Historical Beauty in The Ruins
City: Paris, France
Time Period: Nineteenth Century
Primary Source: The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin with Rolf Tiedemann as the editor and
Kevin McLaughlin and Howard Eiland as translators.
Why? : The book The Arcades Project otherwise titled Das Passagen-Werk in German
was originally idealized in 1927 and was still a work in progress in Paris in
1940 when Walter Benjamin fled the Occupation . The book is a prominent
historical reference as it is an epic ruin that is studiously constructed
in a span of the thirteen years in Paris. While putting his focus on the antique
nineteenth-century glass-roofed shops in Paris considered as early consumerism
centers, Walter evinces a pastiche of reflections on and quotations from
immense published sources in organized thirty-six groupings. Some of the
evocative rubrics Benjamin uses are; Boredom, Photography, Advertising,
Fashion, Dream City, Theory of Progress and Baudelaire. Benjamin’s core
preoccupation is what he terms as the turning things into commodities; a course
in which he identifies the critical shift to the contemporary era.
The Arcades Project is Walter’s attempt at representing and critiquing the
bourgeois perspective of the nineteenth-century history and consequently to
rid people of the repressed “true history” that inspired the conceptual facade.
In the busy, jumbled arcades, street and interior blend and historic time is
represented in form of variegated disruptions and spectacles of ephemera. From
what is normally known as progress, Benjamin talks about lost time
entrenched in the existence of things.
Benjamin asserts that modernity can only be viewed in its ruins contrary to
studying it a permanent thing. It is such explorations through the ruins and
remnants that possess the dreamlike quality. Instead of fostering the linear
path of incessant progress in history, Benjamin makes references to abrupt
flashes that depict the current moment or the ‘time of the now’. Such
phenomenal moments are at their clearest during their time of decline. Thus,
Benjamin’s interest in the arcades of Paris was at their final mom