Broderson Walter Benjamin A Biography
I will admit that the only thing I know about Walter Benjamin is that he wrote one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever seen: The Arcades Project. From the remarks on the dust cover of the Brodersen book, it appears that most biographers have approached him with some sort of almost mystical awe, mostly because his work was so original and startling, and because his philosophical positions often seemed contradictory. This book is much more accessible, providing a great deal of historical material, and actually letting us get to know the man.
I am intrigued by The Arcades Project. It seems to me to stand as a unique literary work; if an impressionist painting were written down, it would be The Arcades Project. Benjamin sought to recreate the feeling of Paris in the nineteenth century by collecting contemporary newspaper columns and articles, and grouping them in subject categories. The result is a sort of series of “snapshots” of the Paris streets.
I wanted to see if Brodersen’s biography could give me any clues or hints as to how and why Benjamin constructed (one can hardly say “wrote”) the book he did.
First and foremost, The Arcades Project is a paean to a great city. It’s obvious that Paris fascinated Benjamin. The first point to consider then is what Benjamin’s relationship to his own city of Berlin was, and whether that had any influence on him such that he might want to write about another great metropolis.
... Dr. Mortimer Alder about the value of book ownership is that readers can write in their books. I believe that Dr. Mortimer Alder ... the students can read and write in the novels. There are three kinds of book owners. The first book owner is best-sellers ... is correct. There are two ways to own a book the ...
Benjamin was born in 1892 in Berlin, at a time when the city was being drastically altered. New streets, “tremendously wide,” (Brodersen, p. 1) were built throughout the city, destroying much of old Berlin in the process. There was apparently no planning done before construction began, because all sorts of architectural styles wound up jumbled together in an eclectic mix.
In addition, technology was appearing in the city. Horse drawn vehicles became obsolete as people began to use electric trams for transportation. Not long after that, automobiles arrived on the scene. In addition, the population of the city was rising, and would pass two million in 1905. (Brodersen, p. 2).
Tenements were traps that housed the city’s poorer workers, who lived in “a world of misery” amidst dazzling modernity. (Brodersen, p. 3).
The effect of this explosive and chaotic growth on Benjamin was significant:
“As an eyewitness to the almost eruptive development and reshaping of Berlin, Benjamin was truly destined to analyze his relationship to his home city. … What this city meant to him, the experiences he had in it and the whole extent to which they coloured the way he lived and thought, would be captured in … his writings… (the ‘Arcades’ project)…” (Brodersen, p. 3).
Brodersen goes on to say that Benjamin’s life’s work is “basically a constant reflection on his own city origins.” (P. 4.) It is a “meditation” on the experience an individual has in dealing with his changing needs within the context of a rapidly changing city. He wrote about Berlin and Paris, though I’ve only seen the Paris book. But it’s apparent that neither one could have been written by someone who had not lived his life in the city. No rural or suburban dweller, it seems to me, can respond to the peculiar rhythm of city life the way an urban resident can.
Brodersen discusses The Arcades Project in detail toward the end of the biography. And here he quotes Benjamin, whose description of the arcades is both intriguing and unsettling: “In ancient Greece they pointed out places which led down into the underworld. Our conscious existence too is a country in which secluded places lead into the underworld, full of inconspicuous places where dreams emerge. By day we pass them unsuspecting…” (Brodersen, p. 232).
Project Life Cycle There are several stages in the life cycle of a project: project selection, planning, execution, and termination. The first phase, project selection, will vary ... among firms. Each project must ...
The idea that the arcades are the entrances to Hades expresses, I think, what must surely be Benjamin’s love-hate relationship with the city. On one hand the city is a dynamic, exciting and growing entity; on the other, that very dynamism and growth are destroying the more civilized aspects of city life. The city then is both strong and fragile.
Brodersen tells us that this was Benjamin’s purpose in constructing The Arcades Project. He wanted to consider the nineteenth century from the French perspective; but he also wanted to show that that century, which of course was the foundation for the century in which he lived, was great but also frail. (Brodersen, p. 236).
Benjamin’s philosophical processes are difficult to comprehend, since they seem at times chaotic and circular, even contradictory. But that, it turns out, is what gives The Arcades Project much of its impact. This monumental book would turn out to be “the place where he would stage all [his] ideas and all [the] battles he had fought during his life, battles with himself and with the world.” (Brodersen, p. 234).
This simple sentence speaks volumes. It tells us that the chaotic, impressionist nature of the book is a fairly accurate reflection of Benjamin’s life and his thought processes. It also suggests that he is his own man, and that he remains unconcerned with the world’s opinion of him or his work. And finally, it suggests that the man was an extremely original thinker, one who was not too much influenced by either his contemporaries or his teachers. He was a truly original personality and he created an original work.
It seems to me, thinking about the book and about Brodersen’s description of it, that Benjamin had to write The Arcades Project, because Paris of the nineteenth century spoke to him in a way that was not perceptible to other philosophers of the time. A child of Berlin, he heard and understood the voice of another great city, and he understood it so well that he was able to capture not only the facts about it, but the feeling of what it was like to be part of it. And also, being a child of the city and of his time, he knew that he couldn’t simply ignore the project; it was important that he undertake it, because even as he worked on it the Nazis came to power and the world began to change again. It’s a great pity that he never finished the book.
... Book Project Summary Charles Dickens had written five books about Christmas. Among these five, two of those have garnered popularity, specifically the last book ... one of us. The Project An art piece or a project that could represent the ... resembles life and its challenges. The book lasted because the issues and the characters ... Charles Dickens purpose why he wrote the book is to compare our lives to the ...
Brodersen, Momme. Walter Benjamin: A Biography. Trans. Malcolm R. Green and Ingrida Ligers. London: Verso, 1996.