A Note on the Image: The background wallpaper for this page is an edited scan of the cover art used by McLaughlin and Eiland in their 1999 edition of The Arcades Project. Read more about the image and why it was chosen by clicking here.

The Arcades Project

"Industry and utility are the angels of death who, with fiery swords, prevent man's return to Paradise. . . . And in all parts of the world, it is the right to idleness that distinguishes the superior from the inferior classes. It is the intrinsic principle of aristocracy." Schlegel, Lucinde (Leipzig), p. 32. (AP 379)

Sizable. Intimidating. Episodic. Unfinished. Seemingly ordered: alphabetically, arbitrarily. The "Overview" (or table of contents) reads much like a guide to Paris: "Fashion", "Conspiracies", "Marx", "Iron Construction", "Prostitution, Gambling", "Collecting". . ."The Streets of Paris". Despite the project's massiveness and seemingly haphazard nature, the collection is saved from chaos by its title: The Arcades Project--a title which, gesturing toward the precursor of the twentieth-century shopping mall and the architectural construction that Benjamin "considered the most important architectural form of the nineteenth century, and which he linked with a number of phenomena characteristic of that century's major and minor preoccupations" (AP ix), encloses, contains, and delimits this collection of asides, quotations, footnotes, and aphorisms, for those flâneurs, prostitutes, gamblers, and collectors who might approach its contents from the perspective of that early twentieth-century world it attempts to escape; however, once inside, we get a sense of an organizing force at work behind the chaos, an order produced by an attentiveness to conditions of exteriority/interiority and the random throes of diversion. We read what we hold in our hands; we pick out constellations--we assemble and arrange the text in various ways as its fragmentary style invites us to do. And just as we are expected to do as scholars, we search out patterns, locate references to locatable schools of thought, note recurrent themes, trailing a long thread of words in our wake lest we lose our way.

At first glance, the 1999 English translation of The Arcades Project is as disorienting and overstimulating as the Paris streets are today. Comprised of several essays and thirty-six Convolutes or sheaves (each originally made up of thirty-six handwritten folios), one set organized by capital letters A-Z and ten additional files marked by lower-case letters, the collection bears a resemblance to a stack of file folders a collector of textual artifacts of the often ignored side of nineteenth-century Parisian daily life might pull from a dusty filing cabinet. Scholarly debate continues regarding the project's intended destiny, however. Is it a montage of refuse? A postmodern work in progress? A working notebook for another more traditional scholarly project? A personal collection of thought objects that reveal Benjamin's own obsessions? Or is it, as its editors Eiland and McLaughlin argue, a "research project [that] had become an end in itself" (AP xi)?

Regardless of its intended function, The Arcades Project exists as a veritable "world in miniature" (AP 31) of literary, historical and sociological fragments, through which its readers are invited to wander, as nineteenth-century Parisians wandered through the labyrinthine structures of the arcades themselves. Thus what of value is to be found within its confines depends as much on what the collection contains as well as the conceptual leaps and connections its omissions require its readers to make.

However, not all of the omissions in this edition of The Arcades Project were Benjamin's. The editors of this edition chose not to represent the complex thirty-two character hyperlinking system Benjamin had developed in order to create subterranean passageways or short-cuts between passages in his collection that were thematically related. Instead, these symbols were replaced with the . . . construction, which one finds as early as in the first section of Convolute A entitled "[Arcades, Magazins de Nouveautés, Sales Clerks]":
"In speaking of the inner
boulevards," says the Illustrated
Guide to Paris, a complete picture
of the city on the Seine and its
environs from the year 1852, 'we
have made mention again and again
of the arcades which open onto
them. These arcades, a recent
invention of industrial luxury, are
glass-roofed, marble-paneled
corridors extending through whole
blocks of buildings, whose owners
have joined together for such
enterprises. Lining both sides of
these corridors, which get their light
from above, are the most elegant
shops, so that the arcade is a city, a
world in miniature Flâneur , in
which customers will find everything
they need. During sudden
rainshowers, the arcades are a place
of refuge for the unprepared, to
whom they offer a secure, if
restricted, promenade?one from
which the merchants also benefit.”


This passage is the locus classicus
for the presentation of the arcades;
for not only do the divagations on
the flâneur and the weather develop
out of it, but also, what there is to be
said about the construction of the
arcades, in an economic and
architectural vein, would have a
place here. (AP 31)

Thus a possible key to the some of the organizational principles at work beneath the otherwise fragmented structure of The Arcades Project is yet to be presented to English readers. Without the primitive "hyperlinks," the "divagations" imbedded in the text's composition are not dramatized for us in the form of visual cues as Benjamin had originally intended, although divagation or diversion as a primary obsession is clearly a thematic force within the larger structure of the project, indeed perhaps the thematic force that connects the subjects Benjamin choses to trace within his Convolutes.

"Weather," as an external force from which the "unprepared" seek "refuge" and the way in which the "types" that populate the arcades are drawn away from the steadily flowing straight streams of the boulevards and into the convoluted "world in miniature" of the arcades, is put forth as a generalized, all-encompassing, always changing condition of exteriority--the very thing the interior of this enclosing (though transparent) structure enables its temporary inhabitants to evade. As posited in this first of the thirty-six concurrently composed Convolutes, "Weather," functions as an emblem of exteriority and thus as a primary though backgrounded concern in The Arcades Project as it mirrors the conditions which necessitate the creation of a controlled interior world. Thus, imbedded within the project's overall structure and the start of the first Convolute, are questions concerning two closely-related theoretical dichotomies: the notions of exteriority and interiority to be considered alongside the space or threshold which joins them, a concept that is herein made analogous to weather (a.k.a.: "the shrill wind of history" ("Theses" p.???)) and its relationship to architecture--as well as the concept of diversion, in so far as diversion indicates one's being drawn away from a specific path within an architectural construction.

But let us not stray too far from the passage at hand. Here, aside from the theoretical "locus classicus for the presentation of the arcades," we find out several things about these structures in this passage. First off, they are passages that "open onto" the inner boulevards that Napoleon III, with the help of city planner Georges Eugène Haussmann, used to pave over the once narrow and twisted, disease-ridden and crime-infested neighborhoods of old world Paris. Thus the arcades themselves function as diversions from the main stream of boulevard traffic as they branch off from those broad pathways designed to increase commerce by making store locations easier to access and safer to navigate, while at the same time operating as barricades of social control, allowing the arcades to function as a kind of valve in the larger structure of the network of Parisian pathways, architecturally providing an alternative underground flow for human traffic and thought far from the mainstream. These boulevards from which the arcades divert their occupants, were designed in order to create wide open spaces where all could be seen and where, if necessary, military operations might organize themselves. Broad, straight, and accommodating to a growing populous, these boulevards became emblematic of the People en masse, humanity as liquid organism, flowing in throngs between national monuments and transfer stations, navigation made simple by city planning: one simply inserted him/herself into the throng and flowed on like a boat on the Seine, bound to wind up where s/he seemed to belong. Replacing a convoluted network of blind turns and crowded neighborhoods, the boulevards transformed Paris into a striated space--striated in the sense of Deleuze-Guattari's Maritime Model outlined in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. The massive, straight and narrow boulevards cut pathways through the city that also clearly delineated what was previously a convoluted labyrinth of narrow passageways and winding streets into a planned city comprised of a conglomeration of cells or zones, in which "lines or trajectories tend to be subordinated to points" (ATP 478). This can be seen topographically in the way that, while the passages of the arcades burrowed through buildings in erratic patterns, "extending through whole blocks of buildings" and forming an indeterminate structure based on the economic collaboration of individual shop owners as opposed to larger business, the boulevards themselves tended to connect public spaces, points of mass transit, and national monuments. Thus, the movement of pedestrians on the boulevards was site-directed, constant, steady, goal-oriented movement. The kind of movement that, swept up in the flow of human traffic, does not slow or stop to contemplate the details of the enormous text through which it races. It is the type of movement that prevents idleness--a luxury to be afforded only by the aristocracy and the human state most threatening to the durability of its enjoyment by the powers that be--as idleness can never exist alongside itself, parisitical as it must always be and allowing, as it necessarily must, the greatest opportunity for Contemplation and Rebellion, its closest friend. Though convoluted and filled with objects for sale, the arcades offered the common man or woman a brief subterranean escape from a city designed to keep all bodies visible and industrious. In this way, the arcades function more like Deleuze-Guattari's model for smooth space, the space in which "the points are subordinated to the trajectory" (ATP 478). Their structural composition lends way to a space which is conducive to nomadism, in which "dwelling is subordinated to the journey" (ATP 478), and thus these passages become the space of flânerie--of distraction--one of Benjamin's primary obsessions in The Arcades Project.

However, these arcades, made possible by the joining together of small businesses, technological innovations of nineteenth-century iron, marble and glass manufacturing, and a rising middle class are also, in the above passage, regarded as "a recent invention of industrial luxury" insofar as they function as sites created by luxury and where greater luxury might be obtained --supplying the Parisian populus with an enjoyable though not indispensable alternative to mainstream life: architectural diversions or labyrinths filled with seductive objects--in a word, they turn the city into a game of chance, a game that steers its participants into an enclosed, safe, and climate-controlled "world in miniature," a relatively closed system in which one might experience "a secure, if restricted, promenade--one from which the merchants also benefit," and thus one with the potential for stabilizing the all-encompassing capitalist structure.

A ritualistic exchange is built into the game's rules. The arcades in this way employ the illusion of liberty brought forth through the recreational act as a means of convincing the individual that the system which s/he inhabits is open and thus escapable, stabilizing, intoxicating the masses with dreams of good fortune or luck in love, so that the collective dream of capitalism may appear more convincingly as a reality to the masses. Using chance encounters that bring patron A within close range of commodity B, C, D . . . etc in this context of a stolen moment or temporary escape from the structural difficulties of everyday life, the shop owners deploy the labyrinthine, game-like, recreational quality of the arcades' irregular and subterranean structure as a means of adding the sensation of free play to an exchange that differs in no way from that which takes place less pleasantly on the boulevards between the points of State "significance." The idler is placed in the position of one who is in unfamiliar and difficult to navigate surroundings, a stark contrast to the straight, wide and swiftly moving boulevards. In the flaneur's case, the complexity is a comfort providing, as the arcades most reliably do, reading material, entertainment, distraction from oneself.

So far, we’ve encountered only a brief passage from The Arcades Project, and already we seem to have lost our way, becoming distracted with the structure itself and its effect on our own perceptions. But where is our guide? Benjamin has provided us with no introduction, no stated method, no prescribed mode of engagement. There is no protagonist to light our path through this constructed world or to make the connections for us. Only a step or two across the threshold--the threshold which we did not see as a threshold at first--and already we feel abandoned and uncertain about our purpose here. We have read nothing, only riffled the pages, felt the weight of the book in hand, heard rumors about it, dreaded and dreamed of its labyrinthine nature, wary of the Minotaur that may be imprisoned at its center. Center? But where is the center, that grim site of resolution? How will we be able to tell when we are there when at each turn of the page we are confronted with another a chance encounter that threatens to lead us astray?

An anchor—a thread —might be useful here at the moment of departure, lest no guide materialize and we be forced to wander interminably or to trace the past. We go back to the beginning and see that we did not notice the epigraph (an epigraph used by Benjamin in the ____________________ , an Arcades Project in miniature) carved into the threshold of the first convolute “A” and perhaps the only convolute that would be read first with any confidence because it is at the beginning of the book and because it is marked with the first letter of the alphabet—because it is this particular threshold that connects what follows to the rest of the published world. Let us begin again :

The magic columns of these palaces
Show to the amateur on all sides,
In the objects their porticos display,
That industry is the rival of the arts.

- “Chanson nouvelle,” cited in Nouveaux Tableaux de Paris, ou
Observations sur les mouers et usages des Parisiens au
commencement du XIXe siècle
(Paris, 1829), vol. 1, p.27

For sale the bodies, the voices, the tremendous unquestionable wealth, what will never be sold.

- Rimbaud


Read it: “The magic of these palaces / Show to the amateur on all sides, / In the objects their porticos display, / That industry is the rival of the arts.” We are at first struck by the invocation of the "amateur." "Is The Arcades Project not a scholarly project?” we ask. Where on earth might an amateur fit into an encyclopedic multilingual thirteen-year sustained study of Nineteenth-Century Paris? Why might the amateur have the ability to see the message and not the scholar, "That industry is the rival of the arts"? If instead of taking the word "amateur" in the negative sense so often called forth by scholars and other professional specialists, we focus on its other meaning--as one who loves or admires or is devoted to something as a past time and not as a profession--we find that from the very start, our approach to study itself is changed. With recreational eyes--the eyes of a flâneur perhaps, or one who plays a game--we gain access to the magic of these "palaces" and the objects contained therein, the objects that--in their arrangement on "display" and in the constellations or imposed order one makes of that display--instruct the amateur "That industry is the rival of the arts."

So, before we move on to the discovery that the amateur, according to Benjamin's collector's instinct, alone is able to make, let us pause on this understanding of text as architecture. (TEXT AS ARCHITECTURE NEEDS FLESHING OUT HERE--Perhaps relevant at a later time, it is interesting to note Hemingway's reference to writing as architecture in Death in the Afternoon published in 1932: "Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over" (Death in the afternoon need CITATION--see also Le Courbusier ). Also, many writers engaged in the modernist project made reference to texts as places? dwellings constructed for readers. See Williams’ Paterson, in which an entire city is constructed, Winesburg, Ohio, Dos Passos' USA trilogy and Manhattan Transfer, Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. Perhaps because so much of the 20's were focused on borders, borders that were being crossed through German aggression or through thriving capitalists, and because of a heightened number of expatriate writers, place supplanted mythology in the twentieth century. (See Paysan de Paris by Aragon? INTRODUCTION on mythology.AND DEVELOP THIS IDEA?CONNECTING TO MINOTAUR, IF NEED BE)] Just in case we lost Benjamin's title-page metaphor in translation, we must remind ourselves or discover anew that the passages (a word that, in German as in English, equally denotes passages in a book as well as passageways in architecture) that make up The Arcades Project? Das Passagen-Werk?are collected by the author as objects beneath an enclosing structure in which events might occur. This being the case, one must ask how this approach to a text? as a constructed space devised to function as a stage? might change the way in which a reader engages what is therein enclosed? For one thing, we are less concerned with locating a singular center, climax or resolution than would be the case if the text we were faced with was less interrupted by empty space that, like a vacuum, screams to be filled. Instead of apprehending "meaning," the enclosed world of The Arcades Project invites us to dwell, observe, question, and most importantly, to keep moving. But to what end? Again, there is no guide in sight, no maps--only a long-dead architect and a body of work collected by devotees.

Perhaps the search for “magic” is our guide, the desire to be diverted from the larger system without, a system without borders and over which we know no power--like the magical effect of timely

Weather Perhaps that sensation of magic comes from the illusion of control one experiences when acting without a stable or identifiable guide or goal, when one is diverted from the task of following--a sensation inherent to wandering of any kind and attributable to the amateur or dilettante, who engages without commitment and without the goal of mastery. According to our epigraph, the likelihood of "magic" taking place within this collection is increased by the inversely proportionate professionalism of the reader. In other words, one who does not engage the text as part of a professional endeavor, or--positively speaking--one who engages the text to follow amorously as a temporary pastime, is able to see "In the objects their porticos display, / That industry is the rival of the arts," put simply enough. It makes sense. Artists have been fighting against their own commercial exploitation and self-exploitation for ages, always trying to find the balance between selling their work and producing what their artistic sensibilities drive them to produce. This conflation of the desire to be accepted enough to merit dissemination and the drive to be avant-garde enough to stand out in the veritable sea of artistic wares is an age-old source of tension for "the artist."

But wait, we jumped to soon. We leapt on an interpretation too quickly and must not be satisfied with that, the first run, the visceral response to the chance encounter with a fragment from ages past. What is that quotation doing there, the first thing we see as we cross the first (that is, if one be slave to alphabetical order, the first) threshold into this enormous and multifaceted structure. What is it doing there? Perhaps its citation will help us understand: "'Chanson nouvelle,'" cited in Nouveaux Tableaux de Paris, ou Observations sur les mouers et usages des Parisiens au commencement du XIXe siècle (Paris 1828), vol. 1, p. 27" [“New Song” cited in New Scenes of Paris, or Observations of the Habits and Customs of Parisians at the Beginning of the 19th century.]. Interestingly, the quotation comes from a text titled “Chanson nouvelle” or “New Song”. But we do not hear it sung; we see it visually on the page. We note the line breaks, but as it is translated, there is no rhyme, no rhythm to the English reader, but we can imagine a song—an acoustic environment—as though we just crossed the threshold to an interior world where the whir of the modern city or unpleasant weather is dampened out by this refrain. The acoustic backdrop of The Arcades Project resonates with this easily tuned-out/skimmed-over song and its hidden message—tuned out in the same way background music is tuned out, tuned out like weather or death. Indeed, this epigraph becomes part of the weather of the arcades, part of its inescapable ambiance. We must be careful not to allow our own obsessions and definitions of industry, from our 21st-century hypercapitalistic perspective, to impede our ability to recreate the world Benjamin seeks to recreate in The Arcades Project. One must be willing to ask, along side the greater economic questions surrounding the rise and fall of the first enclosed shopping center, how industry as striating and goal-oriented force, economic and otherwise, might affect perceptions of “the arts”. Industry is not simply an effect of forces, but an approach to action as well, and because of the unwillingness to be diverted it implies, it is an approach that rivals access to the arts and the magic available therein.

George Dillon points out some other projects that use The Arcades Project as their conceptual starting point in his essay "Montage / Critique: Another Way of Writing Social History." PMC 14:2, 2004. Here are some links to them:

Broadway, Geoff. "Digital Realist Montage." Thesis. University of Derby, 1997.

Curtis, Cathy. "Photos: Cruel World of Homelessness." Los Angeles Times 7 Nov. 1996 .

Dillon, George L. Writing with Images.

Lederman, Russet. "American Views: Stories of the Landscape."

Lederman, Russet "Congestion."

Michals, Robin. e-Arcades.

Peaker, Giles. "Walter Benjamin's Passagenwerk: Reading in the Ruins." c. 1997-2000.


Van Hollebeke, Mark H. "The Pathologies and Possibilities of Urban Life: Dialectical and Pragmatic Sight-seeing in New York City."

"This work has to develop to the highest degree the art of citing without quotation marks. Its theory is intimately related to that of montage [N1,10]" (AP 458).
The Color of Hyperlinks: another decision a web editor must make is whether or not the hyperlinks themselves will indicate to the reader whether or not s/he has visited them before. Most web editing software packages have a simple function that enables the web editor to choose beforehand which colors will be used on each page to denote hyperlinks, active links, and visited links. In the case of this page, I had to be sure that whatever colors I chose for a visited link and a hyperlink would be both distinguishable one from the other and readable on both dark and light backgrounds. As dark yellow and bright blue both fall into this catagory, those were the colors on which I at first settled. I did entertain the notion of having a distinction between hyperlinks and visited links; however, while this project emphasizes the concept of "Traces"--a concept that is wholly visualized in the color change of the visited link--choosing not to distinguish between pages previously viewed in other contexts forces readers to entertain the text much as a city, wherein one might cross and recross paths with the same person or thing creating kaleidescopic constellations of significance to either party.
Website hyperlinks are like library books: the more you have the better. Having several hyperlinks on a page reduces the likelihood that readers will reach a dead end while increasing the chance that they will encounter something that interests them enough to keep them engaged. The more connected a web page is to other sites, the more likely readers are are to be distracted from the content of whatever lured them to a particular web page in the first place.
In order to maintain some level of consistancy with contemporary scholarly discourse, all citations in this project will be done in accordance with the most current version of that put forth by the Modern Language Association; however, because Benjamin scholars have a special system referring to the parts of The Arcades Project by convolute and passage number, this information will also be included in all citations for that work.
A word about linked pages: one choice an editors make with regard to a site's layout is whether or not the content of linked pages should open up in the same window, replacing the text where the original hyperlink was found or in a new window which opens up on top of the original page. The choice is between anchoring your reader to the content of the original page and allowing him or her to be distracted but not lost to other pages and releasing your readers into the project to lose themselves as in a game. The primary issue at hand in this decision making process is, of course, how much control the editor wants to have over the manner in which her/his text is received.

A note on the repeated use of hyperlinks: originally, I thought hyperlinking a word each time it was used would create unnecessary distractions from the subject at hand. While in the process of revising the chapter on Gertrude Stein entitled "Repetition: Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons," I have since determined that those distractions are actually quite necessary after all. as they continuously renew the context of each page, drawing attention to the threshold over which we pass, the threshold that likens each passage to Bejmain's primary object of meditation: the arcades.

"'What if one were to store up all the energy and passion . . . which every year is squandered . . . at the gaming tables of Europe--would one have enough to make a Roman people out of it, and a Roman history? But that's just it. Because each man is born a Roman, bourgeois society aims to de-Romanize him, and thus there are games of chance and games of etiquette, novels, Italian operas and stylish gazettes, casinos, tea parties and lotteries, years of apprenticeship and travel, military reviews and changing of the guard, ceremonies and visits, and the fifteen or twenty close-fitting garments which daily, with a salutary loss of time, a person has to put on and take off again--all these have been introduced so that the overabundant energy evaporates unnoticed!' Ludwig Börne, Gesammelte Schriften . . . [O13a,5]"  (AP 514)

The Arcades Project Project is part of Heather Marcelle Crickenberger's doctoral dissertation entitled "The Structure of Awakening": Walter Benjamin and Progressive Scholarship in New Media which was defended and passed on June 27, 2007 at the University of South Carolina. The committe members are as follows: John Muckelbauer, Ph.D, Judith James, Ph.D., Dan Smith, Ph.D, Brad Collins, Ph. D., and Anthony Jarrells, Ph.D. Copyright 2007 by Heather Marcelle Crickenberger. All rights reserved.