In “Prostitution, Gambling”, Konvolute O of The Arcades Project, Benjamin asserts the threshold experience as a necessary component of ritual, the practice of symbolically articulating transitions from one mode of existence to another or, in other words, a formally rendered mode of navigation:

Rites de passage—this is the designation in folklore for the ceremonies that attach to death and birth, to marriage, puberty, and so forth. In modern life, these transitions are becoming ever more unrecognizable and impossible to experience. We have grown very poor in threshold experiences. Falling asleep is perhaps the only such experience that remains to us. (But together with this, there is also waking up.) And finally, there is the ebb and flow of conversation and the sexual permutations of love—experience that surges over thresholds like the changing figures of the dream. “How mankind loves to remain transfixed,” says Aragon, “at the very doors of the imagination!” Paysan <de Paris (Paris, 1926)>, p. 74. It is not only from the thresholds of these gates of imagination that lovers and friends like to draw their energies; it is from thresholds in general. Prostitutes, however, love the threshold of these gates of dream.—The threshold must be carefully distinguished from the boundary. A Schwell <threshold> is a zone. Transformation, passage, wave action are in the word schwellen, swell, and etymology ought not to overlook these senses. On the other hand, it is necessary to keep in mind the immediate tectonic and ceremonial context which has brought the word to its current meaning ž Dream House ž (AP 494) [KEEP IN MIND THE WAY THAT THRONGS ARE REGARDED AS TIDE-LIKE – THINK OF SERRE’S REFERENCE OF ORIGINS AS MULTIPLICITOUS, AND THE CONCEPT OF THE FLOW…VERY PREVALENT IN MILLER]

Here Benjamin posits that, in modern experience, rituals that denote passage between zones, thresholds, waves of existence (the emphasis on waves adding an interesting cyclical and maritime twist to the concept) have been rent from the fixed-path and time-heavy concepts of “death and birth, to marriage, puberty and so forth”, concepts that privilege the linearity—or at least the terminability and irreversibility—of an individual’s lifespan over the more cyclical pedestrian experiences of sleeping, waking, conversation and even the purchase of love. The ritual becomes, not an event enacted, but an order—a constellation—imposed, an imagined significance.


In the case of the gambler, however, the threshold experience rises out of the ritual order comprised of the rules of the game and the objects of play: the gambler stands on the threshold between the imaginary world of play-for-the-sake-of-play denoted by the unacknowledged, nonprofessional, unindustrious quality attributed to his pastime, a pastime that is rooted in the world of speculation or optimistic imagination, and the very real consequences of that speculation, real in so far as something is real when the extant power structures at large enforce and make record of a particular outcome—namely, financial consequences. The effect of participating in this kind of ritual, according to Benjamin, is that of intoxication, but specifically an intoxication which “depends on the peculiar capacity of the game to provoke presence of mind through the fact that, in rapid succession, it brings to the fore constellations which work—each one wholly independent of the others—to summon up in every instance a thoroughly new original reaction from the gambler” (AP 512-513). Stated simply, the intoxication—the narcosis—is liminal. It is the threshold that results from the externalization of the gambler’s emotional responses to the outcomes at hand, and in this way, the passion the belies gambling, the ebbs and flows of structured play, results not from a love of the game, but from a love of oneself as it is inflamed/extinguished by (and thus fastened to) the game, which as Baudrillard points out, is simply the structural apparatus necessary for the materialization of a kind of self-seductive process, a process that works through the ritual.

Rituals are events governed by a system of rules that turns attributes to the varied by repeated result a sense of novelty that suspends the gambler in a threshold state similar to those provoked by the pastimes of Benjamin’s other “types”. The gambler is perpetually “transfixed”—fastened—to his or her game because, in order to play, to really play, s/he must internally resonate with the physicality of the game’s rules and objects, in this way performing and thus completing the ritual. In this way, the gambler is faced with the ironic necessity of becoming and thus affirming the game that s/he plays and, in doing so, resigning his/her intellect, analytical prowess, mathematical capabilities and intuitive powers to the dictates of fate, negating the self while fostering its multiplication. Benjamin includes in his collection on Gambling the following lines: “the less a man is imprisoned in the bonds of fate, the less he is determined by what lies nearest at hand.” (AP 515). The gambler, because of his concern with “what lies nearest at hand” is enveloped—because of the structural apparatus he imposes on his behaviors—by this notion of “fate”. However, fate in this case, is indistinguishable from the structures through which it manifests itself. Thus Benjamin’s question, “Isn’t there a certain structure of money that can be recognized only in fate, and a certain structure of fate that can be recognized only in money?” (AP 496)

Thus the gambler must resolve him/herself to the chaos of change and chance if only, through his/her observance of the game’s structure, to ritually reorganize the stream of random events in the end, backwardly attributing the win or loss to his/her “strategy”.

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. lems concerning what you find here, feel free to contact me at marcelle@thelemming.com. You are also invited to leave a message for me and other visitors HERE. The Arcades Project Project or The Rhetoric of Hypertext