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Stadtwollen: Benjamin's Arcades Project and the Problem of Method

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Abstract

Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project (Passagen-Werk) is discussed here as an unacknowledged treatise on methodology: a hermeneutics of the modern city that aims to interpret how a city is evidence of an era's Wollen, its drive to manifest its self–understanding in distinctive material forms. My coinage Stadtwollen alludes to an undervalued source for Benjamin: Alois Riegl's Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts (1897–98), which discusses a Kunstwollen, a collective will to art, or a drive leading a culture to create works of art revealing and predicating its self–understanding. This essay sets Riegl's treatise next to Convolute N of the Passagen-Werk and the project's two Exposés (1931 and 1933) in order to illuminate Benjamin's critical–materialist phenomenology and hermeneutics of the city as encompassing new classes of technical–industrial artifacts–a discourse on method sensitive to the political critiques initiated by Marxism but far outdistancing the claims to epistemological critique made by his era's Marxisms.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2007

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