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  • Cited by 10
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2006

10 - Benjamin’s phantasmagoria

Summary

The Arcades Project is the centerpiece of what Benjamin called his “Parisian production cycle,” an archeology of the emergence of high capitalist modernity that engaged him from the late 1920s until his death. Begun as an essay that was to offer a historical ground for One-Way Street's phenomenology of modern life (1928), the Arcades Project had expanded to thirty-six copious folders (known as “Convolutes”) of notes and reflections by the time Benjamin was forced by the Nazi Occupation to flee Paris and the Bibliothèque Nationale where he had spent twelve years sifting through “the rags, the refuse” that he deemed his preferred materials of historiographical construction (Arcades, 460; n1a, 8). Benjamin was never to transform his notes into a finished work, taking his own life in September 1940, after having been denied an exit visa to Spain. On his final failed journey across the Pyrenees Mountains, he was reported to have been carrying a large black briefcase filled with a manuscript, which was never recovered. Glittering like one of the allegorical emblems dear to its owner, this briefcase gives concrete form to the simultaneous atmosphere of loss and possibility that enshrouds Benjamin's Arcades Project, whose notes and citations raise questions central to the entire materialist project, that, however, dissipate into pregnant and repetitive brooding, dense though evocative aphorisms, the dust of the nineteenth century.

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