Intent

When I first read Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project I was struck (as most people probably are) by its beauty and depth, but also its enormity, its density and its difficulty. I wanted so badly to get to the meat of his ideas, but the linearity of reading it on paper made wading through his ideas difficult, when ultimately they were modular — more like a constellation than a simple chain.

And so, through this project I intended to overlay the convolutes with hypertext to sate my urge to read it as a non-linear constellation. I wanted to wander through the work like a flâneur, drifting slowly through on a whim, but I quickly realized two issues with this interpretation of the Arcades Project. Firstly, the scope of such an undertaking would be too large for me to complete myself; and secondly, in approaching the text completely digitally, a reader loses the big picture. Like a flâneur, the reader would be at the mercy of the space in which they wander, lost in a dream.

Walter Benjamin intended every word of the Arcades Project to be about awakening. So rather than making his convolutes more convoluted by adding hypertext, I decided to create a tool (to be used in conjunction with a physical copy of the book) to strengthen the connections that exist already in Benjamin’s thoughts, and clarify the shape his work might have taken.

Tags

I have focused on what appear to be tags in many of Benjamin’s notes. (In my transcription they appear as such: ◊The Flâneur◊.) In his original intention, one can presume they were a reminder to himself of a connection between the tagged passage and the topic to which the tag refers. I have catalogued every occurrence of these tags (138 in total), and I have activated them as hypertext, allowing the reader to literally connect to the stream of thought Benjamin intended.

As I began to work more with the tags, more uses for them emerged to me. Most of the tags refer to a convolute, and by using the Search function, one can see both the convolute on a particular topic, as well as all the articles containing tags that refer to that convolute. This offers an extended view of each topic within the Arcades Project, and effectively draws taught the strings of Benjamin’s constellation of thoughts.

Emergent Convolutes

Upon searching through the Arcades Project and cataloguing all the hypertext tags, I also discovered that some of the tags used by Benjamin in his notes refer to nonexistent convolutes. These tags may represent Convolutes that Benjamin intended to pursue, but never got the chance to. However, when I began to compile all of the tagged entries on a certain topic, Hashish for instance, I found the beginnings of a new convolute — a sketch of a sketch.

Orphan Convolutes

There are some tags throughout the Arcades Project that cannot easily be linked to any of the Original Convolutes, nor do they recur often enough to form their own thematic parcel like the Emergent Convolutes. These tags could be understood as intended extensions of Benjamin’s writings — passages to be written at a later date — or on the other hand, they could refer to existing Convolutes, however their wording is too vague to determine conclusively to what they refer.

Annotation

Another benefit of the blog format for the Arcades Project is the ability to comment on a passage. I have begun doing this myself, mostly adding photo galleries as illustrations to certain passages. Hopefully other readers and scholars will add their input on this work that has so much to interpret and decipher and discuss.

Getting Started

You can find a list of all the Original Convolutes, the Emergent Convolutes and the Orphan Convolutes in the Convolutes section. Alternatively, the Search function can help you carve your own path through the material; try searching for authors (Baudelaire, Marx, Aragon…), names of convolutes (Fashion, Panorama…), common words (Arcade, Gas…), or any other recurring motifs.

All Passages (Unless Otherwise Indicated) Taken From:

Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Ed. Rolf Tiedemann. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. USA: First Harvard University Press, 2002.

3 Responses to “Introduction”

  1. asztyi Says:

    I cannot refer to this project without your name.

  2. Architextual Says:

    Nice work on the tags. If you are interested in collaborating with another scholar, I’ve done research the architecture, lighting and photography sections. I do not see a way to email you.
    architextmedia at gmail.

  3. Leif Baradoy Says:

    Hi,
    I am graduate student at the University of Victoria. Doing work on Benjamin and the messianic.
    I’d be happy to provide you free hosting for this project if you want to move it to a proper, professional domain (eg. http://www.arcadesproject.com).

    Drop me an email if this interests you.

    Leif


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