Benjamin's Passages: Dreaming, Awakening

Benjamin's Passages: Dreaming, Awakening

Alexander Gelley
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 226
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  • Book Info
    Benjamin's Passages: Dreaming, Awakening
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6416-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-41)

    Walter Benjamin’s reputation emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, well after his death in 1940, and to a degree that was hardly conceivable in his lifetime. As his writings became known, they assumed a place alongside those of other thinkers of the century—for example, Freud, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Foucault—who may be characterized as, in Foucault’s words, “initiators of discursive practices,” authors who “produced not only their own work, but the possibility and the rules of formation of other texts.”¹ What is more, Benjamin’s reputation has been singularly colored by a legendary “afterlife.” Undoubtedly, his writings have been subject to...

  7. ONE Contexts of the Aesthetic
    (pp. 42-68)

    How to talk about the aesthetic today? In many circles the term meets with either suspicion or lack of interest. Discussions of the aesthetic are viewed as a diversion from cultural-political considerations in favor of merely formalist or antiquarian preoccupations. Aesthetics has been displaced on all sides—by cultural and media studies, by sociology of the arts, by psychology and biography of artists, by audience response, by various “anti-aesthetics” (including the postmodern). And the sponsorship that conceptual thought had provided for aesthetics at least up to Hegel is now seen as one of its principal liabilities.

    One difficulty, of course,...

  8. TWO Epigones in the House of Language: Benjamin and Kraus
    (pp. 69-86)

    If the subject matter of Benjamin’s criticism in his early maturity foregrounds philosophical-theological issues—one thinks of the two dissertations and the essay on Goethe’sDie Wahlverwandtschaften—the writings of the late twenties seem to search for a tactic whereby the written word could bring about a discernible, immediate effect by the most economical of means.One-Way Street, the playful, experimental text of 1928, is a kind of laboratory of “inconspicuous forms” (unscheinbare Formen), as they are called in the very first entry, “Filling Station,” forms more apt, we read, for realizing a “constructive” effect at a communal level than...

  9. THREE Benjamin on Atget: Empty Streets and the Fading of Aura
    (pp. 87-101)

    The discussion of Eugène Atget within “Little History of Photography” (1931), though it occupies only some three pages (SW2: 517–19;GS2: 377–79), is significant in that it touches on some of the major issues not only of the essay itself but of Benjamin’s subsequent work in the thirties, notably, the relation of technology, work of art, and aura. In fact, it is in this essay that Benjamin offers a first detailed discussion of aura, and Atget’s Paris photographs serve as illustration of the political dimension of the fading of aura. Equally significant is the way Benjamin...

  10. FOUR Entering the Passagen
    (pp. 102-126)

    The origins ofThe Arcades Projectgo back to the summer of 1927 when Benjamin was in Paris, working closely with Franz Hessel on a translation of Proust. At the same time, the two collaborated on a feuilleton essay entitled “Passagen” (GS5: 1041–43;TAP871–72). It begins by noting the opening of a fashionable new arcade on the Champs-Elysées but soon shifts to a consideration of the disappearance of some of the oldest of these structures: “today a few arcades still preserve, in harsh light and gloomy corners, a past become space. Antiquated trades survive within these...

  11. FIVE Citation as Incitation: The Political Agenda of the Passagenarbeit
    (pp. 127-146)

    What is “Das Passagen-Werk”? What we have is a massive collection of fragments, tantalizing but unwieldy, a collection that could give rise to a number of alternative models. It cannot be called aWerk, although it was undoubtedly conceived in view of one. At the same time, it was in ongoing dialogue with the essays of the thirties, essays that may well be considered finished works. Thus, it is not inappropriate to look for what might be termed “the idea the Passagen,” though it would be mistaken to suggest that Benjamin’s own conception of it might be recovered or reconstituted....

  12. SIX Messianism, “Weak” and Otherwise
    (pp. 147-173)

    In 1914–15, as the war was beginning, Benjamin wrote the essay “The Life of Students.” He was studying at the Berlin University and was one of the leaders of the student body association. (It’s worth nothing that Benjamin avoided this kind of quasi-political involvement subsequently.) The piece is an impassioned yet closely argued plea to his fellow students not to squander their time in frivolous sociality but rather to focus on ideals of self-development, both spiritual and erotic. What interests me particularly in this essay is the way that Benjamin, just over twenty years old, outlines a conception of...

  13. SEVEN Forgetting, Dreaming, Awakening
    (pp. 174-196)

    In May 1940, on the eve of his departure from Paris, a departure that would be definitive, Benjamin wrote a long letter to Theodor Adorno. In response to comments that Adorno had written him in a few months earlier regarding the relation of forgetting and experience (Vergessen, Erfahrung),¹ Benjamin wrote, “There can be no doubt that the concept of forgetting which you inject into your discussion of the aura is of great significance. . . . I cannot pursue this now . . . It seems unavoidable to me that I will again confront in my work the question you...

    (pp. 197-206)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 207-210)