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Copyright by Heather Marcelle Crickenberger, 2007

All Rights Reserved.

[NOTE: The following essay is an introduction to the methods of production employed in the creation of The Arcades Project Project. This essay, "'The Structure of Awakening': Walter Benjamin and Progressive Scholarship in New Media," in combination with the July 22, 2007 CD-ROM version of the HTML files that make up The Arcades Project Project, comprises the bound version of the doctoral dissertation this hypermedia project was intended to become.]

The Structure of Awakening: 

Walter Benjamin and Progressive Scholarship in New Media


I

Structure and Progress

For the tasks which face the human apparatus of perception at the turning points of history cannot be solved by optical means, that is, by contemplation, alone. They are mastered gradually by habit, under the guidance of tactile appropriation. (“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”)

In the epilogue to his now canonical 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” Walter Benjamin states: “The violation of the masses, whom Fascism, with its Führer cult, forces to their knees, has its counterpart in the violation of an apparatus which is pressed into the production of ritual values” (“The Work of Art” 241). Benjamin goes on to explain that the cult value of a work of art is maintained through its ritualistic function which transforms it into an authoritative and authentic instrument of “magic.” Such perception of the work of art—as a tool—limits its functionality to that of the apparatus for which it was forged. Similarly, the exhibition value of a work of art requires it be stripped of all particularized ritualistic functions and—having no “use”—it becomes absorbed by the prevailing political apparatus.  The problem in both cases is that the work of art is forged within and contained by an aesthetic of war. This aesthetic of war, which through the escalating force of technology creates a sense perception whose goal demands on the largest scale that the work of art be ultimately realized in the art of war—“Fiat ars—pereat mundus”—“l’art pour l’artuses death as its medium, mass movement as its mode, and the upholding of the property system as its motive.[1]  The exhibition of revolutionary art, which is part and parcel to the aesthetics of war, supplies a space wherein those who remain feel they are allowed the freedom to express their individual outrage politically, all the while no more capable of breaching the walls of Fascism than the murals that adorn them.

As an alternative, Benjamin provides architecture as an artistic medium through which one might locate a means of modifying the prevailing aesthetic by modifying the human apparatus of perception.  However, even architecture falls into the aesthetic of war as long as it is deemed valuable and is appropriated by the economic system, so in The Arcades Project, he turns his attention to a peculiar architectural construction—the Parisian passages—as a means of locating a structural guide for a kind of generative thought that “is totally useless for fascism” (“Work of Art” 218). In The Arcades Project, this apparatus is to be identified with what Benjamin refers to as “the structure of awakening” (The Arcades Project 389 [K1,3]).

Connected to this kind of structure is Benjamin’s figure of the “Author as Producer” as laid out in an address for the Institute of the Study of Fascism (a Communist front organization) in 1934 which he never presented or published in his lifetime. In the address, Benjamin attempts to attend to Ramón Fernandez’ “task” put forth in the essay’s epigraph: “The task is to win over the intellectuals to the working class by making them aware of the identity of their spiritual enterprises and of their conditions as producers” (“The Author as Producer” 768). Benjamin addresses this problem through Plato’s assertion that the poet should be banished from the ideal state, proposing that the author does indeed have the capacity to become producer through technique, the site of Benjamin’s synthesis of form and content. The author’s technique, however, can itself be divided into a new dichotomy, techniques of progression and techniques of regression, which Benjamin identifies, attributing a generative, anti-fascist aesthetic to works of art produced by techniques of progression, which he argues regressive techniques throw over in favor of upholding tradition.  His essay not only proposes a new means of enacting change through writing, it also proposes a new way of looking at progress—not as the carrying out of a plan designed to attain a preconceived goal—but as a deft and improvisational passage through and manipulation of imminent structures.

Benjamin asserts in “The Author as Producer” that “a political tendency, however revolutionary it may seem, has a counterrevolutionary function so long as the writer feels his solidarity with the proletariat only in his attitudes, not as a producer” (“Author as Producer” 772).  The escape Benjamin sees from the regressive or revolutionary trap “consists in the conduct that transforms him from a supplier of the productive apparatus, into an engineer, who sees it as his task to adapt this apparatus” (“Author as Producer” 780). This conduct—or method—involves the mastering and manipulating of technologies of perception—be they linguistic or otherwise—in order to “recast” the literary forms, “for technical progress is for the author as producer the foundation of his political progress” (“Author as Producer” Selected Writings Vol. 2,775); and it is in learning how to work the latest technological systems that authors might modify the structure and in doing so, like architects, alter the “habitual course” of their reader's appropriation of content (“Author as Producer” 779).

One needn’t look too hard to see the manner in which revolutionary art merely exchanges the terms of Fascism for those of personalized outrage, or that it uses the same terms in order to reenact or reproduce the fascist mode by simply reversing its direction.  The oppressed becomes the oppressor and gains ground until it too must be overturned in the cycle.  By the time “The Work of Art” essay was written, the art world had become overrun with manifestos—all of them owing a debt to The Communist Manifesto, all supplanting the totalizing structure of their perceived oppressors with remarkably similar ones anchored in critiques that maintain fascist systems as their nemeses.  With only subtle variation, the return of these revolutionaries to moralizing frameworks as the primary means of their “opposition” results in the imposition of dictates—rules and their terms—on the creative acts forged by their members. Each dictate branches off to form new lexicons, new structures, new biases, etc., all, while productive, failing yet again to escape the prevailing oppressive value structures against which they were so passionately allied

Take, for example, the following extractions from some of revolutionary art’s more prominent figure heads:  Marinetti’s 1909 The Futurist Manifesto, item 9: “We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom bringers, the beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn woman” (Modernism 251); Pound and Lewis’ 1914 Vorticist Manifesto from Blast, part 6, item 1: “The Modern World is due almost entirely to Anglo-Saxon genius,—its appearance and its spirit” (Modernism 293);  Tristan Tzara’s 1918 Dada Manifesto: “Every man must shout: there is great destructive, negative work to be done. To sweep to clean” (Modernism 279); Breton’s 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism: “The imagination is perhaps on the point of reasserting itself, of reclaiming its rights” (Modernism 308); Walsh’s 1925 editorial preface to This Quarter: “We are not hosts to a polite gathering at the tea-cups. We are rather the camp of an army on the march” (Walsh np); and transition magazine’s 1929 “Manifesto for ‘The Revolution of the Word’” item 3: “PURE POETRY IS A LYRICAL ABSOLUTE THAT SEEKS AN A PRIORI REALITY WITHIN OURSELVES ALONE” (“Manifesto” np). While each “movement” attempts to break from the so-called fascist order of unimpressed publishers, dismissive reading populations, and scornful academics ascribing different particularized rules and terms in place of those that serve as the vexing objects of their critique, technically they are remarkably similar to those which their authors oppose:  egotistic calls to a war in which imagination asserts itself as a lyrical absolute through a univocal multi-membered army on the march. The aesthetic is still the aesthetic of war, and the initial mode of operation that underlies the impetus for its construction as a mechanism of rebellion is reproduced

The aforementioned quotations, while different in the particulars of their revolutionary attempts, all similarly put to use the structure of the manifesto, a form which takes contagion as its mode and self-replication as its goal. Each movement sets forth a program for artistic production which more often than not assumes the form of a series of proverbial dictates. This program is laid out in advance and serves as the structure designed to contain “real” or better art.  Most importantly, the “real” better art that results from any adherence to these preformed principles will also replicate the apparatus of its conception in hopes of further propagating the movement to the point of dominion and mass appeal.  It must be public to be political, after all.  Their outrage and revolutionary spiritedness, their hostility toward outsiders, dissenters, critics and would-be fugitives, their unchecked use of shock value and their tenuous conceptual foundations (to say nothing of their ethnocentricity, misogyny, and zealotry) succeed only in exercising the expressive function their oppressive construct has set aside expressly for them. Just as Baudrillard’s “Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real,” (Baudrillard 13) and in thereby doing “saving the reality principle” (Baudrillard 13), the revolutionary manifesto, which gleans all use value through the process of exhibition, saves the revolutionary principle, in no way altering the system it critiques. Thus this kind of “revolutionary” writing keeps its readers at an optic distance, packaging its dictates as freedom and confining its readers to the tactile instruction of the very same system in which it was conceived and which it was conceived to overthrow.  Progressive writing, on the other hand, does not reproduce prevailing structures, instead refashioning the apparatus of its making in order to forge new structures that awaken—give rise to—new habits of reading, the resulting tactile lessons emerging from navigation of the refashioned apparatus. What this progressive structure provides is a generative art form that encourages its readers “[t]o pass through and carry out what has been in remembering the dream” (The Arcades Project 389 [K1,2]).

There is one document from the list above that gestures toward a progressive mode of writing though falling short of the texts that combine to forge its structural apparatus.  The “Manifesto for ‘The Revolution of the Word,” attempts to breach the obvious link between its own rules and the rules of “the oppressor,” by summoning the revolutionary ethos of artist/poet William Blake, whose biography aligns his work with the revolutionary history of the Moravians, their heretical debt to Jan Huss, as well as the thinking of the leading intellectual dissidents in England during his lifetime, and whose lifework ruminates on the subject and figures of rebellion.  Consider the text itself:

PROCLAMATION

     TIRED OF THE SPECTACLE OF SHORT STORIES, NOVELS, POEMS AND PLAYS STILL UNDER THE HEGEMONY OF THE BANAL WORD, MONOTNOUS SYNTAX, STATIC PSYCHOLOGY, DESCRIPTIVE NATURALISM, AND DESIROUS OF CRYSTALLIZING A VIEWPOINT. . .

     WE HEREBY DECREE THAT:

1.      THE REVOLUTION IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS AN ACCOMPLISHED FACT.

2.      THE IMAGINATION IN SEARCH OF A FABULOUS WORLD IS AUTONOMOUS AND UNCONFINED.

                          (Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity…Blake)

3.        PURE POETRY IS A LYRICAL ABSOLUTE THAT SEEKS AN A PRIORI REALITY WITHIN OURSELVES ALONE.

                         (Bring out number, weight and measure in a year of dearth…Blake)

4.        NARRATIVE IS NOT MERE ANECDOTE, BUT THE PROJECTION OF A METAMORPHOSIS OF REALITY.

                                                                         (Enough or too much !…Blake)

5.        THE EXPRESSION OF THESE CONCEPTS CAN BE ACHIEVED ONLY THROUGH THE RHYTHMIC “HALLUCINATION OF THE WORD”. (Rimbaud).

6.        THE LITERARY CREATOR HAS THE RIGHT TO DISINTEGRATE THE PRIMAL MATTER OF WORDS IMPOSED ON HIM BY THE TEXT-BOOKS AND DICTIONARIES.

                           (The road of excess leads to the palace of Wisdom …Blake)

7.        HE HAS THE RIGHT TO USE WORDS OF HIS OWN FASHIONING AND TO DISREGARD EXISTING GRAMMATICAL AND SYNTACTICAL LAWS.

             (The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction…Blake)

8.        THE “LITANY OF WORDS” IS ADMITTED AS AN INDEPENDEDNT UNIT.

9.        WE ARE NOT CONCERNED WITH THE PROPAGATION OF SOCIOLOGICAL IDEAS, EXCEPT TO EMANCIPATE THE CREATIVE ELEMENTS FROM THE PRESENT IDEOLOGY.

10.     TIME IS A TYRANNY TO BE ABOLISHED.

11.     THE WRITER EXPRESSES. HE DOES NOT COMMUNICATE.

12.     THE PLAIN READER BE DAMNED.

                                                                                                         (Damn braces ! Bless relaxes !…Blake)

      --Signed: KAY BOYLE, WHITE BURNETT, HART CRANE, CARESSE CROSBY, HARRY CROSBY,  MARTHA FOLEY, STUART GILBERT, A. L. GILLESIE, LEIGH HOFFMAN, EUGENE JOLAS, ELLIOT PAUL, DOUGLAS RIGBY, THEO RUTRA, ROBERT SAGE, HAROLD J. SALEMSON, LAURENCE VAIL.

from transition No. 16-17, June 1929.

Note the manner in which this document makes use of quotations from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a text that explores through visions of the apocalypse various modes of perception—imagination, experience, prophecy, and illusion—while refashioning traditional literary structures such as the proverb, the prophecy, the poem, the memoir, and the song. These he combines with unconventional vibrantly colored and imaginative illustrations and theological allusions to revolutionary figures such as Lucifer, biblical prophets, and Swedenborg. What has resulted in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a work of art which has served as inspiration to various revolutionary movements throughout history.[2]  However, unlike revolutionary literature, Blake does not prescribe dictates or reuse the tyrannical structure of theocratic thought.  Instead, he refashions his apparatus at the linguistic level by modifying the proverb—a device traditionally implemented in instruction—and inserting it into his own process of relief etching,[3] a process which requires readers to approach such linguistic constructs as an image framed in expressive color and decorative forms where language and image become one. What is produced differs drastically from what is produced by the authors of “The Revolution of the Word.” These authors conjoin two seemingly disparate apparatuses—the official proclamation which is designed to dictate the actions of its readers and Blake’s refashioned proverb which, when used proverbially, reverses its function.  Blake, on the other hand, develops his own version of the proverbial construct as well as a method of printing, putting to work traditional theocratic structures, but in a way that generates not only a new product but a new means of producing.  

In an effort to energize thought through “melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid” (Blake 36)—a practice that required the invention of a new technology of writing, or what he referred to as “the infernal method,”[4] Blake not only funnels a revolutionary bent into language and into literary and biblical history through aphorism or the proverb, he literally fashions a new medium of print production that, to return to Benjamin’s “Work of Art” essay, makes a new way of reading possible.

[figure 1] [5]

Like Benjamin’s example of architecture in “The Work of Art” essay, Blake’s illuminated text [figure 1] function both through use and perception. In this way, Blake functions as Benjamin’s “Author as Producer,” the artistic engineer, who awakens new possibilities in the art of writing by modifying the apparatuses available to him, and thus altering the tactile lessons contained therein. Instead of refashioning the fascist mode of production, the authors of “The Revolution of the Word” instead appropriate their opposition by way of administering an official “PROCLAMATION,” the document of authority. This proclamation, framed in a thick black box with bold writing and all-cap typeface, its contents bifurcated into an alternating exchange between revolutionary demands and quotations from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, through both its form and content attempts to self-consciously proscribe a predetermined path for progress in the world of letters, while leaning on Blake’s genius for “support.”  Like writers of fascist propaganda, the writers of this manifesto assume an authoritative stance, damning intellectual outsiders, sectioning off language as an “independent unit” separate from the people who use it, venerating expression over communication, and essentially establishing the self as the new center of its fascist structure.  The Blake quotations which appear to be used as argumentative support, anchoring the twelve rules to the concept of revolution, here seem to work against transition magazine’s program for change, demonstrating as it does the stark contrast between Blake’s progressive method and their own revolutionary one. The paradoxical effect of this juxtaposition functions less to engender a new mode of thinking and instead simply packs progressive ideas into a revolutionary structure, dismantling the poet’s progressive apparatus and taking his words hostage.  Such a structure polarizes the forces working through it, bringing generative play to a halt by turning it back on itself. While Blake refashions the technology of writing and thus creates a new means of perception, the writers of “The Revolution of the Word” content themselves with the ancient art of irony.  The apparatus which Blake uses to transmit his poems serves to inform readers, not optically through irony (and its correlative judgment) but as in Benjamin’s example of architecture in “The Work of Art” essay, tactilely through distraction, allowing color, texture and layout to play upon the language experiments housed within.  In this way, Benjamin’s “structure of awakening” belies The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a subject far from alien to the contents of Blake’s text as well.




II

Structure and The Arcades Project


“In the windswept stairways of the Eiffel Tower, or, better still, in the steel supports of a Pont Transbordeur, one meets with the fundamental aesthetic experience of present-day architecture: through the thin net of iron that hangs suspended in the air, things stream—ships, ocean, houses, masts, landscape, harbor. They lose their distinctive shape, swirl into one another as we climb downward, merge simultaneously.” Sigfried Giedion, Bauen in Frankriech. . . In the same way, the historian today has only to erect a slender but sturdy scaffolding—a philosophic structure—in order to draw the most vital aspects of the past into his net.” (The Arcades Project 459 [N1a,1])

Benjamin’s progressive alternative to revolutionary or regressive writing proposed in “The Work of Art” essay manifests in his experiments in the process of scholarly production that became The Arcades Project, in which he performs a conjoining of optic and tactile forces similar to what we see in Blake’s interplay of image and language. However, while Blake operates in the two-dimensional multi-colored world of the hand-painted etching, Benjamin’s The Arcades Project alters the manner in which one reads through emulating the three dimensional makeshift structure of the Paris arcades, through which the abandoned reader is left to wander without a narrative guide.

Sizable. Intimidating. Episodic. Unfinished. Seemingly ordered: alphabetically, arbitrarily, The Arcades Project functions more like the architectural construct that comprises its title image—one that might be mined and pondered—than as a guide to the acquisition of knowledge. The "Overview" (or table of contents) reads more like a guide to city of Paris than an outline of a sustained linear argument: "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 the cover that was Benjamin’s working title: “Das Passagen,” or “Das Passagenarbeit”[6]—the passages. At first glance, the 1999 English translation of The Arcades Project is disorienting and over-stimulating. Comprised of several essays and thirty-six Convolutes or sheaves (originally taking the form of 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 oft ignored side of nineteenth-century Parisian daily life might pull from the bowels of the Bibliothèque Nationale.

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 the translators of its English version Eiland and McLaughlin argue, a "research project [that] had become an end in itself" (The Arcades Project xi)?

While the title Tiedemann, editor of Gesammelte Schriften’s fifth volume, chose--Das Passagen-Werk--has as its English cognate an awkward but ambiguous phrase, Eiland and McLaughlin chose instead to use the much more aesthetically pleasing and architecturally specific “The Arcades Project” for their edition, a translation much closer to Benjamin’s own Passagenarbeit, a German word that emphasizes (in “Arbeit”) the concepts of labor and working toward an end. This alternative to Das Passagen-Werk, while placing the Parisian arcades as the central motif within a project—a term that emphasizes a task of an ongoing and experimental naturedoes not signal to English readers the manifold layers and possibilities present in the term that Benjamin commonly used to describe it: Das Passagen (“Translators’ Forward” x), trading as it does passagen for arcades, a precise architectural term.  Since these titles serve as the covers or entrances to preserved reproductions of a scholarly endeavor primarily concerned with covers and entrances—one that takes as its focus an architectural structure as improvised, irregular, ephemeral, and complex as the Paris arcades—one could argue that the structural complexity of The Arcades Project’s begins quite simply with the ambiguity present in the phrases that have been used to contain it.

Tiedemann’s addition of the concept of Werk, translated simply into English as work, imposes upon Benjamin’s Passagen various structural connotations.  In German, the word is used to designate the concept of the factory, the building, and the magnum opus as well as the act of producing among other things. The double use of Werk as a monumental achievement and as an architectural structure fits well into Tiedemann’s reading of the text as “a building with two different floor plans” (Tiedemann 932). In Tiedemann’s reading, the language that comprises Das Passagen-Werk is reminiscent of Heidegger’s notion of language as the house of Being.[7] The first “floor plan” inferred from Benjamin’s early sketches anticipates “the project as a continuation of One-Way Street,” (Tiedemann 932) during which, Tiedemann purports, in this early phase, Benjamin’s “thinking had similarly lost itself in the concrete and particular and had tried to wrest his secret directly, without any theoretical mediation.  Such a surrender to singular Being is the distinctive feature of his thinking as such” (Tiedemann 932). This attention to the concrete and the particular Benjamin combines with the continuation of Louis Aragon’s project in Paysan de Paris which uses the arcades at the time of their scheduled demolition as a backdrop for his surrealist aquarium humain, “proceed[ing] similarly with the representation of history, by treating the nineteenth-century world of things as if it were a world of dreamed things” (Tiedemann 933). 

Tiedemann argues that in this first “floor plan,” Benjamin aspires to “draw attention to the fact that architectonic constructions such as the arcades owed their existence to and served the industrial order of production, while at the same time containing in themselves something unfulfilled, never to be fulfilled within the confines of capitalism” (Tiedemann 933). Tiedemann’s second “floor plan” emerges from sketches composed after a four-year hiatus from 1930 to 1934, during which Benjamin was introduced to the Marxism of Adorno and Horkheimer and confessed in a letter to Scholem that he would need to study certain aspects of the works of Hegel and Capital in order to complete the project (Tiedemann 937). Shifting from a rapt engagement with Romanticism and Surrealism to a more aggressive focus on social history, Benjamin began introducing key Marxist concepts as well as figures like Fourier and Haussmann into The Arcades Project in combination with references to sites of social and technological revolution: the barricades, railways, conspiracies, Stock Exchange,  L'Ecole Polytechnique, etc. all comprising the titles of new convolutes to be added to those that made up the first “plan”. Tiedemann cites Benjamin concerning these inclusions as stating that he hoped they might “yield a ‘secure framework of interpretive interconnections’” (Tiedemann 937), and proceeds to read this “secure framework” as a means of providing what was initially “‘rhapsodic naiveté’” (Tiedemann 937) with “stronger foundations” (Tiedemann 937).

This framework takes the form of the image of the passages that simultaneously comprise the project’s form and content, drawing readers’ attention to 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" (The Arcades Project  ix). These passages[8]—the arcades—are unique in that they are not the result of a planned architectural effort but instead evolved organically during the rise of capitalism in the nineteenth century as individual shop owners combined their resources to enclose sections of the city beneath iron and glass roofing structures [9] as a way of luring potential customers off the street in times of bad weather.  Most of these passages were either in various states of ruin or no longer in existence by the time Benjamin began his work on The Arcades Project. Thus as a structural apparatus with which to guide thought, these arcades offer a model that simultaneously finds its place both internal and external to traditional structures. The image of thought visualized as a ruined network of improvised passageways burrowing through the extant individual structures that comprise a community in transition between two economic systems, when applied metaphorically to textual constructs, conceives a compositional form that engages and makes use of traditional frameworks of thinking—take for example Benjamin’s repeated reference to the writings of Hegel and Marx in The Arcades Project—while at the same time developing its own transitory existence as the navigation of the thresholds between such frameworks.  In The Arcades Project, this manifests in the form of a loosely organized fragmented collection of quotations ripped from their context (in the same way the wares for sale in the real arcades were ripped from the context of their production) and set alongside passages that muse briefly upon them.  This method of scholarly production does not treat intellectual rigor as the result of the disciplined completion of preconceived plans for investigation, but as a transitory process interrupted by moments of digressive meditation upon that which is encountered within the ruins.  It is this kind of receptive spectatorship that constitutes the perspective of the project’s primary protagonists—the flâneur, the gambler, and collector—all of whom are informed by habit as they proceed in a state of distraction.

As a framing image, the arcades enclose, contain, and delimit the collection of asides, quotations, notes, and aphorisms that comprise The Arcades Project. However, this is not to say the project is lacking an organizational force, although this organizational force is not based on an order produced in advance through the genius of a well-wrought floor plan or blueprint, though structure is indeed key.  It is a structure that makes use of what Benjamin refers to in “The Work of Art” as reception in distraction.[10] What results is a complex scholarly apparatus which encourages perusal and invites musing. It is an apparatus that stands as an alternative to didactic scholarship, failing to enclose its content in the shell of a preconceived argument and becoming instead a space in which the learning of the author opens up the possibility of learning for the reader.  Like traditional scholars in search of patterns, locatable references to locatable schools of thought, recurrent themes, and common threads, readers of The Arcades Project are faced with a structure that draws attention to and modifies the process of scholarly research, rendering visible and rearticulating readers’ habits of thought by structurally working against them. In this way, the text functions more like the architectural emblem that serves as its entry point, a veritable "world in miniature" (The Arcades Project 31) of literary, historical and sociological fragments, through which its readers may wander in the manner of the nineteenth-century flâneur. Thus that which is gleaned from its contents depends entirely on the conceptual leaps and connections navigation of its structure requires.

Although Tiedemann’s reading is biographically informative, it is also somewhat contradictory in that within it Tiedemann aspires to supplant the forces of surreal improvisation, heterogeneous multiplicity, and chthonic convolution invoked by the architectural concept of Das Passagen—upon which the particularities of the pages that follow endlessly ruminate—with the concept of a planned (albeit revised mid-construction) building.  Preferring this image of thought—one that is supported by preconceived theoretical foundations and designed to house a specific purpose or operate in the restrictive and self-contained manner of a building or factory--extracts a notion of Benjamin’s intention (one that Tiedemann identifies as the desire to “bring about nothing less than a “‘Copernican revolution’ of historical perception” by way of the dialectical image) from its apparatus, the image of the arcades (Tiedemann 941).  However, these Passagen are useful as an image of thought precisely because they are not buildings or factories at all—and we must not forget that those that Aragon made use of were scheduled for demolition and that Benjamin himself most commonly referred to them in ruin. The “revolution” which Benjamin attempts to enact is in this way one that modifies the structure of scholarly investigation using as it does this organically emergent passageway as a model. Like Blake, Benjamin draws attention to habits of reading—specifically the tradition of scholarly reading, that flâneuristic mode of shallow and transient subjective engagement stemming from a bourgeois emphasis on surfaces and aiming to elicit argumentative support—the type of reading which serves as the object of  Benjamin’s critique supplied by the refashioned structure produced by his innovations in scholarly method.

While Tiedemann’s title in many ways traditionalizes Benjamin’s thinking, anchoring the text that follows to the contained and purposeful construction of a building, an image that seems to work against the project’s more surrealist and romantic undercurrents, as opposed to Benjamin’s choice of the architecturally aberrant arcades, Eiland and McLaughlin’s title, The Arcades Project[11] takes a different approach. But while Tiedemann alters by addition, Eiland and McLaughlin do so through subtraction. Their choice of “The Arcades Project” over “Passages” obscures the multifariousness of the work’s foregrounding concept as mentioned above.  This title image might better be referred to as the passages, this French term being closer to Benjamin’s own working title and one which resonates all of its tenement connotations—the french passages, rites of passage, texts that comprise quotation, thresholds, extracts from books, lapses in time, journeys, mountain paths, labyrinths, astrological transits, Passover, and of course the notions of transience and aimless wandering, all more conducive to Benjamin’s conception of progressiveness than its revolutionary counterparts. The term’s richness—its flexibility, its ability to conjure so many related variants, its connection to writing and research, to the passages which symbolized to Benjamin the ruins of all that would be phased out by the mounting forces of capitalism and their complex social history and connective functionality—this richness and complexity allows the image of the The Passages to function as a monad for Benjamin which, through its reintroduction in history in the form of the mechanically reproduced Das Passagen-Werk or The Arcades Project, becomes the dialectical image: “[w]here thinking suddenly stops in a configuration pregnant with tensions, it gives the configuration a shock, by which it crystallizes into a monad” (“Theses” 262-263). Such a monadic construction instantiates what Benjamin would call the “Copernican turn” (not revolution) of remembrance, “the art of experiencing the present as waking world, a world to which that dream we name the past refers in truth” (The Arcades Project 389 [K1,3]).

In response to Tiedemann’s proposal of a blueprint for The Arcades Project, Eiland points out that Benjamin himself said in a letter to Scholem “that not a syllable of the actual text of the Passagenarbeit exists yet” (The Arcades Project xi). This is an interesting comment on the materiality of production that implies a need for interaction between reader and text in order to bring the work into existence. Eiland adds to this, however, that Benjamin had proposed developing a “future construction of a literary form for this text” (The Arcades Project xi), and while the critic concludes that “there is no question of a realized work” (The Arcades Project xi), he does acknowledge the existence of multiple drafts and revisions for the project, posing the question “Why revise for a notebook?” (The Arcades Project xi) Eiland continues:

the fact that Benjamin also transferred masses of quotations from actual notebooks to the manuscript of the convolutes, and the elaborate organization of these cited materials in that manuscript. . . might likewise bespeak a compositional principle at work in the project, and not just an advanced stage of research. (The Arcades Project xi)

Even if that compositional practice is merely “the working of quotations into the framework of montage” (The Arcades Project xi), his form, Eiland goes on, may still be seen as “a discontinuous presentation deliberately opposed to traditional modes of argument” (The Arcades Project xi) through the “medium” of the “blinks.” These “blinks” are a textual means of linking parts of The Arcades Project to other parts of the project in a non-linear way similar to a hard-copy version of what we see in the hyperlinks on websites today. Eiland argues that these blinks help Benjamin to set up “vibrations across the epochs of recent history” (The Arcades Project xi) thus “blasting apart . . . pragmatic historicism—grounded, as this always is, on the premise of a continuous and homogeneous temporality” (The Arcades Project xi).

However, much of the genius of Benjamin’s structural lesson is yet to be presented since altering the project’s title was not the only change Eiland and McLaughlin made to the original. This edition omits the complex thirty-two character hyperlinking system--“the blinks”--Benjamin had developed in order to create subterranean passageways or short-cuts between passages with thematically related content. 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.”  Weather

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. (The Arcades Project  31 [A1,1])

Not only does the above quotation demonstrate the aforementioned editorial omissions, it also provides a description of the arcades themselves, what Benjamin identifies as important about them, and carves a space for further discussion of their architectural complexity. However, as one can see in the quotation above, Benjamin’s primary structural innovation that allows him to maintain congruity while simultaneously mimicking and forging anew the process of perception within the fragmentary form is yet to be presented to English readers. These “blinks” are structural devices that aid in the construction of dialectical images throughout the text. Books have forever been seen as linear constructions. In fact, it is the linearity of books that makes them readable in the first place. But just as Benjamin puts forth in “The Author as Producer,” the only truly progressive move in writing is to refashion the apparatus of its making; here he has found a way for the technologies of the book to keep pace with emerging technologies of image production. 

The concept of passages here function like the intersections of a spider’s web, forever articulating new pathways of perceivable connections within this motley collection. The actual architectural constructs of the passages "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. They function seductively, as a structural diversion from main stream traffic. While the Haussmannization of Paris striated the city into zones, each with its appropriate government buildings, monuments, or transportation hubs at its center, the arcades diverted city traffic like valves in this machine that was designed to keep space wide open where all could be seen and managed. Movement on the boulevards was site-directed, constant, steady, goal-oriented movement, the kind of movement that does not slow or stop to contemplate the details of the enormous text through which it races. It is the opposite of the flânerie the arcades use to the commercial advantage of its shopkeepers: movement in idleness. This idleness, a luxury to be afforded only by the bourgeoisie and which can never exists alongside itself, parasitical as idleness must always be, provides the greatest opportunity for Contemplation. . . and Rebellion, its dearest friend.

When employed metaphorically as a scholarly apparatus for the direction of thought, comprised of blinks and breaks that function like arcades that wormhole through the text interrupting any attempt at linear reading, these passages it seems would turn scholarship into a leisure activity (interestingly, leisure is the etymological root of “scholarship”) setting what results apart from work that arises from the boulevard-like scholarly structure that has been built from the ground up on a blueprint and connects sites of interest that form the chronology[12] of thought.  Instead of philosophic doctrine that is designed to function as “the representation of truth” (OGTD 27) and which Benjamin attempted to oppose in his more traditional scholarly essay The Origin of German Tragic Drama (his rejected habillitationschrift) what results serves more as “a guide to the acquisition of knowledge” (OGTD 27). However, the guide does not take the form of an authoritative voice that assumes in advance what path progress should take. The guide is instead the imminent structure of the passages that keeps the particularities of the investigation at the forefront, allowing the reader to participate in “the art of experiencing the present as waking world” (The Arcades Project 389 [K1,3]).

Without the primitive hyperlinks, the divagations imbedded in the text's composition are not visually dramatized for readers as Benjamin had originally intended, although optic apparatuses of divagation and diversion are a primary obsession within the larger structure of the project, indeed perhaps the thematic force.  Much like Blake’s integrated display of image and language, these modifications in reading—different from the footnote in their failure to acknowledge a primary text—become instructive sources of distraction which mirror the distracting blend of disjointed texts, to which one is exposed while strolling through an arcade, making flashes of familiarity within the clutter possible. " Weather " is given the blink structure because it functions here as an emblem of exteriority and thus as a primary though backgrounded concern in The Arcades Project, likening the conditions which necessitate the creation of interiors of iron and glass to the conditions that surround scholarly production. The weather is that which, though external to the matter at hand frames the reader’s engagement with the subject matter—as a rainy day frames thought even from behind glass.  Thus, this image of thought strives not to contain in the manner of the building—nor to house systematic production in the manner of a factory—but to create a space of receptive distraction for the passerby. In this way Benjamin identifies a new audience for scholarly discourse: not “[t]he bourgeoisie, [who] in contrast [to the proletariat], requires an idea toward which education leads” (“Program” 202), but the proletariat whose “education needs first and foremost a framework, an objective space within which education can be located (“Program” 202) and who have been traditionally alienated by the bourgeois cult of academia.




III

Structure and Method


Method of the project: literary montage, I needn’t say anything. Merely show. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations. But the rags, the refuse—these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them. (The Arcades Project 460 [N1a,8]


However, there is certainly more to The Arcades Project’s than merely its title and navigation system--though as Benjamin argues in “The Task of the Translator,” the “nucleus is best defined as the element that does not lend itself to translation” (“Task” 75).  In fact, much scholarly debate surrounds the compositional structure of The Arcades Project, most of it concerned with what evidence one might find of Benjamin’s intentions regarding what readers today take to be the finished manuscript: like the questions Eiland poses, similar questions arise in most criticism surrounding the text: Are we faced with a collection of notes packaged as a completed work? Or is The Arcades Project a work of high modernism, complete in its fragmentary form, putting to use as it does the medium of montage, clippings, and citations from extinguishing sources as part of an implicit narrative? 

Benjamin worked tirelessly on The Arcades Project from its commencement in 1927 and far from abandoning it, throughout the following thirteen years before he ended his life while fleeing the Nazis at the border of France and Spain, came to refer to the work as “the theater of all my conflicts and all my ideas” (Correspondence 359). Having entrusted the manuscript to George Bataille a librarian at France ’s Bibliothèque Nationale, Benjamin managed to save The Arcades Project—if not himself—from Nazi destruction (Correspondence 639fn). While Benjamin’s writings partially emerged on the intellectual scene in 1968 in the form of Illuminations edited by Hannah Arendt, The Arcades Project was not to assume bound book-form even in German until the publication of Das Passagen-Werk in 1982. Eiland’s and McLaughlin’s English translation titled The Arcades Project did not arrive until 1999; thus, the Age of Mechanical Reproduction has at last created for itself two “finished” versions of The Arcades Project for scholarly consideration despite what plans Benjamin might have had for its future. 

These “finished” versions, as well as alternative translations and those imagined forms that critics speculate might have resulted had Benjamin succeeded in escaping to the United States (he had been carrying a mysterious black briefcase during his flight) (“The Story of Old Benjamin” 948), have spawned widely divergent scholarly perspectives regarding the significance of The Arcades Project’s current structural state. Tiedemann agrees with Eiland and McLaughlin who argue that neither version provides readers with a completed work, and when Miller reviewed the English translation of The Arcades Project for The New York Times in 2000, beginning with the epigraph: “These notes are the ruin of a great structure that never got built” (Miller par. 1), he concluded—albeit endearingly—that the book was “formidably esoteric, irreparably incomplete, a ruin filled with riddles” (Miller par. 16); he goes on to ask readers to “imagine—in the spirit of Blanqui’s ‘The Eternity of Stars’—the ten thousand different versions of the book that might have been!” (Miller par. 17).   Scholars like Gelley take a similar approach to The Arcades Project’s “incompleteness,” celebrating the work’s potential as fodder for future scholarly projects yet to be imagined. He argues that The Arcades Project “was, of course, never written. What Benjamin left behind was a collection of citations and notes, and the evidence of just what work or works Benjamin would have drawn from them is conflicting” (Gelley 952). However, this same critic insists that these “notes” are, in fact, quite useful but that they “should be viewed in relation to Benjamin’s major literary studies in this period—notably, the essays on Baudelaire, Proust, and Kafka—as a form of criticism directed to an implicit philosophical problematic” (Gelley 952).  Critics that assume this stance toward The Arcades Project’s structure, while having much to say with regards to the particulars of the project’s content and its more seductive trajectories, tend to pass over the work’s structural complexity and in doing so turn a blind eye toward the structural argument the project makes, especially with regards to the innovations in scholarly production that the text has to offer.

The critics who highlight The Arcades Project’s structure and its idiosyncrasies in their discussions tend to fall into two basic camps:  there are those who consider the unconventional structure of The Arcades Project to proceed naturally from the theoretical questions that Benjamin was attempting to work through as posed by his contemporaries and subjects of study against the backdrop of his times.  These writings span scholarly engagement across the disciplines through film studies, architectural studies, art history, literary history, philosophy, linguistic theory, etc. Then there are those who take the structure present in The Arcades Project as it now exists as the inevitable result of Benjamin’s process of being at work as “The Author as Producer.”  These critics connect or compare Benjamin’s compositional practices to the compositional practices of other thinkers. This mode of criticism takes up the bulk of its contents from literary analysis.

Of those who see the structure as secondary to the theoretical approach that forged it, there are critics who examine the architectonics of The Arcades Project, like Ferris in his Neo-Kantian critique of The Arcades Project as interdisciplinary and encyclopedic project identifying Benjamin’s “purposiveness without purpose” being rooted in the practice its structure supports: “Here, a skepticism about the value or even the possibility of disciplinary knowledge becomes a powerful means of continually sustaining a practice while suspending the need to account for that practice and its knowledge in a systematic way, that is, in a way that would allow its development as a discipline” (Ferris 1256). Sussman treats the English translation much as one might treat a modernist magnum opus, casting the work as an “imaginative immersion in a different historical setting and epoch. . . akin to the achievement that Jorge Luis Borges attributes to his character, Pierre Menard” (Sussman 1138-1139). Its incompleteness is its framing mechanism—a kind of montage-rendering fragmentation.  Ricciardi examines the fragmentary aspects of The Arcades Project’s structure in relation to Benjamin’s affinity for Godard’s “resistance to linear narrative and preference for constellations of images” (Ricciardi 651), a discussion which Silverman continues in an examination of The Arcades Project and Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma, explaining the manner in which Benjamin emphasizes “the dialectical image’s appeal to the look both by consistently linking it to light and by filling The Arcades Project with visual examples of it” (Silverman 3-4), images that Silverman argues are best rendered in language and through a montage-forging method. 

Benjamin’s compositional method, or practice, for several critics is not only regarded as something separate from its emergent structure—a stance that fails to take into account much of what Benjamin had to say about method in general—but is also seen as taking precedence over the structure that it forged. Many of these critics cite what Benjamin himself once said in “One-Way Street”:

. . . already today, as the contemporary mode of knowledge production demonstrates, the book is an obsolete mediation between two different card-filing systems. For everything essential is found in the note boxes of the researcher who writes it, and the reader who studies it assimilates it into his own note file. (cited in Buck-Morss, Dialectics of Seeing 336)  

Such a “file,” amassing itself into the monstrosity that is now known as The Arcades Project, combines the scholarly practice of collection with a passion for discovery, the divagations that ensue resulting in a compositional structure that enacts and reflects upon the producer’s method of production. Patke argues that Benjamin’s “recognition that his method came to resemble his object of study” (Patke 3) results in a kind of Benjaminiana as the reader is witness to an author who “accumulates textual details about the city but resists absorbing them into a systematic theory or model” (Patke 4), preferring instead the “constellating of ideas around thematic motifs in which ordinary features (such as street lamp or arcade) acquire allegorical significance or apparently simple notions (such as dream or panorama) are weighted with complex associations” (Patke 4).  Scott McCracken argues in a similar vein that The Arcades Project’s structure is the consequence or byproduct of Benjamin’s everyday method of scholarly engagement with the everyday—the afterimage of a scholarly habit that might be examined in order to construct structured arguments. For McCracken, “The Arcades Project . . . opens up a way to appreciate the everyday as the threshold between the ordinary and the extraordinary, between what is and what might be” (McCracken 147). It is through scholarly engagement that the text becomes a place of learning and contemplation. In this way, the text serves both as the medium and the method--two terms that Benjamin converges in his writings on education.




IV

Structure and Learning


Pedagogic side of this undertaking: “To educate the image-making medium within us, raising it to a stereoscopic and dimensional seeing into the depths of historical shadows.” The words are Rudolf Borchards’s in Epilewgomena zu Dante, vol. 1 ( Berlin , 1923), pp. 56-57. (The Arcades Project 458 [N1,8])

In 2003, The Journal of Philosophy of Education published Yasuo Imai’s article entitled “Walter Benjamin and John Dewey: The Structure of Difference Between Their Thoughts on Education” acknowledging Benjamin’s relevance to educators invested in the impact of new media on their efforts.  In this article, Imai extracts from Benjamin’s writings on aesthetics a definition of education that emphasizes “the ways in which experience varies according to the technological media used” (Imai 123).  His essay argues that Benjamin goes further than Dewey’s anti-dualistic concept of experience and media, in suggesting that one is capable of progressing positively through refashioning the structure of education, changing experience with modern media.  Further articulating Benjamin’s opinions regarding effective education, Imai cites the following passage from Benjamin’s Essay, “Program for a Proletarian Children’s Theater”:

Everywhere—and the realm of education is no exception here—the preoccupation with “methodology” is a symptom of the authentic bourgeois attitude, the ideology of laziness and muddling through. Proletarian education needs first and foremost a framework, an objective space within which education can be located. The bourgeoisie, in contrast, requires an idea toward which education leads. (“Program” 202)

While Benjamin obviously has his opinions regarding methodological approaches to teaching, attributing to them an “ideology of laziness and muddling through,” (a phrase interestingly omitted from Imai’s reference to Benjamin’s essay), the debate can be distilled to a central question regarding the relationship between the method of a text’s composition and the media that comprise the structure—or “framework”—through which the method emerges.  In the above quotation, Benjamin argues that educators who employ a predetermined teaching method in the classroom implicitly favor the unity and coherence brought forth by implementing and adhering to a proscribed plan forged in advance.  This plan is always based on the instructor’s idea of what students are expected to master through the imposed method.  This idea thus operates as an authoritative absolute upon which the method of its conveyance is entirely dependent and contrived to support.  Neither the teacher’s method nor the idea upon which it is built is brought into question in this schema. The media centered approach to education that Benjamin supports in this essay provides a means by which educators working today—in the midst of such dramatic technological changes as the advent of the World Wide Web and its subsequent introduction to the composition classroom—might approach their profession that favors the creation of such interactive spaces and frameworks heralded above. [13] In addition, Benjamin also implies through his own implementation of media-conscious approaches to research in The Arcades Project, that such interactive conceptual frameworks may also be useful to scholars as a means of self-education through the writing process.

As previously mentioned, in “The Author as Producer” Benjamin shows how the   concept of technique synthesizes the content-form dichotomy imposing the concept of directed flows on this previously static model: one can be revolutionary (regressive) or generative (progressive) in one’s technique.  While “methodological” teaching practices are useful as a means of diagnosing and treating what the educator deems to be problematic writing (the problematic writing being that which does not accommodate or articulate the idea around which the method of instruction was structured) they impair students’ capacity to progress beyond the idea upon which the methods are based. Because method and idea are already fused from the beginning, they exist as an absolute outside of the particularities of any given classroom situation and may not be addressed apropos without undermining the educator’s teaching method by making it the subject of study. If the teaching method becomes the subject of study, then the educator no longer bears the privilege of static centrality the method was designed to support and subsequently is no longer qualified by an authority external to the classroom situation to diagnose and treat. In other words, unless the employed teaching method—the first “composition” in a composition class—is disregarded as a composition, the whole structure collapses into paradox. 

Benjamin gets around this seeming paradox by proposing that educators should, instead of insisting that students trace the predetermined course of an instructor’s teaching apparatus, instead allow students to interact freely with materials and situations posed within an open space of learning. The way to achieve this, Benjamin proposes, is by examining medium as method. He locates his prime example as the theatre.[14]  Here, method is no longer bound to a controlling idea and no longer located outside of the classroom situation as something preconceived and authoritative; instead events emerge from within the medium (in this case, the theatre) functioning as an improvised and situational teaching method supplied not by the instructor but by what the entire class discovers through free play. Consider the following:

We shall now explain why the framework of the proletarian education from the fourth to the fourteenth year should be the proletarian children’s theater.

The education of a child requires that its entire life be engaged.

Proletarian education requires that the child be educated within a clearly defined space.

This is the positive dialectic of the problem. It is only in the theatre that the whole of life can appear as a defined space, framed in all its plenitude; and this is why proletarian children’s theater is the dialectical site of education. (“Program” 202)

The concept of “site” here harkens back to Benjamin’s own method of composition in The Arcades Project as it again requires the habitation of an extent structure.  While the arcades are ruined structures that accommodate distraction and transient engagement with collective materiality and the concept of its reintroduction into the present, all primary concerns of “the historical materialist” in Benjamin’s view, the theatre (and again, one cannot forget that Benjamin stated on several occasions that The Arcades Project--originally subtitled “A Dialectical Fairy Play” (Correspondence 488)[15]--was the “theatre of all of his conflicts and all his ideas”) is an open space which can be constantly reconfigured and revised to accommodate whatever situations present themselves. It is precisely this openness—the adaptability of its structure—that makes it both a medium and a method conducive to generative learning, for adaptation of the apparatus is necessary in order for a writer to function as a producer and so construct texts that are “totally useless for fascism.”

However, Imai’s example from “The Work of Art” essay neglects the fact that Benjamin’s paramount work, The Arcades Project goes far beyond “The Work of Art” essay in exploring the concept of media through its use of a structure that, rather than resisting the tendency toward distraction, makes use of it as a compositional strategy fostering “reception” or learning. Thus in this text, Benjamin offers an example of an approach to both teaching and the writing of scholarly essays that is simultaneously useful to students, scholars, and educators working with new writing technologies. The model that he offers with The Arcades Project demonstrates one way of circumventing the prefashioned methodical approach to writing that arose from the limitations of print culture, treating writing and reading, not as a means by which to deploy or apprehend an idea, but as the structuring of frameworks that create spaces where ideas may be inhabited. The new writing technologies made recently available through the advent of the World Wide Web is just such a space--it is now up to the educator (as scholar or teacher) to manipulate this apparatus.




V

Structure and Scholarship in New Media


“Just as water, gas, and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our needs in response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign.” (“The Work of Art” 219)

In her essay “The Flâneur, the Sandwichman and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering,”  Susan Buck-Morss sets Benjamin’s compositional method, what she deems to be  the source of its “revolutionary energy,” as her starting point, using an analysis of the flâneur as a “programmatic method of interpreting the Passagen-Werk” (Buck-Morss “Flâneur” 101), a method which she argues “becomes extinct only by exploding into a myriad of forms” (Buck-Morss “The Flâneur” 105). This explosion, she argues, is comparable to “the formal principle of montage” (Buck-Morss “The Flâneur” 99) which she identifies as his primary compositional method. She was to later develop her ideas concerning this method in her monumental reconstruction of The Arcades Project, The Dialectics of Seeing, in which she attempts to disclose through images and citations from what she conceives as Benjamin’s notes an image of what The Arcades Project might have become had the scholar’s life not been cut short, arguing for a continuation of Benjamin’s endeavors as the most appropriate response to his work.  

In recognition of Benjamin’s compositional method as a kind of response through critical continuation or resonation—assuming Benjamin, functioning as “Author as Producer,” set out to reintroduce the individual projects that comprise The Arcades Project’s primary components in order to give the arcades themselves a continued existence if only in writing—the desire to reenact this practice underlies many critical approaches to the text.  In this vein, McLaughlin makes an argument for the appropriateness of such scholarly attempts at continuation.  He acknowledges the rift between Benjamin readers concerning The Arcades Project’s standing as a scholarly work, but instead of choosing a side goes on to emphasize that, being neither merely a collection of notes nor a finalized project, Benjamin’s medium—the Werk—is that which, when applied to the scholarly endeavor, places the reader in the position to “attest to the potentiality of what it [The Arcades Project] might become” (McLaughlin 197).   In Mapping Benjamin, Gumbrecht and Marrinan respond structurally to this call to engage Benjamin’s work through recognition of its potentiality as they escort the author’s ideas into the digital age in a structurally unconventional spirit, organizing a scholarly collection of essays on “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in a way that fuses Deleuze-Guattari’s structurally nonlinear multi-vocal and nodal approach to scholarship in A Thousand Plateaus with key questions concerning Benjamin’s relevance to poststructuralism and contemporary discourses concerning technology.  In doing so, the editors find themselves “overlapping zones of intellectual interest and intensity” (Gumbrecht and Marrinan xv) in order to “open or chart the intellectual terrain for the eight large sections of the book” (Gumbrecht and Marrinan xvi).  Gillioch, in Walter Benjamin: Critical Constellations, carries on this “notion of the afterlife[16] of the object, and in particular of the work of art, and the figure of the ‘polytechnical engineer. . . [which] capture two moments of Benjamin’s dialectical thinking: destruction and (re)construction” (Gillioch 4). This critic sees Benjamin as identifying his own task as that of the “aesthetic engineer” by whom “[o]bjects, edifices, texts and images are fragmented, broken and blasted from their usual contexts so that they may be painstakingly recomposed in critical contemporary constellations” (Gillioch 4).

Yet another way that the Benjaminian critical approach has manifested is in new media projects.  It is in this way that The Arcades Project has served as a kind of “Program” for the evolution of scholarship in light of its relationship to the concept of technology and the new media that emerge as a result. Many scholars have explored The Arcades Project as well as Benjamin’s famous essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” as a means of examining the manner in which prior work in the humanities might lend insight to this swiftly advancing technological phenomenon.  Like other critics responding through continuation, Dillon makes the case in his article “Montage/Critique: Another Way of Writing Social History” when he says: 

I want to understand Benjamin’s theory and practice from the point of view of the latter-day users of it—those who claim it as inspiration and method for their work, who attempt to do critique without an integrating authorial voice. (Dillon par. 1) 

Dillon’s project documents the work of artists and writers spanning from the 1960’s to the present—Berger, Mohr, Peaker, Broadway, Michals, Lederman, to name a few—who all, according to Dillon, have proceeded through Benjamin studies in this way. His focus on visual artists is foregrounded with the following claim: “Benjamin had come to see images—photographs, drawings, illustrations—as other fragments to be included and reportedly had amassed a very sizeable collection for inclusion in the project. Only sixteen remained when Tiedemann put the manuscripts in order” (Dillon par. 3). He also goes on to document and close read the projects in hypermedia that have taken Benjamin as the source of their inspiration or their subject matter beginning with Peaker’s hypertext fragments of The Arcades Project (Dillon par. 40) begun in 1997, moving toward Michals’ e-Arcades, Leaderman’s 2001 online installation piece American Views: Stories of the Landscape and others. He continues on in an analytical investigation of visual and multimedia Benjaminian undertakings, even supplying readers with a link to his own online exploration of Benjamin’s work.

Having seen the manner in which continuation as response has emerged as a kind of methodical staple in Benjamin studies, and noting Benjamin’s relevance across the disciplines with regard to conversations concerning the emergence of new media,[17] when embarking on my own scholarly investigation of The Arcades Project, I chose to learn about the project by working with it entirely in hypermedia.  As a way of drawing an end to this potentially endless project, I will discuss the development of my scholarly project--The Arcades Project Project-- the rationale for its current structural state, the manner in which the dictates of hypermedia construction advised its compositional method and the ways that the project, to my knowledge, has performed through its appropriation by other multimedia projects. To clearly delineate an archivable and stable  version of the text, I found that it was necessary to truncate what had become a sprawling web of multi-vocal texts, so that it might be preserved in hard copy in the form of a collection of HTML files to be accessed through CD-ROM, all with the understanding that such imposed limitations preserve only that part of the project that I personally authored or cited and thus provide only the suggestion of what continues to become its virtual actuality. 




VI

The Arcades Project Project


The particular difficulty of doing historical research on the period following the close of the eighteenth century will be displayed. With the rise of the mass circulation press, the sources become innumerable. (The Arcades Project 466 [N4a,6])

The Arcades Project Project was begun in 2003 as an experiment in the use of hypermedia as a primary means of enacting scholarly research.  Its awkward title was intended, first off, to anchor the project to a stable text that has been deemed a valid subject of study in the academic realm of the humanities where books are still the preferred end products of scholarly investigation.  I also chose to work with The Arcades Project because, as most of this essay reflects, I noticed that Benjamin’s work in many ways anticipated the medium that we now call hypertext through his deployment of a file-based structure, his extended use of quotation, his development of a means of forging links within a text through the use of visual cues or “blinks,” his use of images (though as mentioned above few have survived long enough to be included in either edition) as well as the manner in which The Arcades Project’s inception was based on the development of a new architectural technique--one resulting from the new medium of iron and glass construction--which though removed to the nineteenth century provided Benjamin with an apparatus with which to grapple with similar problems posed by the advent of film.  A similar process of transposition takes place in my project, the content of which is comprised of though not limited to an extensive use of images (both as background and as subjects of commentary), citation of and commentary on literature and theory from Benjamin’s own historic time (in the form of cut-and-pasted texts incorporated into the mother site as well as those appropriated by the site through hyperlinking); as well as a similar concern with the possibilities for scholarly investigation which might be realized through its enactment in new media. 

What has resulted after four years of experimentation is a composition approximately 150 megabytes in size, consisting of roughly 1500 files, 40 folders, 400 images, hundreds of hyperlinks, including links to approximately 150 external sites, an interactive online quiz, a cited video game, a message board, a virtual café, a visitor map, an internal site-searching tool, a guest book, a hit counter with statistics regarding everything from the number of visitors per hour, the operating systems used to access the site, the URLs or addresses of pages that referred visitors to the project, lists of the keyword searches used to locate the site, etc., and finally approximately 800 pages of written commentary and quotation. 

The written text was developed based on a selection of over 100 brief, often one-word, prompts that were initially used as working titles for blank pages, much like the titles of Benjamin’s convolutes which function as nodes of significance within the larger structure of the composition.  The use of short titles supplied me with a simple and consistent means of linking the written text of each page to many other pages simultaneously, creating visual articulations of divagation in the form of hyperlinks. Many of these convolutes stem from subjects directly related to The Arcades Project such as “Absence of Mind,” “Aquariums,” “Arcades,” “Architecture,” “Boulevards,” “Chance Encounters,” “Copernicus,” “Constellations,” “Diversion,” “Flâneur,” “Gambling,” “Intoxication,” “Labyrinths,” “Novelty,” “Presence of Mind,” “Ruins,” “Surrealsim,” “Thresholds,” and “Wandering.”  Others name specific authors whose works deal directly with subjects of interest to Benjamin such as the flâneur: Henry Miller, Dos Passos, Stein, Poe, Djuna Barnes, Sherwood Anderson, Whitman, etc.  Still others concern theorists whose work is historically or retrospectively linked to the theories developed in The Arcades Project such as Nietzsche, Deleuze, Baudrillard, Canetti, and Calle.  And there is an entire lexicon of terms that connect directly to issues surrounding hypertext production, such as “Accessibility,” “Anchors,” “Backgrounds,” “Dissemination,” “Editor,” “Frames,” “Guides,” “Hypertext,” “Keywords,” “Networks,” “Nodes,” “Paths,” “Prostheses,” “Spiders,” “Texts,” “Threads,” and “Webs.”  Some of these pages are still blank like those in Benjamin’s project, and some of them depart dramatically from the subjects of modernity, theory, and text production.  Each page has imbedded META tags which supply a subject registry for search engines, so each page functions as a separate entity within the larger system of the World Wide Web, operating both as entrances and exits to the larger project. The desire to develop each page into a worthy point of entrance became my method for growth in this project. 

As the project grew, I began using images in the backgrounds of the pages to create tension between the keywords that served as each page’s title and its contents.  Some of these images are cited in the “Links” section of the Convolutes as they were taken from other web sites while others are photographs that I took, but the lion’s share come from canonical Modernist painters, oftentimes with titles that echo the name of the convolutes they background.  Artists such as Magritte, Duchamp, Dali, Balla, Matisse, Picasso, and many others emerge as artificial weather, framed out by the page’s structure.  I also included some popular images from advertisement, video games, and comic books as a way of continuing Benjamin’s process of combining the ordinary with the esoteric.  So many images were included that I was required to catalogue them. This is a subproject yet to be completed which I have termed “Image Gallery,” a one-page map of all background images with links to the pages that house them and written explorations of how the images work with or against the texts that they frame.

After developing several of these virtual convolutes into long segments, some of which assumed the form of traditional essays while others were merely collections of quotations, trivia and musings, I went back and created a margin in which I could include comments alongside the text--a technique far more user friendly than the footnote or the hyperlink which disrupts what little linearity one might experience within each page. In order to do this, I composed a frame around each text box which was filled by the background image darkened or lightened to the point where text could be read over top of the image. This is how I set apart the primary written text from the marginalia.  I started adding links to other sites that I deemed useful in this space, including brief notes on the image, and as a result, the webmasters of those sites, seeing my URL in their registry of referred visitors, began linking to my pages. Traffic increased exponentially at this point, with the hit counter now registering well over 50,000 visits to the site, but what did they come to see?  Without some sort of overarching structure, The Arcades Project Project was simply a scattered mess of interconnected fragments that one might access by running searches on totally unrelated keywords--some of them as random as “Dostoevsky and Masturbation,” a phrase which did actually register in the hit counter one day.  Each page was comprised of so many words that search engines were referring them to readers who were not even looking for anything remotely connected to theory or literature or composition or anything that was supposed to be the focus of the project.

In fact, the greatest challenge from the production side of this project--aside from the full-time job of keeping hyperlinks up to date and providing properly formatted bibliographic information of all of the components used--was in designing a navigation system that would not mask the structural complexity of the project or impede its ability to function as a scholarly hypertext, a very different animal than the online scholarly book about hypertexts my project was endanger of becoming. So many scholarly sites fail in this regard in that they function very simply as books with electronic footnotes. I wanted The Arcades Project Project to explore through its development the manner in which scholarly research and writing might be performed in ways that are impossible with static media. In a sense, what I was creating looked more like an online installation project than a manuscript.  However, this is how I was able to draw readers’ attention to the ways in which hypermedia has the capacity to function in the habit-modifying manner of passages--putting to use Benjamin’s notion of reception in distraction in order to draw attention to the process of reading and research in this new medium. For instance, in the convolute entitled “Gambling,” readers can log onto www.partypoker.com, an online gambling site where visitors can actively participate in real gambling for real money.  The convolute on “Collecting” has a link to www.ebay.com, an online trading site where just about anything can be purchased, suggesting to the reader: if you want to know about collecting, try doing it. I had a link to a Las Vegas based online brothel on the “Prostitution” page for a while but my hosting service does not allow x-rated material on their servers and they took the image down.  Of course, I would not want my project to inculcate anyone in illegal behaviors, but my point in forging the connections was to draw attention to the nature of housing online compositions in the World Wide Web. My purpose was to impress upon readers through the actions provoked by engagement with the project, that what one does in this medium, as virtual as it may seem, has very real consequences--including bankruptcy, jail time, the amassment of real-life collectables, and—most importantly—scholarly research. I did not want to implement a framework that would impede the medium’s capacity to act in this way.

In order to create the option of reading the site as a scholarly project, however, I decided to base my navigation system on that which Eiland and McLaughlin devised to house The Arcades Project with a few modifications. I began with a title image with my name to be displayed on each page.  In earlier versions of the site in which a frame set was used, it was possible to access a page of text without having readily available the name of the project or its author.  Thus, this was a necessary component in a project for which one wanted to be properly credited. I transposed Eiland and McLaughlin’s chapter headings into web-relevant equivalents. “About” replaced “Translator’s Forward” and will house this introductory essay as well as several others that address different aspects of this project’s production.  I replaced “Exposés” and “First Sketches” with a section entitled “Articles” to send the message to visitors that there are some completed linear arguments housed within this collection.  The “Convolutes” section is probably the most similar to the original Arcades Project, supplying as it does an alphabetical list of key terms of exploration in the project as mentioned above. My section entitled “Addenda” contains tangential engagements with issues posed by composition in new media.  In addition to standard print bibliography, I created the heading “Sources,” which is broken down into a “Bibliography,” a more specific “Works Cited,” as well as the aforementioned “Image Gallery” and “Links” page.  The “Index” is presented as an option, although it has not been worked through in the interest of time. Finally, the “Connect” section is divided into three interactive parts where real human contact can be achieved: “Chat” is a section that takes readers to the virtual café where they can interact in real time with one another. “Messageboard” offers a more static, preserved version of that same interactive capacity although it is not possible to converse in real time in this way. Finally, the “Email Author” link enables readers to contact me directly at the click of a button.   Thus this table of contents lines the top of each and every page in The Arcades Project Project, giving it a sense of continuity and cohesion, most comparable to the work that book covers do.

I would like to point out that there is one crucial aspect of web publishing that needs to be addressed before closing off this lengthy introduction, and it is probably the most common cause of death for websites of all kinds: contrary to popular belief, web based publication is not free and its cost is not limited to a one-time publishing fee as with printed matter.  Authors must pay hosting companies to store and relay their content.  At the moment, this site costs roughly $400 per year to maintain.  If traffic were to increase to commercial levels, this price would escalate exponentially.  Scholars do have the option of utilizing free space on the web through various hosts that offer the service as a marketing tool as long as these authors do not mind flashy advertisements and limitations on the amount of data storage their site requires; but of course, sites housed in this way are as ephemeral as the companies which host them. Another complication with this form of scholarly composition is that it is comprised in its entirety of machine readable data, which means that it cannot be read without the aid of a functioning computer.  The texts composed in this medium are forever changing in so far as linked material is always changing or disappearing.  One should also note that different computers display the site in different ways depending on their settings, so there is no uniformity achievable in its dissemination.  It can be accessed, as said before, through an infinite number of contexts, all of which alter the reader’s reception of whatever aspect of the text they encounter.  Of course all of these problems have their corresponding hard copy incarnations, but what is interesting about working in this media is that, in many ways, the process renders visible the complications that underlie all media but which are obscured by the illusion of permanence materiality ascribes to things like books. 

In terms of a foreseeable future for this project, I could say that The Arcades Project Project could continue to grow in complexity, its components filling out into book-length segments of text; its texts and images could be linked at more points. Video and sound could be added, video games could be authored; it could solicit multiple contributions from other writers using various compositional forms.  One might, if willing to pay the cost of copyright, incorporate electronic versions of printed matter in the form of PDF files or searchable book facsimiles. Short films, cartoons, virtual tours of architectural structures, historic photographs and links to available documents, the law, a list of relevant blogs, a guide to the historic arcades of Paris or a manual on web authoring:  just about anything could be inserted into the filing system at the click of a button--but then, because the structure is open to improvisation, because it contains and is contained by sites that are linked ad infinitum to other sites, in a way, this potential growth is already realized.  Thus, in many ways, what working in new media teaches us is the manner in which the larger apparatus of the World Wide Web may be subtly modified to fit the purposes of its authors.  Perhaps it would be best to end here, with this structural lesson and a final word from the source of its inspiration: “It is good to give materialist investigations a truncated ending” (The Arcades Project 472 [N9a,2]).


Works Cited

Aragon, Louis. Paysan de Paris. Trans. Simon Watson Taylor. Boston : Exact Change, 1994.

Baudrillard, Jean. Seduction. Trans. Brian Singer. New York : St. Martin ’s Press, 1979.

-     -     -  Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. S.F. Glaser. Ann Arbor , MI : Michigan UP, 1994.

Benjamin, Walter.  “One-Way Street.” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt.Trans. Harrzy Zohn. New York : Schocken 1968. 253-267.

-     -     - “Program for a Proletarian Children’s Theater.”  Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Volume 2 1927-1934. Ed. Michael W. Jennings . Cambridge : Harvard UP, 1999. 201-206.

-     -     -  The Arcades Project. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge : Harvard UP, 1999.

-     -     -  The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin 1910-1940. Ed. Gershom Scholem and Theodor W. Adornow. Trans. Manfred R. Jacobson and Evelyn M. Jacobson. Chicago : U of Chicago P, 1994.

-     -     -  The Origin of German Tragic Drama.  Trans. John Osborne. London : Verso, 1998.

-     -     - “The Author as Producer.” Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Volume 2 1927-1934. Ed. Michael W. Jennings . Cambridge : Harvard UP, 1999. 768-782.

-     -     -  “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harrzy Zohn. New York : Schocken 1968. 253-267.

-     -     -  “The Storyteller.” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harrzy Zohn. New York : Schocken 1968. 83-109.

-     -     -  “The Task of the Translator.” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York : Schocken 1968. 69-82.

-     -     - “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harrzy Zohn. New York : Schocken 1968. 217-251.

Bentley, G. E., Jr. “William Blake's Techniques of Engraving and Printing.” Studies in Bibliography: Papers of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia 34 (1981) 241-253.

Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. New York : Dover , 1994.

-     -     -  The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. copy H, object 14. The William Blake Archive. Ed. Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi. 6 June 2007 <http://www.blakearchive.org/>.

Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Hillsdale: Laurence Erlbaum, 1991) 

Brennan, Susan E. “Conversation as Direct Manipulation: An Iconoclastic View.”

The Art of Human—Computer Interface Design 393-404. Ed. Brenda Laurel . Reading , Mass. : Addison Wesley, 1990.

Buck-Morss, Susan. The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and The Arcades Project. Cambridge : MIT, 1989. 

-     -     - “The Flâneur, the Sandwichman and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering.” New German Critique 39 (Autumn 1986), 99-140.

Carlson, Patricia Ann.  “The Rhetoric of Hypertext” Hypermedia 2 (1990) 109-31.

Cohen, Margaret. Profane Illuminations: Walter Benjamin and the Paris of Surrealist Revolution. Berkeley : U of California P, 1993.

Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer on Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge : MIT Press, 1992.

Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. (1916) Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2004.

Dillon, George L. “Montage/Critique: Another Way of Writing Social History.”  PMC 14.2, 2004.

Eagleton, Terry. Walter Banjamin: Toward a Revolutionary Criticism. London : Verso, 1981.

Eiland, Howard. “Reception in Distraction.” boundary 2 30:1 (2003), 51-66.

-     -     -  “Translator’s Forward.” The Arcades Project. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge : Harvard UP, 1999.

Engelbart, Douglas. “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.” The New Media Reader. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. MIT: Cambridge , 2003.Hypertext/Hypermedia Handbook, ed. Emily Berk and Joseph Devlin. Internet Publications, McGraw Hill: New York , 1991

Ferris, David S. “Poster-modern Interdisciplinarity: Kant, Diderot and the Encyclopedic Project. MLN 118.5 (2003) 1251-1277.

Fittko, Lisa. “The Story of Old Benjamin.” The Arcades Project. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge : Harvard UP, 1999. 946-954.

Gelley, Alexander. “Contexts of the Aesthetic in Walter Benjamin. MLN 114.5 (1999) 933-961

Gillioch, Graeme. Walter Benjamin: Critical Constellations. Cambridge : Polity, 2002.

Gross, David. “Infinite Indignation: Teaching, Dialectical Vision and Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” College English, Vol. 48, No. 2. (Feb., 1986) 175-186.

Hypermedia and Literary Studies. Ed. George P. Landow and Paul Delany. Cambridge : MIT Press, 1991.

Hypertext. The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Ed. George P. Landow. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins , 1992.

Juengel, Scott and Justus Nieland. “Benjamin’s Urgency.” CR: The New Centennial Review 5.2 (2005) 189-213.

Kaplan, Nancy . “Blake's Problem and Ours: Some Reflections on the Image and the Work.” The Emerging Cyberculture: Literacy, Paradigm, and Paradox. Ed. Cynthia L. Selfe. Cresskill , NJ : Hampton , 2000, 25-43.

Koepnick, Lutz P. “Fascist Aesthetics Revisited.” Modernism/Modernity 6.1 (1999) 51-73.

Lyotard, Francois The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota , 1984.

“Manifesto for ‘The Revolution of the Word.’” transition 16-17 (June) 1929.

Manovich, Lev. “New Media from Borges to HTML.” The New Media Reader. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. MIT: Cambridge , 2003.

Mapping Bejamin: the work of art in the digital age. Edema. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and Michael Marrinan. Stanford , CA : Stanford UP, 2003.

McCracken, Scott. “The Completion of Old Work: Walter Benjamin and the Everyday.”Cultural Critique 52 (2002) 145-166.

McLaughlin, Kevin. “Benjamin Now: Afterthoughts on The Arcades Project.” boundary 2: an international journal of literature and culture 30:1 (spring) 2003.

McLuhan, Marshall . “The Galaxy Reconfigured or the Plight of Mass Man in anIndividualist Society. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man.   Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1962. in The New Media Reader. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. MIT: Cambridge , 2003.

-     -     -  Understanding Media.  (1964) London : Routledge, 2001.

Miller, James. “The Start of Something Big.” The New York Times On The Web. February 20, 2000 . <www.nytimes.com>

Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents. Ed. Vassiliki Kolocotroni.  Chicago : U of Chicago P, 1999.

Moulthrop, Stuart. “You Say You Want a Revolution? Hypertext and the laws of Media.” The New Media Reader. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. MIT: Cambridge , 2003.

Nelson, Theodore. "Nonsequential Writing." Literary Machines. Sausalito , CA : Mindful, 1990.

Ong, Walter. An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry. Ed. Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup. New Jersey : Hampton , 2002.

Patke, Rajeev S. “Benjamin’s Arcades Project and the Postcolonial City .” Diacritics 30.4 (2000) 3-13.

Ricciardi, Alessia. “Cinema Regained: Godard Between Proust and Benjamin. Modernism/Modernity  8.4 (2001) 643-661.

Richter, Gerhard. Walter Benjamin and the Corpus of Autobiography. Detroit , MI : Wayne State UP, 2000.

Silverman, Kaja. “The Dream of the Nineteenth Century.” Camera Obscura 17.3 (2002) 1-20.

Sussman, Henry. Book Review: The Arcades Project. MLN 115.5 (2000) 1138-1141.

Sutherland, Ivan E. “Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System.” The New Media Reader. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. MIT: Cambridge , 2003.

The Digital Word. Text-Based Computing in the Humanities. Ed. George P. Landow and Paul Delany. Cambridge : MIT Press, 1993. 

Tiedemann, “Dialectics at a Standstill.” The Arcades Project. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge : Harvard UP, 1999. 929-945.

Walsch, Ernest and Ethel Moorhead. “Editorial.” This Quarter 1:1 (January) 1925.

Wright, John. “Toward Recovering Blake's Relief-Etching Process.” Blake Newsletter: An Illustrated Quarterly 7 (1973) 32-39.

-     -     -  “Blake's Relief-Etching Method.” Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly. 9 (1976) 94-114.



[11]          In an effort to avoid confusion, Eiland and McLaughlin’s title will be used throughout the remainder of this essay in all references to The Arcades Project unless specifically relevant to the Tiedemann translation (Das Passagen-Werk) or the original manuscript (Das Passagen).

[12]          In “The Storyteller,” Benjamin argues that the old way of doing history which resulted in the construction of enormous chronologies that were comprised of references only to centers of political and military power must be replaced with the more particularized version of history.  His “storyteller” functions as Benjamin’s aesthetic engineer, as he refashions his apparatus in response to his audience: “Seen in this way, the storyteller joins the ranks of the teachers and sages. He has counsel--not for a few situations, as the proverb does, but for many, like the sage” (“The Storyteller” 108).

[13]          Benjamin’s preference for the possibilities of open frameworks or structures over the focused containment of a proscribed method is one that emerges from his involvement with his own teacher (with whom he later parted ways), Gustav Wyneken who led the Freie Schulgemeinde (Free School) movement, building his educational strategies around the classical concept of pedagogical eros. These educational strategies were also inspiration to John Dewey, American educational reformer, who was influenced by Francis Wayland Parker who had the opportunity to research education in Germany at the time and who Dewey referred to as “the father of progressive education” Francis Wayland Parker.

[14]          In “Chapter Thirteen: The Nature of Method,” from Democracy and Education, Dewey states, “Never is method something outside of the material.” (Dewey 134). He goes on to explain:

Method is a statement of the way the subject matter of an experience develops most effectively and fruitfully. It is derived, accordingly, from observation of the course of experiences where there is no conscious distinction of personal attitude and manner from material dealt with. The assumption that method is something separate is connected with the notion of the isolation of mind and self from the world of things. It makes instruction and learning formal, mechanical, constrained. While methods are individualized, certain features of the normal course of an experience to its fruition may be discriminated, because of the fund of wisdom derived from prior experiences and because of general similarities in the materials dealt with from time to time. Expressed in terms of the attitude of the individual the traits of good method are straightforwardness, flexible intellectual interest or open-minded will to learn, integrity of purpose, and acceptance of responsibility for the consequences of one's activity including thought. (Dewey 146)

While Dewey focuses in this section on materials as being always inseparable from the method used, Benjamin extends this assertion in “The Author as Producer” posing that truly progressive writing refashions the apparatuses of its production. In a sense, Benjamin’s suggestion that the author should play “engineer” already assumes the interconnectedness of medium and method. Such discussion seems to betoken a discussion of Marshall McCluhan’s Understanding Media in which he puts forth that the “medium is the message” (McLuhan 7). One should note this claim differs starkly from Benjamin’s and Dewey’s which are not concerned with “the message” in the same way that they are less concerned with ideas than with the processes of apprehending and forging those ideas: the methods and techniques that formulate response.

[15]          Benjamin goes on to say in this May 31, 1935 letter to Adorno: “The subtitle points to the rhapsodic character of what I had in mind to present at that time and whose relics--as I recognize today—did not contain any adequate guarantees whatsoever, in formal or linguistic terms. This epoch was also, however, that of a carefree, archaic philosophizing, (Correspondence 488) which was engrossed in nature” (Correspondence 489).

[16]          See Crary’s “Techniques of the Observer” which discusses Goethe’s Color Theory in which Kant’s Copernican Revolution is examined in relation to technical developments in the understanding of the camera obscura.  He points out the chapter from this work entitled “Physiological Colors” in which the afterimage is examined in relation to the concept of “optical ‘truth’” (Crary 9). In response to this, Crary argues:

“The implications of the new ‘objectivity’ accorded to subjective phenomena are several. First, the privileging of the afterimage allowed the thought of sensory perception cut from any necessary link with an external referent. The afterimage—the presence of sensation in the absence of a stimulus—and its subsequent modulations posed a theoretical and empirical demonstration of autonomous vision, of an optical experience that was produced by and within the subject. Secondly, and equally crucial for the rest of the nineteenth century is the introduction of temporality as an inescapable component of observation” (Crary 9).

[17]          Jay Bolter’s book Remediation--an expansion on his ground breaking project Writing Space--has become a standard in the field of hypertext studies, examining as it does the phenomenon of new media in postmodern critical contexts. Benjamin’s work with media in “The Work of Art” essay is integral to Bolter’s development of the title concept.  Theodore Nelson's discussion of  "nonsequential writing" in Literary Machines, the Hypertext/Hypermedia Handbook and Landow’s The Digital Word. Text-Based Computing in the Humanities, Hypertext. The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology and Hypermedia and Literary Studies are all helpful introductions to hypermedia’s connections with postmodern theory. 

Often accused of taking the stance of technological determinism, Walter Ong writes in Orality and Literacy that the postmodern is the result of “a changing media environment, one characterized by secondary orality, the electronically amplified and reproduced word” (Ong xi).  Stuart Moulthrop’s “You Say You Want a Revolution? Hypertext and the laws of Media” is a useful run down of early hypermedia scholarship, arguing that this new means of communication has made us the generation and generators of “nextness” (Moulthrop 693). He refers to Benjamin as having already noted, with the advent of mechanical reproduction, a means of dislodging the work of art from tradition, a concept he notes is extended by Lyotard in his The Postmodern Condition whereupon the grand narratives of history are exploded into “a proliferation of incompatible discourses and methods”  (Lyotard 26).  As a medium that fits rather naturally into the postmodern view of hierarchical structures Moulthrop argues: “Hyperreality privileges no discourse as absolute or definitive; critique becomes just another form of paralogy, a countermove in the language game that is techno-social construction of reality. The game is all-encompassing, and therein lies a problem” (Moulthrop 694).  Thus it becomes a terrain where postmodern questions may be “addressed not in theory but in practice” (Moulthrop 694)  While some see the consensual literacy made necessary by hypertexts as resulting in “visions of informatic chaos” Moulthrop reminds us that chaos is now being understood as not simply an “absence of ‘order’” but as ‘a condition of possibility in which new arrangements spontaneously assemble themselves”:  he identifies the consensual literacy with “visions of informatic chaos” (Moulthrop 700) qualifying chaos as “concept we have recently begun to understand as something other than simply an absence of ‘order:’ it is instead a condition of possibility in which new arrangements spontaneously assemble themselves (Prigogine and Stengers, 14). This notion of the language game that becomes interaction is extended into a book length study by Jean Baudrillard entitled Seduction--in which one is provided an anti-Oedipal model that uses Narcissus as a mythological stand-in to dramatize the evolving relationship between humans and new media.  One can find the seeds here of what was to become his philosophy of the hyperreal in Simulacra and  Simulations.

Several critics remind us that these very same hypertext systems that many hail as a means of undermining structures of authority were developed in order to address the needs of defense systems.  This affiliation clearly influences the development of the new media—“consider an influential paper on ‘The Rhetoric of Hypertext” which uses the requirements of a military training system to propose general standards of coherence and instrumental effectiveness for this medium (Carlson 720). Technological development does not happen in cyberspace, but in the more familiar universe of postindustrial capital. Thus to the clearheaded, any suggestion that computer technology might be anything but an instrument of this system must seem quixotic—or just plain stupid” (Carlson 702). She goes on to argue that education is already bound to the cult of authority concluding that  “[r]esponsibility of the evolution of hypertext systems as genuine alternatives to the present information economy rests as much with software developers, social scientists, and literary theorists as it does with legislators and capitalists. If anything unites these diverse elites, it might be their allegiance to existing institutions of intellectual authority—the printed word, the book, the library, the university, the publishing house” (Carlson 703).

McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, like this essay makes references to William Blake in relation to new media theory and his mantra “the medium is the message” from Understanding New Media has been taken up by media scholars of all kinds. Manovich, in “New Media from Borges to HTML,” defines new media as a computer based art form to be realized in the concept of the computer installation. Engelbart’s “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework” contains a discussion of the author’s experiments with memex notecards, comparable to Benjamins’ concept in his famous quotation regarding the replacement of the book by filing systems as cited earlier. Through his experiment, Engelbart demonstrates how one might construct an argument through the construction of a filing system that “made up for the pitifully sparse possibilities available for symbol structuring in printed text.” (Engelbart 108).  Sutherland’s “Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System” includes a similar discussion of the graphic interface as a new form of conversation and Brennan responds to Sutherland by ascribing the concept of “backchannels, or secondary speech in human/human communication” (394-395) to what goes on beneath the graphic interface in the form of technical code. 

Needless to say what used to be an off-shoot of compositional studies has been replaced by a rapidly growing new discipline of scholarship.  This summary limits its survey specifically to monumental figures in the study of hypertext and a sample of investigations that are directly linked to Benjamin studies.  Needless to say, Benjamin has become a central figure to this emerging discipline.

[1] See Koepnick’s insightful rebuttal in “Fascist Aesthetics Revisited” in which he argues that [w]hile the function of the aesthetic in fascism clearly halts a revolutionary turn of society and abets the further diffusion of political power into increasingly independent and competing but fascist agencies of domination, it at the same time” like Benjamin’s proposed architectural model, “actively reshapes individual and collective modes of reception and channels disparate hopes for charismatic redemption into the uniform gestalt of collective mobilization. . . . It appropriates certain properties of social and cultural modernity in order to reconstruct the modern state as a phantasmagoria of power and community, as a shifting series of deceptive appearances that change the very parameters according to which people perceive the real” (Koepnick 53). 

[2] Consider the 1920’s (as cited above), 1960’s (as with Huxley and Morrison), the 1980’s (as in the form of Eagleton’s Marxist critique of Benjamin as revolutionary[1]), and in the present time as the harbinger of the revolutionary possibilities of hypertext (as per the University of Virginia ’s William Blake Archives). Terry Eagleton says, in Walter Benjamin: Towards a Revolutionary Criticism, “William Blake, writing before the emergence of historical materialism, cast his critique of industrial capitalism in theological terms. For all its consequent limits, no materialist artefact has ever exceeded its power.” (Eagleton 177)

See also David Gross’ examination of several Marxist theorists and Benjamin’s version of the Dialectic image in relation to Blake’s innovations in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in “Infinite Indignation: Teaching, Dialectical Vision, and Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

[3] Relief etching was a process Blake “invented” using copper plates that were painted with an anticorrosive then placed in an acidic solution to produce a relief plate.  For more on this, see The Blake Newsletter: An Illustrated Quarterly which include John Wright’s “Toward Recovering Blake's Relief-Etching Process” (1973) and “Blake's Relief-Etching Method” (1976). Nancy Kaplan has discussed the process and its relation to the problems posed by hypermedia in “Blake's Problem and Ours: Some Reflections on the Image and the Work,” which appeared in The Emerging Cyberculture in 2000; see also Bentley’s “ William Blake's Techniques of Engraving and Printing,” published in Studies in Bibliography: Papers of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, the institution who maintains The William Blake Archive, the most expansive collection of Blake’s etchings currently available.

[4] Following is a copy of the text extracted from its original for reader reference: 

“But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged; this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.

For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.” (Blake 36)
[5] This image was taken from University of Virginia ’s William Blake Archive.
[6] The word “Arbeit” as opposed to “Werk” is, in German, closer to Eiland and McLaughlin’s translational choice of “Project” in its meaning. It is a word used to denote labor, employment, and occupation—the process of working as opposed to the object produced by work (Werk).
[7] While Benjamin’s thinking runs along side that of Heidegger’s and while both scholars shared similar interests, it is interesting to in the oft-quoted January 1930 letter to Gerhard Scholem, Benjamin himself said the following regarding his relationship to Heidegger: 

"But what I primarily want to talk about now is my book, Paris Arcades . I am truly sorry that a personal conversation is the only possible way to deal with anything having to do with this book--and, to tell you the truth, it is the theater of all my conflicts and all my ideas, which do not at all lend themselves to being expressed in correspondence. Let me therefore limit myself to noting that I intend to pursue to project on a different level than I had previously planned. Up till now, I have been held back, on the one hand, by the problem of documentation and, on the other hand, by that of metaphysics. I now see that I will at least need to study some aspects of Hegel and some parts of Marx’s Capital to get anywhere and to provide a solid scaffolding for my work. It now seems a certainty that, for this book as well as for the Trauerspiel book, an introduction that discusses epistemology is necessary--especially for this book, a discussion of the theory of historical knowledge. Thai is where I will find (Correspondence 359) Heidegger, and I expect sparks will fly form the shock of the confrontation between our two very different ways of looking at history.” (Correspondence 360).

[8] As a primary source of Benjamin’s inspiration for the arcades, consider the following passageom Aragon ’s Paris Peasant: “How oddly this light suffuses the covered arcades which abound in Paris in the vicinity of the main boulevards and which are rather disturbingly names passages, as though no one had the right to linger for more than an instant in those sunless corridors. A glaucous gleam, seemingly filtered through deep water, with the special quality of pale brilliance of a leg suddenly revealed under a lifted skirt. The great American passion for city planning, imported into Paris by a prefect of police during the Second Empire and now being applied to the task of redrawing the map of our capital in straight lines, will soon spell the doom of these human aquariums. Although the life that originally quickened them has drained away, they deserve, nevertheless, to be regarded as the secret repositories of several modern myths: it is only today, when the pickaxe menaces them, that they have at last become the true sanctuaries of a cult of the ephemeral, the ghostly landscape of damnable pleasures and professions. Places that were incompressible yesterday, and that tomorrow will never know” ( Aragon 13-14).In it, one finds many of the themes Benjamin engages in his study of the arcades, but in the passage above, most important is the reference to the imposed architecture of capitalism (American architecture) which carves up cities into straight lines and destroys these passages and the resultant “modern myths” produced.

[9] Benjamin pays close attention to the advent of iron and glass construction in the nineteenth century in The Arcades Project, identifying it as the technical innovation that revolutionized architecture.  It is not a large step at all to make a comparison between the significance of this new medium and the new medium that presents itself in the twenty-first century as hypertext, a technical innovation in the construction of scholarly texts that lends itself to new forms of scholarly composition.

[10] See Eiland’s article “Reception in Distraction” in which he explores an “inconsistency” in Benjamin’s use of the concept of distraction and in his attitude toward the concept.  His writings concerning Brecht, which exemplify a “negative” take on the concept, and in the “Work of Art” essay which he refers to as “positive” both of which manifest in a “slippery” (Eiland 51) manner through The Arcades Project’s use of montage..

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.