Benjamin's Passages: Dreaming, Awakening
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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.
After all, counsel is less an answer to a question than a proposal concerning the continuation of a story that is in the process of unfolding. To seek this counsel, one would ﬁrst have to be able to tell the story. . . . Counsel woven into the fabric of real life [gelebten Lebens] is wisdom. (SW 3: 145f; GS 2: 442) An extraordinary expansion in meaning has taken place. Although “giving counsel” applies initially to a speciﬁc situation, the context is progressively expanded to include the larger
and, in fact, a forceful presentation of the Romantic sources for the modernist conception of art.29 When Benjamin writes, “[F]or the Romantics criticism is much less the judgment of a work than the method of its fulﬁllment [Vollendung]” (GS 1: 69), he is anticipating the kind of claim that he will make in the Elective Afﬁnities essay regarding the work of art’s afﬁnity to the “ideal of the problem” of philosophy. Benjamin sees the early German Romantics’ criterion of immanent form not only as
Wahrheit in einem Werke zwar nicht als erfragt, doch als erfordert sich erkennen würde,” GS 1: 173. 37. Regarding the Artwork Essay he writes to Gershom Scholem on Oct. 24, 1935, “it has moved forward in a decisive manner in recent days through certain fundamental conclusions regarding the theory of art. Together with the historical schematism that I developed about four months ago, these—as a systematic base— will form a kind of network in which every particular is to be entered. These
commodities with a sensuous allure and self-conscious venality that is concentrated in the prostitute. The whore’s professional capacity to achieve empathy with any number of potential clients serves as emblematic for the prostitution of use value in all forms of commodity. In a wide-ranging sketch of “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire” of early 1938, Benjamin wrote, “The allegorical viewpoint is always constructed in terms of a debased world of appearances [entwertete
the sketches and aphorisms that he had been writing since 1923, the most dire period of the German inﬂation, and which were published as One-Way Street in 1928. There he wrote, People in the national communities of Central Europe live like the inhabitants of an encircled town whose provisions and gunpowder are running out and for whom deliverance is, by human reasoning, scarcely to be expected. . . . But the silent, invisible power which Central Europe feels opposing it does not negotiate.