The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin
Uploaded by angelttt on Oct 31, 2011
This essay examines a chapter from Brodersen’s biography of Walter Benjamin.
Since I’ve just examined Benjamin’s work The Arcades Project, it’s interesting to know something about its author. I’m examining the first chapter of the biography of Benjamin by Momme Brodersen, because I think it’s interesting to see what influenced the young man to do the things he did. His style of writing, which is actually a compilation, is so unusual that I hope to find clues in his early life that might explain why he made the choices he did.
Walter Benjamin was born in Berlin on July 15, 1892. At the time of his birth, the German capital was undergoing extensive reconstruction, so much so that it was virtually a new city. As it rose, “its history and its past were almost completely obliterated.” (P. 1). Brodersen’s description of the city at the time reminds me strongly of Benjamin’s description of Paris in his book The Arcades Project; it has the same feeling of fragmentation, of patterns shifting, breaking apart, and reforming. I think that his early childhood memories of the construction in Berlin must have influenced Benjamin’s later writing.
Much of his writing did in fact center around Berlin, as well as Paris. “As an eyewitness to the almost eruptive development and reshaping of Berlin, Benjamin was truly destined to analyse [sic] his relationship to his home city.” (Brodersen, p. 3). One of his books is a book about his childhood, entitled Berliner Kindheit um Neunzehnhundert (Berlin Childhood around 1900). But, as Brodersen points out, Benjamin’s writing is not connected to particular dates or events, such as the outbreak of the First World War; instead, he connects to places and things (railway stations, streets, everyday objects) and this connection makes his writing extremely vivid. He seems to have been a keen observer, and this served him well when he began writing.
His father was wealthy, and Walter Benjamin enjoyed a privileged upbringing. One of the results of this was that the family was able to move away from the ever-changing, noisy city and buy a villa near the Grunewald, the vast forest outside the city. Benjamin complained that he was isolated by his wealth from any children his own age; his nanny was there to supervise him and make sure he didn’t play with “unsuitable”...