The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project

Susan Buck-Morss, Author MIT Press (MA) $35 (508p) ISBN 978-0-262-02268-2
To German philosopher Benjamin (1892-1940), the glass-covered shopping arcades of 19th-century Paris were the first dream-worlds of mass culture. He spent 13 years taking notes for the ``Arcades project,'' but the manuscript was a morass of fragments at the time he committed suicide. By decoding all sorts of urban phenomena--casinos, street signs, prostitution, apartment interiors, boredom, railway stations, Baudelaire's poetry, etc.--the Marxist cultural critic hoped to pierce the myths of progress, consumerist bliss and faith in technology. In a major act of biographical-literary excavation, Buck-Morss, professor of political philosophy at Cornell, reconstructs Benjamin's thought processes as he penetrated the collective cultural fantasies spawned by mass production and the mass media. The narrative is enlivened by a diversity of intriguing illustrations, from French period cartoons to contemporary photographs. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/01/1989
Release date: 11/01/1989
Paperback - 512 pages - 978-0-262-52164-2
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