Benjamin's Passages: Dreaming, Awakening
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In transposing the Freudian dream work from the individual subject to the collective, Walter Benjamin projected a "macroscosmic journey" of the individual sleeper to "the dreaming collective, which, through the arcades, communes with its own insides." Benjamin's effort to transpose the dream phenomenon to the history of a collective remained fragmentary, though it underlies the principle of retrograde temporality, which, it is argued, is central to his idea of history.
The "passages" are not just the Paris arcades: They refer also to Benjamin's effort to negotiate the labyrinth of his work and thought. Gelley works through many of Benjamin's later works and examines important critical questions: the interplay of aesthetics and politics, the genre of The Arcades Project, citation, language, messianism, aura, and the motifs of memory, the crowd, and awakening.
For Benjamin, memory is not only antiquarian; it functions as a solicitation, a call to a collectivity to come. Gelley reads this call in the motif of awakening, which conveys a qualified but crucial performative intention of Benjamin's undertaking.
This involves a “sickness of tradition” (Erkrankung der Tradition), but as he develops it, this “sickness” is something like a mutation conveyed through the variant of “Tradition” into “Tradierbarkeit.” The English transmissibility does not make quite so clear the cognate form of the two terms, and their source in Latin, trado/traditio, to give over, surrender, pass on. To sacriﬁce truth “for the sake of clinging to its transmissibility, its haggadic element,” is to postulate a different truth,
the ﬁght for the oppressed past. He takes cognizance of it in order to blast a speciﬁc era out of the homogeneous course of history; thus, he blasts a speciﬁc life out of the era, a speciﬁc work out of the lifework. As a result of this method, the lifework is both preserved and sublated in the work, the era in the lifework, and entire course of history in the era. (SW 4:396) This, in effect, responds to Horkheimer’s claim, “If one takes the lack of closure entirely seriously, one must believe in
conﬁguration of thinking.” Hodge, “The Timing of Elective Afﬁnity,” 27. F6448.indb 77 11/10/14 12:10:01 PM 78 Epigones in the House of Language existed in Vienna.”10 Kraus spent his days reading newspapers, Canetti continues, “the most diverse newspapers which, apparently, printed the same things over and over. And since his ear was constantly open, constantly alert, constantly listening, he read these newspapers as if he heard them. The black printed words were for him sounding words. When
recognized as one of the characteristic types of urban life. Discussions of this ﬁgure could be found in the many “physiologies” that appeared in the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, publications that served, among other things, to provide a characterization of the city for the mass of new residents. What is distinctive in Benjamin’s analysis is that he focused on certain types—in addition to ﬂâneur there is collector, Grübler (brooder), destructive character, prostitute,
situating himself. He by no means ignored the power of ethnic particularism and he recognized all too well the extent to which it eludes individual intention or will. He paid his due to the “Germanity” within him in many ways—not least by underscoring it in Rang, the friend he is writing to. But he recognized too that anything like “Germanity”—a form of ethnic or national consciousness— offered no intellectual or existential, much less practical, refuge. To return to Scholem: In the spring of