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THE ARCADES PROJECT by Walter Benjamin


by Walter Benjamin, translated by Howard Eiland, Kevin McLaughlin

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-674-04326-X
Publisher: Harvard Univ.

A heavy book, to say the least, from one of the exiting century’s greatest thinkers, Walter Benjamin (Selected Writings, Vol. I: 1913-1926, 1996, etc.). Heavy because of its 960 pages, and heavy because of its standing as Benjamin’s final, and unfinished, work, this tome will prove a curious blessing for those wearing the right equipment. Begun in 1927 as a planned collaboration for a newspaper article on the arcades of nineteenth-century Paris, the project soon bloomed in Benjamin’s mind (appearing in different incarnations in his essays and articles), and would continue to bloom until his suicide in 1940. The arcade came to represent, for Benjamin, the architectural idiom for the liberation of 19th-century bourgeois history. This kaleidoscopic work is arranged in 36 categories with such loosely descriptive headings as —Prostitution,— —Boredom,— —Catacombs,— —Dream City,— and —Theory of Progress.— It makes sense why Benjamin would refer to this work as —the theater of all of my struggles and ideas.— Everything seems to be in there, making it at once awe-inspiring and inscrutable in its present form. Had the war not kept it from its final flower, this theater might have been one of the greatest intellectual works of the century. As it stands, it is merely brilliant.