Allow me to direct your attention to the study
of the Holy Scriptures, as well as to the extremely
moderate prices which I have been the first to introduce
into the field of hosiery, cotton goods, and related
In first reading this passage I thought I had discovered
something in Benjamin’s writing that didn’t
apply to 20th Century New York. The connection between
the Holy Scriptures and hosiery seemed impossible. What
made the juxtaposition of these two things seem like a
plausible selling proposition in the 19th Century? Flipping
through a stack of CDs I stumbled upon
Like a Virginby Madonna and realized my initial shortsightedness. This
selling tactic was not unique to the 19th Century, it
was enjoying a front row seat in popular culture today.
Madonna launched her career in New York City in the 20th
Century by making a con-nection between lace and religion.
[G1,4] p. 172
The store known as La Chaussée d’Antin
recently announced its new inventory of yard goods.
Over two million meters of barege, over five million
of grenadine and poplin, and over three million of other
fabrics – all together about eleven million meters
[G2,1] p. 174
Author's Note An essential part of the development of fashion
in the 19th Century was the availability and sudden abundance
of fabric. Today, marketing and distribution practices
have maintained that abundance across geo-graphic, socioeconomic
and cultural bound-aries. The goal for these images is
to illustrate the abundance of patterns and materials
available in the 19th Century in the hopes that the viewer
will make the connection and realize that this abundance
is similar in many senses to that of today.
The entire French railway system comprises barely
ten thousand kilometers of tracks, that is, only ten
million meters. This one store, therefore, with its
stock of textiles, could virtual-ly stretch a tent over
all the railroad tracks of France, "which especially
in the heat of summer, would be very pleasant."
[G2,1] p. 174
Ideas of abundance continue in this image, which is a
project by Christo and Jean Claude which stretched cloth
across the Northwestern United States. Here we return
to ideas of the real and surreal. Although Benjamin was
simply using the image of cloth stretching a tent over
the railways in France to illustrate abundance, in the
20th Century Christ and Jean Claude have done the real
What strikes one at first is not
at all the things people are making today but the things
they will be making in the future. The human spirit
begins to accustom itself to the power of mat-ter.
[G2a,4] p. 176
Here we return to images of naked bodies, this time standing
and seemingly alive, but in actu-ality fake. With bags
on their heads, these bodies stand-ing in mass seem to
be waiting for clothes to give them an identity. The “power
of matter” seems to be their only hope for life.
image of the everyday in utopia?
[G1a,4] p. 174
Like all of Benjamin’s writings, this passage can
be interpreted in numerous ways. Here I chose to focus
on the intersection of the real and the surreal. The delicate
wrapping of nature provides us with a picturesque view
of the everyday which for many is the closest we can get
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).
The trees will bring forth apple compotes,
And farmers will harvest boots and coats.
It will snow wine, it will rain chickens,
And ducks cooked with turnips will fall from the sky.
- Langle’ and Vanderburch, Louis et le Saind-Simonien
(Théâtre du Palais-Royal, February 27,
Expose’ of 1939 p. 17
The intimate relationship between reality in the modern
metropolis and that which is surreal is key to understanding
Benjamin’s discourse on the dream state. The goal
of this opening scene is to illustrate something that
is obviously not real like chickens and ducks falling
from the sky, but that maintains an element of reality,
as we all know that anything one could ever want exists
in modern New York City, almost to the extent that it
seems as though it must be falling from the sky.
Fashion prescribes the ritual according to which the
commodity fetish demands to be wor-shiped… It
couples the living body to the inor-ganic world. To
the living, it defends the rights of the corpse. The
fetishism which thus suc-cumbs to the sex appeal of
the inorganic is its vital nerve.
Exposé of 1939 p. 18
Spencer Tunik, a New York photographer has been photographing
naked people in the streets of Manhattan for a number
of years. This photo is important because it takes us
from what is obviously a surreal image in the first scene,
to a real image that in its improbability, at first glance,
seem as though it could be surreal. This image is appropriate
to begin the discourse on fashion as it deals with the
naked body in the center of the modern city in the absence
of commodities, making the subsequent appearance of fashion
and clothing even more dramatic.
Any material from nature’s domain can now be introduced
into the composition of
women’s clothes. I saw a charming dress made of
corks…Steel, wool, sandstone, and files have suddenly
entered the vestmentary arts…They’re doing
shoes in Venetian glass and hats in Baccarat crystal.
Expose’ of 1939 p. 19
This jacket emerging from a building represents
the close connection between fashion and
industry both in terms of materials and com-merce.
The image also makes reference to the mass of
glass and steel buildings in Midtown Manhattan
that house the publishing companies who pro-duce
today’s top fashion magazines. Although
designers are the ones making the clothes,
these publications are responsible for translat-ing
fashion into something to be coveted by the
Everywhere gloves play a starring role, colored ones,
above all the long black variety on which so many have
placed their hopes for happiness...
[G1a,1] p. 173
This display of gloves is the first image that appears
to be completely straightforward and obvious. It is something
that everyone has seen before even if not in this exact
form. The purpose of using this literal image is to allow
viewers to focus on the text. Rather than talking about
fashion in terms of the physically surreal, here Benjamin
focuses on the emotional fantasies associated with fashion.
He seems to be suggesting the emergence of another reality
in which the material becomes the primary gateway to happiness.
Hand bill of a Parisian textiles dealer from the 1830’s:
"Ladies and Gentlemen: I ask you to cast an indulgent
eye on the following observa-tions; my desire to contribute
to your eternal salvation impels me to address you....
[G1,4] p. 172
This image attempts to connect shopping and the ethereal.
At first glance, it may seem to be a stretch, but in considering
fashion magazines or looking at any number of current
advertisements the con-nection seems more plausible. Fashion
and shopping have taken on an other worldly quali-ty,
offering feel-good promises and at least momentary hopes