Benjamin's Passages: Dreaming, Awakening

Benjamin's Passages: Dreaming, Awakening

Benjamin's Passages: Dreaming, Awakening

Benjamin's Passages: Dreaming, Awakening

Synopsis

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 dreamphenomenon 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 ArcadesProject, 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.

Excerpt

Benjamin’s Passages: Dreaming, Awakening is focused on Benjamin’s work of the 1930s, though it reaches back to earlier writings, too (for example, “The Task of the Translator,” the study of Goethe’s novel The Elective Affinities), in order to establish certain continuities. The introduction and the seven chapters are intended to deal with central issues of Benjamin’s later work: the interplay of aesthetics and politics in his criticism (Chapter 1); the conception of language (Chapter 2); aura and its relation to image (Chapter 3); the genre of The Arcades Project (Chapter 4); citation as the key structural principle of The Arcades Project (Chapter 5); the status of “messianism” in his thought (Chapter 6); the motifs of memory, the crowd, and awakening (Chapter 7).

Many (but not all) of Benjamin’s principal writings of the later period are discussed in these chapters: the essay on Goethe’s The Elective Affinities and “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” (Chapter 1); “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” “The Task of the Translator,” and the essay on Karl Kraus (Chapter 2); “Little History of Photography” (Chapter 3); the materials published as Das Passagen-Werk (The Arcades Project) (Chapters 4, 5); “On the Concept of History” (Chapters 6, 7). But my intention is not to “cover” a period of Benjamin’s writings but rather to trace a limited number of issues.

The Introduction has a number of aims: to situate Benjamin’s place in the current field of “theory,” to lay out elements of the biographical context of some of the writings, and to give a preview of some of the arguments of the subsequent chapters. A section on “The Storyteller” highlights one aspect of Benjamin’s major accomplishment as a literary theorist, a topic that this book has not tried to address.

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