Walter Benjamin's New York


By Elisa Niemack

Notes Continue

Author's Note
In reading through this convolute, I began to look for instances in twentieth-century New York where idleness intersected with leisure and immediate experience crossed paths with work. Benjamin sites the news service and nightlife as "two social institutions of which idleness forms an integral part." [m2a,2] p.802

One area of the city where all of these ideas seemed to intersect was the subway. Underground is a place where those who worked and those who are idle become one. Of course there are those on the subway who experience leisure, but they are by far outnumbered by those who have embraced idleness.

In considering ideas of the news service, the creation of immediate experience and idleness I began to wonder if through reportage one could create a documentary account of idleness that would appear to be an immediate experience.

To capture the images I rode the subway both during rush hour to capture the workers and in the early morning hours to capture the idlers of nightlife. I took multiple photographs of the same people over a short period of time and then edited them together to give a slight feeling of movement or changing experience.

I chose to edit them to Joshua Redmen’s song "Hide and Seek", because in this song Redman creates a light hearted tempo that in the beginning feels like the immediate experience or phantasmagoria of the idler, but in the end turns out to be well-contemplated leisure.

I chose the passage about reportage because it summarized the idea I was trying to illustrate by marry-ing immediate experience and reportage, or immediate experience and idleness as reportage being the main vocation of the news service was eqated in Benjamin’s writings to idleness. Thus, the reporter creating “a documentary account of immediate experience,” is essentially recording and reporting on idleness.

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).

Idleness Notes
"The authentic field of operations for the vivid chronicle of what is happening is the documentary account of immediate experience, reportage. It is directly aimed at the event, and it holds fast to the experience.
This presupposes that the event also becomes an immediate experience for the journalist reporting on it…The capacity for having an experience is therefore a precondition…of good… professional work." [m3,4] p. 803

Author's Note

My aim in creating this film was to illustrate some of the ideas brought forth in convolute "m." of Walter Benjamin’s "The Arcades Project" entitled Idleness. Benjamin begins this convolute with the following,

"Plato in the Laws (VIII, 846), decrees that no citizen shall engage in a mechanical trade; the word banausos, signifying ‘artisan,’ becomes synonymous with ‘contemptible’…; everything relating to tradespeople or to handwork carries a stigma, and deforms the soul together with the body. In general, those who practice these professions…are busy satisfying…this ‘passion for wealth…which leaves none of us an hour’s leisure.’" [m1,1] p.800

Author's Note
Throughout the convolute, Benjamin juxtaposes ideas of work and leisure, idleness and fortune. He rec-ognizes a transformation in bourgeois society’s ability to appreciate or experience leisure. Instead they have turned to idleness. In the following passage, he illustrates the idea that those who embrace idleness rather than leisure, like the figure of the flaneur, have already forsaken true fortune. It is only the
poet, the true intellectual, who can fully embrace leisure and in his rejection of fortune have access to her full power.

"Whoever enjoys leisure escapes Fortuna; whomever embraces idleness falls under her power. The Fortuna awaiting a person in idleness, however, is a lesser goddess than the one that the person of leisure has fled." [m1,2] p.800
Author's Note
Benjamin goes on to address the ideas of experience and immediate experience. Like leisure and idleness each is the result of a different level of engagement.
Experience is the outcome of work; immediate experience is the phantasmagoria of the idler. [m1a,3] p.801
Author's Note
The idea here is that to have a true experience takes time and intellect. A true experience comes only to one who seeks to know, not those waiting for the experience to idly come to them. As with leisure and idleness, within the realm of immediate experience Benjamin also sees a transformation.
"The intentional correlate of 'immediate experience' has not always remained the same. In the nineteenth century, it was 'adventure.' In our day, it appears as 'fate,'… [m1a,5] p. 801

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