The Arcades Project
Uploaded by baadasskid69 on Oct 27, 2011
Broderson Walter Benjamin A Biography
I will admit that the only thing I know about Walter Benjamin is that he wrote one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever seen: The Arcades Project. From the remarks on the dust cover of the Brodersen book, it appears that most biographers have approached him with some sort of almost mystical awe, mostly because his work was so original and startling, and because his philosophical positions often seemed contradictory. This book is much more accessible, providing a great deal of historical material, and actually letting us get to know the man.
I am intrigued by The Arcades Project. It seems to me to stand as a unique literary work; if an impressionist painting were written down, it would be The Arcades Project. Benjamin sought to recreate the feeling of Paris in the nineteenth century by collecting contemporary newspaper columns and articles, and grouping them in subject categories. The result is a sort of series of “snapshots” of the Paris streets.
I wanted to see if Brodersen’s biography could give me any clues or hints as to how and why Benjamin constructed (one can hardly say “wrote”) the book he did.
First and foremost, The Arcades Project is a paean to a great city. It’s obvious that Paris fascinated Benjamin. The first point to consider then is what Benjamin’s relationship to his own city of Berlin was, and whether that had any influence on him such that he might want to write about another great metropolis.
Benjamin was born in 1892 in Berlin, at a time when the city was being drastically altered. New streets, “tremendously wide,” (Brodersen, p. 1) were built throughout the city, destroying much of old Berlin in the process. There was apparently no planning done before construction began, because all sorts of architectural styles wound up jumbled together in an eclectic mix.
In addition, technology was appearing in the city. Horse drawn vehicles became obsolete as people began to use electric trams for transportation. Not long after that, automobiles arrived on the scene. In addition, the population of the city was rising, and would pass two million in 1905. (Brodersen, p. 2). Tenements were traps that housed the city’s poorer workers, who lived in “a world of misery” amidst dazzling modernity. (Brodersen, p. 3). The...