Walter Benjamin's New York


By Margaret Maile

Notes Continue

Author's Note
The final images involve the "global department stores" a phenomenon of the twentieth century where the streets of the metropolis become inverted department stores through the proliferation of national chains, such as the Gap, and the slow extinction of stores of individual character. The cab driver, like the flaneur in Paris, drifts among these commercial goods being at once a part of the consumable landscape and invisible within it, even reflecting or serving as vehicles for these images (in the form of advertising marquees). J61,8; M14a,1;M16a,4; m4,2; m4,7; m1a,6

"Within the man who abandons himself to it, the crowd inspires a sort of drunkenness, one accompanied by very specific illusions: the man flatters himself that, on seeing a passerby swept along by the crowd, he has accurately classified him, seen straight through to the innermost recesses of his soul—all on the basis of his external appearance." Exposé 1939 (p21)
Author's Note
This quote refers specifically to Benjamin’s reading of Balzac, and generally, to issues of type versus individuality, and if they are indeed different at all. There is a suggestion that the blurring between type and individual is the bi-product of empathy with the exchange value as well. J92,4; M8a,1; M10,4; M11,3. This is a dialectical relationship—that which is projected from the interior and that, which is stamped from the exterior. J15a,1; N2a,3.

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).

Baudelaire Notes

Author's Note
Images of porosity
Throughout my segment I strove to create a visual experience that expressed a porosity of place, identity, history, and time. Benjamin in his 1939 Exposé and in "The Arcades Project" returns again and again to word-imagery evocative of different types of porosity. In these collected essays objects, people, signs, and street names may provide windows to the past or portals to individual exploration of memory. For our project, "New York, Capital of the XXth Century," the images I chose and the montage method I used were, when experienced as a totality, intended as catalysts for this type of non-material or metaphysical travel.

Author's Note

Part I.
In short, the streets of Paris
Were set to rhyme. Hear how.
--Guillot, Dit des rues de Paris (1875)
The above quote taken from "P" in "The Arcades Project" (p516), I chose to set the scene for the following three segments, each of which explore different aspects of the figure of the flaneur in the capital of the XX century, New York City. Street names occur in Benjamin’s writing as memory markers and representative of lost meanings (Berlin Chronicle II.595; P1a,2; P1a,6; P2,1; P3,5—see also On Language I.62).

Following the quote, Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie fades into a vintage subway map, the colors and grid structure of Mondrian’s famous painting become one and then gives way to the serendipitous artistry of urban development. The map provides an entry into the porosity of place and time; the grid of the planned city becomes the wilderness of the flaneur. The slippage between present and past and between reality and representation is suggested with this transition from iconic painting to prosaic map.

"The Flaneur seeks refuge in the crowd. The crowd is the veil through which the familiar city is transformed for the flaneur into phantasmagoria. This phantasmagoria, in which the city appears now as a landscape, now as a room, seems later to have inspired the décor of department stores, which thus put flanerie to work for profit. In any case, department stores are the last precincts of flanerie."—Exposé 1939 (p21)
Author's Note
The visual narrative I constructed to illustrate this passage and simultaneously translate it into the twentieth century of New York City, presents the taxi driver as flaneur (unseen to maintain the anonymity of the flaneur and represented by the yellow cab). The crowd is shown and the taxi driver moves through it, unseen as an individual but seeing the city as an unfolding experience of temporalities and prompts setting memories in motions. The "landscape" is not a landscape the taxi driver had (most likely) experienced himself, but one that he sees on billboards and in magazine ads, one which suggests the opportunities promised by the city. The "room" is represented by the girls drawing on the side walk, and suggests the fluidity of interior and exterior spaces for the flaneur, a theme central to Benjamin’s discussions of flanerie. L1,5 "The street becomes room and the room becomes street." J59,2; M3a,4; M16,3; Q2a,7; R1a,7

Notes Continued >>