The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin
in conversation with LINDSAY WATERS
November 15, 2019
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
This event is free; no tickets are required.
Harvard Book Store welcomes critic, translator, and Walter Benjamin scholar HOWARD EILAND for a discussion commemorating the 20th anniversary of Harvard University Press's publication of The Arcades Project. He will be joined in conversation by LINDSAY WATERS, the Benjamin editor at Harvard University Press. This event is co-sponsored by Mass Humanities.
About The Arcades Project
“To great writers,” Walter Benjamin once wrote, “finished works weigh lighter than those fragments on which they labor their entire lives.” Conceived in Paris in 1927 and still in progress when Benjamin fled the Occupation in 1940, The Arcades Project (in German, Das Passagen-Werk) is a monumental ruin, meticulously constructed over the course of thirteen years—“the theater,” as Benjamin called it, “of all my struggles and all my ideas.”
Focusing on the arcades of nineteenth-century Paris—glass-roofed rows of shops that were early centers of consumerism—Benjamin presents a montage of quotations from, and reflections on, hundreds of published sources, arranging them in 36 categories with descriptive rubrics such as “Fashion,” “Boredom,” “Dream City,” “Photography,” “Catacombs,” “Advertising,” “Prostitution,” “Baudelaire,” and “Theory of Progress.” His central preoccupation is what he calls the commodification of things—a process in which he locates the decisive shift to the modern age.
The Arcades Project is Benjamin’s effort to represent and to critique the bourgeois experience of nineteenth-century history, and, in so doing, to liberate the suppressed “true history” that underlay the ideological mask. In the bustling, cluttered arcades, street and interior merge and historical time is broken up into kaleidoscopic distractions and displays of ephemera. Here, at a distance from what is normally meant by “progress,” Benjamin finds the lost time(s) embedded in the spaces of things.
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes
As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.
Mass Humanities conducts and supports programs that use history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines to enhance and improve civic life in Massachusetts. Learn more at masshumanities.org.
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