For an example of an early seminal work by Scholem and
for an introduction to Kabbalistic thought including a
more extensive treatment of the Sefirot see Gershom Scholem,
Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism(Jerusalem: Schocken,
1941.) Scholem published prolifically on many aspects
of Kabbalah. On the Benjamin-Scholem relationship see:Gershom
The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin
and Gershom Scholem, 1932-1940. Gary Smith and Andre
Lefevere, trans.; with an introduction by Anson Rabinbach.
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992). Gershom
Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship,
Harry Zohn, trans. (Philadelphia : Jewish Publication
Society of America, 1981).
mechanism made of men (p. 5)
Author's Note This text and
image emphasize the relationship between the constructed
urban environment and human experience.
the land of milk and honey, (p. 5)
Author's Note The initial dissolve superimposes skyscrapers
and people, once again emphasizing the conflation of architectural/urban/construction
topics with personal social and cultural themes.
The "land of milk and honey" suggests Benjamin’s
involvement with traditional Judaism and his Zionist interests
(or flirtations), including consideration of moving to
Israel and a position at the Hebrew University at the
urging and invitation of Gershom Scholem and Judah L.
The image accompanying this text implies that for the
capitalist world of 20th century New York (as it was for
19th century Paris) money is the sacred pursuit; the land
that flows with milk and honey is now an automated computerized
banking machine that pours out bills – "cash
primeval wish symbol that Utopia has filled with new
life. (p. 5)
Author's Note The quest for possession and money is basic to
human experience, but our new technologically advanced
Paradise has rejuvenated and heightened this desire. This
is suggestive of similar primeval, mythic elements of
experience in any epoch as discussed in the Atlas "world
in miniature" sequence.
crowd broke, groaning, (p. 871)
Author's Note This is the first
text/image in this film to explore shopping as a consuming
passion – one of several elements exploring this
theme in this project. The experience of the department
store is clearly analogous to the 19th century arcade.
This image stresses the aggregate, "de-individualized"
experience of the urban shopping crowd, and the dream-like
surreal experience of this mass event, as well as the
grandeur and plenitude of the department store.
sandstone thresholds (p. 871)
Author's Note Although the
text describes stone, suggesting primeval construction
modes, the image stresses the massed urban crowd and the
glass doors – echoing previously discussed aspects
of the materiality and symbolism of glass.
moved along before planes of plate glass, (p. 871)
Author's Note This text and image accentuate "window shopping"
as a 20th century glass-oriented, consumption fueled,
urban experience similar to the glazed construct of the
19th century arcades. The reflection of the man seen in
this image provides a clear allusion to glass as mirror
and the power of vanity. This is a rare instance of a
portrayal of a man window-shopping for fashion; such representations
of vanity and consumption, particularly relating to clothing
and department stores, most frequently depict women. Note
the previous discussion of glass as a gendered, feminine
saw artificial rain fall on the
copper entrails of late-model autos as a demonstration
of the quality of materials, (p. 871)
Author's Note The artificiality
of natural elements discussed by Benjamin is echoed in
the presentation of make-up as artificial façade
of human beauty. This image continues to explore the experience
of the department store and the use of glass in display
cases and mirrors. The "quality of materials"
stresses issues relating to materiality, as discussed
in relationship to glass and also in terms of the impact
of color in relationship to make-up.
saw wheels turning around in oil, read on small black
plaques, (p. 871)
Author's Note These images of pristine store interiors without
customers stress the physical design, materials and construct
of the shopping environment.
paste-jewel figures, the prices of leather goods (p.
Author's Note This sequence
emphasizes the power of the "price" to motivate
human experience, as well as the recurring themes of the
overabundance of consumer goods and the massed, hurried
urban shopping/life experience.
gramophone records and embroidered kimonos. (p. 871)
Author's Note This sequence
emphasizes many of the recurring themes of this section
of the film project: the power of the "price"
to motivate human experience, the overabundance of consumer
goods, the allure of fashion and vanity, and the massed,
hurried urban shopping/life experience.
the merchandise on display is unintelligible,
or else has several meanings (p. 871) Text reading: "SHE WAS A SURREALIST WOMAN. SHE WAS
LIKE A FIGURE IN A DREAM"
Author's Note Dali purportedly
drove a car through this display window, turning a constructed,
frozen surrealist display and /or art installation into
nihilistic/surrealistic performance art.
Cf. Richard Martin, Fashion and Surrealism. New York:
Narration These images are
wish images; in them the collective seeks both to overcome
and to transfigure the immaturity of the social product
and the inadequacies in the social organization of production.
what emerges in these wish images is the resolute effort
Author's Note The "wish
images" of urban life -- the desire to build new,
grand structures and to purchase and consume the plethora
of consumer goods. The fast-moving sequence presents a
dream-like montage, and the quest to build a rapidly paced
urban life that could move forward to a futurist, technologically
advanced (and possibly utopian) society.
to distance oneself from all
that is antiquated (p. 4)
2:07 image: view of man asleep on the subway, with New
York City skyline visible through the window
Author's Note The image returns our discussion to a presentation
of sleep and dreams, here within a well-known, archetypical
New York City context. The individual is located within
the iron-built urban world, and is moving rapidly through
the technologically advanced urban construct of subways
and skyscrapers. He is located within a world that seems
to be totally immersed in the present as he advances in
a technologically-charged society. Yet, this is clearly
a dreamscape. If he senses that he can move forward beyond
"history" – this is merely a dream. A
subway moves forward along a linear axis, but our psychological
and emotional lives are far more complex with multiple
origins and destinations.
which includes however, the recent past. (p. 4)
the previously seen view of the New York City skyline
against the brilliant green of Central Park’s Sheep’s
Meadow or Great Lawn becomes visible, as if it is seen
through the subway window
sound: rustling, similar to opening sequence
Author's Note In this image,
the constructed world and the natural world converge.
The sequence presents a seemingly impossible, surreal
journey; the image seen in the subway window expands into
a larger dream world.
The individual may dream that he is distanced from "antiquated"
history and from the very recent past, but the technologically
advanced urban future cannot be removed from the more
complete context of an individual’s psychological
experience and from larger historical or theological issues.
2:16 text/image: . . . In the dream in which epoch entertains
images of its successor, the latter appears wedded to
elements of primal history (p. 4)
rustling and clearly discernible sounds of a subway train
Author's Note In the closing image and text many elements previously
discussed in this film project are reiterated or expanded.
The soundtrack, previously suggestive of ocean turf, now
is understood as a quintessential urban sound. There is
no clear demarcation between that which is a dream and
that which is real.
The subway suggests the previously discussed topics of
iron and bridges. This segment reiterates and expands
the discussion of the antiquity of shared human experience,
as conveyed in primeval myth and presented earlier in
the Atlas "world in miniature" sequence.
Benjamin’s term "wedded" is suggestive
of male/female bonding explored previously in the context
of the relationship between iron and glass and in the
discussion of the Kabbalistic metaphor of sexual union
between the supernal Deity and the earthly human world.
The motion of the subway in its subterranean tunnel can
also be understood in this context. Primal human experience
includes primal desires; Benjamin’s analysis of
the arcades and many of the images and texts in this film
project investigate connections between sexual desire,
capitalism and consumption.
The subway as a train moving along a continuum also conveys
the connectedness of historical experience. All human
activities and perceptions are linked to the past. As
in the overarching concepts underlying this project’s
structure and content, any epoch is analogous to any other
epoch. The comparison of 19th century Paris to 20th century
New York is highly appropriate and accurate. Every society
and culture resembles any other – human patterns
of life and thought share intrinsic commonalities.
Cf. "This interpenetration derives its fantastic
character, above all, from the fact that what is old in
the current of social development never clearly stands
out from what is new, while the latter, in an effort to
disengage from the antiquated, regenerates archaic, primordial
elements. The utopian images which accompany the emergence
of the new always, at the same time, reach back to the
primal past." (Expose of 1935, Early Version, p.
the rumblings of a subway train fades in the distance.
Multi-Media Essay Notes To help bridge the space between art and scholarship
each author has put together a series of notes to
his and her film.
These include the voiced-over words of Benjamin
(Narration) with appropriate
citation, other text where appropriate, and a discussion of the author's
intent (Author's Note).
A. Fourier Notes
opening soundtrack: rumblings, apparently the sound of ocean surf
Author's Note The opening soundtrack suggests a naturalistic
background setting, seemingly the tonal roar of ocean
waves. The sound is indistinct and not readily precisely
identifiable. Possible allusions include: temporal passage
(i.e. the tidal rhythm of the waves); idyllic space; slumber;
the world of nature. The final soundtrack will clarify
the actual source of this soundtrack, contrasting the
seemingly naturalistic idyllic rhythm with a constructed
urban, quintessentially New York City cacophony.
Author's Note Dreaming is central to the concepts explored within
this project, and provides an accessible metaphor to express
many of the surreal and sub-conscious aspects of the personal,
mysterious and commercial worlds explored in Benjamin’s
texts. Cf. "The realization of dream elements in
the course of waking up is the canon of dialectics. It
is paradigmatic for the thinker and binding for the historian."
(p. 464 [N4,4])
In this film, the initial presentation of the dreamer
and the world of dreams is seen within a natural ideal.
Narration the "city of arcades" is (p.
of the brilliant green lawn of Central Park (Sheep’s
Meadow or The Great Lawn), with the New York skyline behind,
against a clear sky
Author's Note Through this image and text the urban context
explored within this project is defined as New York City.
The dreamer seen in the previous image, asleep on the
grass, is now placed within the larger physical context
of the vast urban center. The individual is seen within
a larger, communal, and often aggregate, urban context.
This image presents the juxtaposition of the brilliant
green grass of an idyllic natural space against the quintessential
urban architecture of the New York City skyline
cf. "These notes devoted to the Paris arcades were
begun under an open sky of cloudless blue that arched
above the foliage; and yet—owing to the millions
of leaves that were visited by the fresh breeze of diligence,
the stertorous breath of the researcher, the storm of
youthful zeal, and the idle wind of curiosity—they’ve
been covered with the dust of centuries. For the painted
sky of summer that looks down from the arcades in the
reading room of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris
has spread out over them its dreamy, unlit ceiling"
(pp. 457-458, [N1,5])
dream that will charm the fancy of Parisians well into
the second half of the century (p. 17)
Author's Note In this text
by Benjamin the arcades themselves are identified as dream-like,
with a capacity to "charm" the urban community.
This project’s goals are made explicit in this text
passage and image, allowing the viewer to readily understand
the working method of this initiative; the text reads
"Paris" yet the image is clearly New York.
In the text as cited here, the temporal epoch remains
ambiguous. Although Benjamin’s "second half
of the century" refers to the 19th century, in the
context of this project the text can readily be interpreted
as the 20th century or even as the 21st.
The mosaic panel depicting the New York City skyline is
particularly resonant. The view of the skyline seen previously
in this film was an "actual" photographic representation;
the skyline is here rendered as a more dream-like "artistic"
illusion. This somewhat spectral depiction of the urban
construct can be understood as having an increased capacity
to "charm" due to its "artistry" or
"impressionistic" qualities. The physical construct
of the mosaic is also very relevant to the themes explored
in Benjamin’s text and in this project. The construction
of a larger image of urban construct and space from small
fragmentary tesserae describes the physical nature of
this mosaic, but also describes the essential construct
and content of Benjamin’s
The Arcades Projectand the goals of this multi-media essay.
The mosaic is also suggestive of the pixelated character
of the photographic representations seen in this digital
format, and thus suggests the nature of the images seen
in this exploration of Benjamin and urban culture. This
project is a mosaic – in structure, context and
Cf. "This work has to develop to the highest degree
the art of citing without quotation marks. Its theory
is intimately related to that of montage." (
Arcades Project, 458 [N1,10]) and for a similar description
of an artificial rendering of a vista see Benjamin’s
description of "the painted sky of summer . . . in
the reading room of the Bibliothèque Nationale
in Paris" (pp. 457-458, [N1,5]) cited above.
This image also explores the commercial capitalistic urban
enterprise. In this instance in New York City, but it
is clearly analogous to the Parisian experience described
by Benjamin. The dream that charms Parisians is one composed
of plenitude and commercial opportunity. Here the very
image of New York is found on a bank, the epicenter of
capital and commerce. The banks name, inscribed on the
buildings façade below the mosaic frieze, "Savings
Bank of New York" suggests the intrinsic relationship
between the city of New York and the commercial activities
of the bank (the world of money) – here literally
written in stone. The multiple meaning of the term "saving"
in religious, physical or commercial contexts (i.e. salvation,
lifesaving, savings account, etc.) can suggest Benjamin’s
exploration of the interrelationship between the capitalist
quest for wealth and consumption, mystical or spiritual
experience and personal physical and emotional sustenance.
In this image, once again we encounter a sleeping man.
Yet this image is only minutely suggestive of a world
of dreams, idyllic slumber or surreal escape. The homeless
figure asleep at the foot of the bank, below the depicted
skyline, alludes to the dark side of the commercial world.
Not all enjoy a world of "charm" and "fancy."
The world of plenitude is not available to all –
many have access to enjoy the products and pleasures of
a world of commerce and consumption, but others are impoverished
by this capitalist world. They may dream of enjoyment,
success and plenty, but the reality (as seen in this image
of a homeless man) is often harsh and disturbing.
An Illustrated Guide to Paris says: "These
arcades, a recent invention of industrial luxury, are
glass-roofed, marble-paneled corridors extending through
whole blocks of buildings whose owners have joined together
Author's Note This view of New York City construction particularly
stresses the use of glass in windows and skylights. Glass
is of special interest as this material relates to issues
of fragility, light, surveillance, voyeurism, transparency
and artifice. Glass is also central to Benjamin’s
discussions of mirrors and artificial lighting (see Convalutes
R and T), and is relevant to Benjamin’s analysis
of photography (i.e. lenses, glass plates – see
Cf. "It is the peculiarity of technological forms
of production (as opposed to art forms) that their progress
and their success are proportionate to the transparency
of their social content. (Hence glass architecture)."
(pp. 465 [N4,6])
The motion of the film pan in this sequence stresses
the expansion of such buildings "extending through
whole blocks," providing a quickened, visual sense
of urban growth.
Narration for such enterprises. a world in miniature."
image: Lee Lowrie and Rene Chambellan’s sculpture
of Atlas holding the globe from Rockefeller Center
Author's Note This sculpture depicts "a world in miniature"
in a famed, quintessentially New York City, urbane, Art
Deco guise. Rockefeller Center was constructed as an urban
international mall, with street names and shops reflecting
the worldwide community. The reference to the mythological
Atlas suggests that "contemporary" (be it 19th
century Paris or 20th century New York) culture echoes
primeval human experiences and concerns conveyed in ancient
Cf. "Only a thoughtless observer can deny that
correspondences come into play between the world of
modern technology and the archaic symbol-world of mythology."
(pp. 461 [N2a, 1])
For the first time in the history of architecture,
an artificial building material appears (p. 4)
Author's Note The crane hook set before the New York City
urban landscape points to the technological innovations,
products and processes that have made such construction
Narration iron (p. 4)
Author's Note The image and text stress the interaction of
the physical attributes of the construction medium,
the overall final completed building project and the
lives of individuals (as construction workers and as
The importance of iron as a building material and the
very physical nature of this construction medium -- its
newness, solidity, structural strength, rigidity –
is presented in contrast to the previous discussion of
the import and materialist characteristics of glass –
transparency, fragility, antiquity. Based on their material
attributes, it is possible to understand iron and glass
in a gendered male/female typology, possibly with their
unity in a sexual bond creating the new urban construct.
Iron and glass are central to Benjamin’s study of
the physical construct and culture of the arcades and
to 19th century Paris as a whole, and are equally influential
in an understanding of 20th century New York’s urban
space and society.
Cf. "Now it is the same with the human material
on the inside of the arcades as with the materials of
their construction. Pimps are the iron bearings of this
street, and its glass breakables are the whores"
(The Arcades of Paris, p. 879)
It undergoes an evolution whose tempo
will accelerate in the course of the century. (p. 4)
Author's Note The speed of the visual sequences suggests the
explosively rapid growth made possible through iron and
An analysis of iron as a technological innovation that
can create massive change is a "dated" phenomenon,
clearly related to the past and to Benjamin’s exploration
of the 19th century. At the dawn of the 21st century,
this discussion of technological innovation and cultural
change readily suggests the recently experienced late
20th century rapid and drastic cultural revolution brought
about by the computer. This discussion of technology and
cultural change provides a self-referential analysis of
the digital and web-based format of this film project.
This text ambiguously refers to an unspecified "the
meshing of the passions, the intricate collaboration
Author's Note The combative and/or collaborative emotional
and spiritual life of individuals is contrasted to the
abruptly angled interaction of urban architecture.
méchantistes with the passion cabaliste, is a
primitive contrivance formed – on analogy with
the machine – from materials of psychology. (p.
Author's Note This image and text sequence explores Benjamin’s
interest in mystical and theological issues (often within
the context of Judaism), and Benjamin’s lifelong
intellectual bond and personal friendship with Gershom
Scholem, the leading 20th century academic scholar of
Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism).
The Sefirot chart is a kabbalistic diagram of Divine
emanations suggesting the structual format of the relationship
between various components of the unified Deity. The
Sefirot enable a heavenly, supernal, celestial God to
interact with the earthly, human world and conversely
describe the structure whereby man can interact with
The physical similarity of the angular intersecting girder
construct of the bridge and the linear format of the Sefirot
diagram is accentuated through the superimposition of
these two images. The bridge as a mode of connection and
two-way transversal (here a New York city bridge allowing
human city-dwellers to go back and forth within the urban
construct) is clearly analogous to the Sefirot as a mode
of human-Divine linkage and inter-relationship.
These images and text suggest how Benjamin’s study
of the urban construct as a built, created, artificial
world and his discussion of the bonds between the physical
environment and human cultural experience can be seen
within a larger context as an investigation of theological
and ontological issues.
As conveyed in this text and as explored through the superimposed
images, our understanding of human and Divine experience
can be understood through examining construction and through
metaphors of constructed elements. Bridges, machines,
the human body and psyche provide mystical understanding
This discussion of Kabbalah stresses Benjamin’s
concentration on dreaming and dream-like states and on
euphoric experiential moments relating to mystical religious
or sublime understanding, rather than to a more strictly
cf. "My thinking is related to theology as blotting
pad is related to ink. It is saturated with it. Were one
to go by the blotter, however, nothing of what is written
would remain." (p. 471, [N7a,7])
Specific emanations within the Sefirot chart provide additional
nuances of meaning. The discussion of human and divine
creation/building and the analysis of the relationship
between physical construction and intellectual conceptualization
are discussed in this entire text/image sequence. These
themes are specifically alluded to by the emanation of
Binah -- which can be translated as understanding or wisdom,
but which is derived from (and can be spelled the same)
as the Hebrew root-word for building or construction –
Boneh. The inter-relationship of these terms also suggests
the well-known rabbinic dictum which plays on the similarity
of the Hebrew terms for "Your sons" –
baneikh and "Your builders" – bonaiekh
(Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakhot 64a).
image of the iron construction of the bridge suggests
the previously discussed male imagery associated with
iron – girder as rigid member. The iron bridge as
a male conduit suggests the kabbalistic conceptualization
of the Yesod emanation as a phallic image sexually linked
to the female Malkhut allowing for a divine/human connectedness.
Sexual allure and activity are strong themes within Benjamin’s
discussion of the arcades, and they are here suggested
within both a physical human and a mystical, spiritual
Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin enjoyed a decades-long
very close intellectual and personal relationship, and
Benjamin’s discussions of or allusions to Jewish
and mystical themes was clearly shaped by this interaction.
The bridge and Sefirah chart as symbols of interaction
and exchange also suggest the Benjamin-Scholem friendship.
Scholem is extensively responsible for initiating the
increasingly widespread interest in Kabbalah in both academic
and popular spheres within the past decades, and with
Adorno was responsible for publication of Benjamin’s
works acting as an intellectual heir.