that the object is detached from all its original functions in order to enter into the closest conceivable relation to things of the same kind.  This relation is the dramatic opposite of any utility, and falls into the peculiar category of completeness.  What is this “completeness”?  It is a grand attempt to overcome the wholly irrational character of the object’s mere presence at hand through its integration into a new, expressly devised historical system:  the collection.  And for the true collector, every single thing in this system becomes an encyclopaedia of all knowledge of the epoch, the landscape, the industry, and the owner from which it comes.  It is the deepest enchantment of the collector to enclose the particular item within a magic circle, where, as a last shudder runs through it (the shudder of being acquired), it turns to stone.  Everything remembered, everything thought, everything conscious becomes socle, frame, pedestal, seal of his possessions.  It must not be assumed that the collector, in particular, would find anything strange in the topos hyperouranios – that place beyond the heavens which, for Plato, shelters the unchallenged archetypes of things.  He loses himself, assuredly.  But he has the strength to pull himself up again by nothing more than a straw; and from out of the sea of fog that envelops his senses rises the newly acquired piece, like an island. – Collecting is a form of practical memory, and of all the profane manifestations of “nearness” it is the most binding.  Thus, in a certain sense, the smallest act of political reflection makes for an epoch in the antiques business.  We construct here an alarm clock that rouses the kitsch of the previous century to “assembly”.”

Benjamin The Arcades Project Convolute H [H1a,2]

http://www.roughtheory.org/content/use-value-exchange-value-and-collection/

“The true method of making things present is to represent them in our space (not to represent ourselves in their space).  (The collector does just this, and so does the anecdote.) Thus represented, the thing allows no mediating construction from out of “large contexts”.  The same method applies, in essence to the consideration of the great things from the past – the cathedral of Chartres, the temple of Paestum – when, that is, a favourable prospect presents itself: the method of receiving the things into our space.  We don’t displace our being into theirs; they step into our life.”

Benjamin The Arcades Project Convolute H [H2,3]

“The language-game of reporting can be given such a turn that the report gives the person asking for it a piece of information about the one making the report, and not about its subject-matter. (Measuring in order to test the ruler.)” [cf LW I, 416; PI II, x, p. 190d-191a]

Wittgenstein Last writings on the philosophy of psychology Vol.2: The inner and the outer, MS169 p8e

http://www.452f.com/pdf/numero02/02_452f_misc_perez_indiv.pdf

“Works of art teach that person how their function outlives their creator and how his intentions are left behind. They demonstrate how the reception of the work by its contemporaries becomes a component of the effect which a work of art has upon us today. They further show that this effect does not rest in an encounter with the work of art alone but in an encounter with the history which has allowed the work to come down to our own age. “

Benjamin ‘Eduard Fuchs: Collector and Historian’, trans  Knut Tarnowski, New German Critique, No. 5 (Spring, 1975)

http://www.js-modcult.bham.ac.uk/articles/issue6_johnson.pdf

“Accually, inheritance is the soundest way of acquiring a collection. For a collector’s attitude toward his possessions stems from an owner’s feeling of responsibility toward his property. Thus it is, in the highest sense, the attitude of an heir, and the most distinguished trait of a collection will always be its transmissibility.”

Benjamin, ‘Unpacking My Library’, Illuminations, trans’ Harry Zohn & ed’ Hannah Arendt, Shocken Books NY 2008 p66

Unadjusted impressions of the past

In Arcades on April 15, 2010 at 8:24 am

An unlikely early parallel to Benjamin’s thoughts in the Arcades Project can be found in Thomas Hardy‘s preface to his 1901 collection of poems Poems of the past and present:

“Unadjusted impressions have their value, and the road to a true philosophy of life seems to lie in humbly recording diverse readings of phenomena as they are forced upon us by chance and change”

This bears striking similarities to Benjamin’s methods of collecting observations, ephemera and detritus, and of avoiding narrative histories.  There are major differences between the two mens’ work however, and the pastoralist, establishment author would no doubt have been as shocked by the revolutionary, materialist criticism of Benjamin as Benjamin would have been of Hardy’s conservative acceptance of the force of chance.