Thresholds


Epigraphs as thresholds (especially in the AP--the first epigraph of the AP is about thresholds--see chapter on arcades).

"Boredom is the threshold to great deeds. --Now, it would be important to know: What is the dialectical antithesis to boredom?" [D2, 7] (AP 105)

"Rather than pass the time, one must invite it in. To pass the time (to kill time, expel it): the gambler. Time spills from his every pore. –To store time as a battery stores energy: the flâneur. Finally, the third type: he who waits. He takes in the time and renders it up in altered form—that of expectation." (AP 107)

The 1999 English translation of The Arcades Project begins with the following epigraph:

"The waters are blue, the plants pink; the evening is sweet to look on;

One goes for a walk; the grandes dames go for a walk; behind them stroll the petites dames.

--Nguyen Trong Hiep, Paris, capitale del al France: Receuil de vers (Hanoi, 1897), poem 25"

We begin with a quotation from a turn of the century Vietnamese writer. Bartolovich has the following theory to explain that:

See the following:

"In the real world of geopolitics and hierarchies of nations, however, languages (and nations) do not confront each other as anything like equals. Paris was capital of the nineteenth century in large part because of France's imperial incursions, whose effects are discreetly signaled in Benjamin's choosing as an epigraph for the 1935 Exposé of his Arcades Project the French words of a Vietnamese poet, Nguyen Trong Hiep, one of the few non-European voices in Benjamin's work. Paris is intertwined, unquestionably, with Berlin in Benjamin's account, but also, via Nguyen, with Hanoi (and so on, through all its various material relations with the world). We must attend to the totality of these relations, and the inequality of peoples with respect to each other implied in the world's actually existing form, whether or not Benjamin explicitly thematized these relations at any length. They are, it seems to me, implicitly important, even crucial, given the anticapitalist reading practice he does explicitly engage. In any case, some things, he insisted, were better expressed by not being said at all. As he puts it in Convolute N of The Arcades Project: "method of this 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" (460). While in his texts Asian, South American, and African images can certainly be read as playing the role of displacing, or standing in for, the actual oppressive material entanglements of Europe and the "rest of the world," as in other primitivist appropriations, we can also see how his reticence might be directed against obfuscation since the form of Benjamin's text, and the reading practice it demands, always points us toward the unsaid. 38 The unsaid in his case differs, then, from the "sanctioned ignorance" for which Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak rightly took to task Foucault's writing, in which the colonial situation seems everywhere evoked but rarely named as such—certainly not as the fact of European everyday life that it has been from the sixteenth century to the present (291). The difference in the case of Berliner Chronik is that Benjamin's compiling out of the mass of evidence before us the ordinarily overlooked, misread, and despised was intended to bring capital's invisibilities into focus. In this respect, although his texts don't announce an anti-imperial agenda as such, they can still be understood as providing an anti-imperialist reading practice—or at least demanding such a reading practice from inhabitants of an imperialist world to which his texts are offered as counterpoint. ("Figuring the (in)visible in An Imperial Weltstadt: The Case of Benjamin's Moor" Crystal Bartolovich): [available on Project Muse]

Bartolovich begins her discussion with a reference to Yinka Shonibare who reupholstered Victorian interiors with African prints.

We begin with a demonstration of the pervasive nature of Imperial Paris—and the implicit threshold state of a political entity intent on extending its boundaries. From the first page Benjamin highlights Paris' nodal quality, its position as a place of chance encounters, of collisions between cultures, as a passage between worlds in itself. Paris in this sense functions as a rhizome, extending, territorializing, advancing itself as a nomadic "war machine" that knows no boundaries (1000 P "Nomadology"):

"Empire is the style of revolutionary terrorism, for which the state is an end in itself." (AP 4).

We move on to Section I, "Fourier, or the Arcades" which bears the same epigraph that Benjamin later used for Convolute A (See THE ARCADES PROJECT). It is a description of a threshold:

"Most of the Paris arcades come into being in the decade and a half after 1822. The first condition for their emergence is the boom in the textile trade. Magazins de nouveautés, the first establishments to keep large stocks of merchandise on the premises, make their appearance. They are the forerunners of the department stores . . . The arcades are a center of commerce in luxury items. In fitting them out, art enters the service of the merchant." (AP 3)

So, once stores started keeping large stocks, inventories, the manner in which shopkeepers collected the items brought the necessity of an artistic sensibility to the merchant's profession—making "industry . . . rival of the arts" (AP 3). Assembling, displaying, collecting the items for sale, became an art form which need not to disguise its role in the present economy. By arranging stock items in an aesthetically pleasing way, shopkeepers put to work the necessity of storage, creating with excessive stock, "worlds in miniature" through which passersby could move, distracted by messages implied through juxtaposition, diverted hither and thither by their most intimate desires. The store becomes an external manifestation of the psyche—a dream world through which city inhabitants might wander "aimlessly" lest something unthought of catch —a thread (Whitman's "filament") take hold—an anchor seat itself—exposing novelty. Thus the flâneur makes his way through the labyrinth as a large net, extending his locus as a spider who spins her web in order to catch whatever chance may bring along.

The Arcades Project Project is part of Heather Marcelle Crickenberger's doctoral dissertation entitled "The Structure of Awakening": Walter Benjamin and Progressive Scholarship in New Media which was defended and passed on June 27, 2007 at the University of South Carolina. The committe members are as follows: John Muckelbauer, Ph.D, Judith James, Ph.D., Dan Smith, Ph.D, Brad Collins, Ph. D., and Anthony Jarrells, Ph.D. Copyright 2007 by Heather Marcelle Crickenberger. All rights reserved. lems concerning what you find here, feel free to contact me at marcelle@thelemming.com. You are also invited to leave a message for me and other visitors HERE. The Arcades Project Project or The Rhetoric of Hypertext