Walter Benjamin's New York


By Peter N. Miller

Notes Continued

1:50 characteristic of the nineteenth-
century’s conception of history."
Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century (Exposé of 1939), "Introduction"
Aus tiefern Traum bin ich erwacht! I have awakened from a deep dream.

Author's Note
It is hard to think of "the nineteenth-century’s conception of history" without thinking of Hegel, and hard to think of Hegel without calling to mind his famous declaration that the owl of Minerva—the symbol of knowledge itself—only flies at dusk.
Benjamin’s goal is to find a way to discover the Historical in the everyday. Not to sleepwalk through life, but to recognzie the meaningful in what is usually sesned as background, if noticed at all. Even thosse most acutely aware of the meaning of time—historians—have no better instrument for divining the History from out of the chaff.

"The events surrounding the historian, and in which he himself takes part, will underlie his presentation in the form of a text written in invisible ink. The history which he lays before the reader comprises, as it were, the citations occurring in this text, and it is only these citations that occur in a manner legible to all. To write history thus means to cite history." [N11,3]

This is part of Benjamin’s extended critique of "historicism". What he looks for is some way of making this "invisible ink" legible. These photographs were all taken in January 2002. They contain concrete evidence for "the events surrounding the historian". They help make plain how the past world imagined by the historian is always shaped in some way by the world in which he walks, eats, and sleeps.
2:05 "Method of this project: literary montage. I needn’t say anything. Merely show. . . " [N1a,8]

Die Welt is tief The world is deep,

2:12 "[I regret having treated in only a very incomplete manner]. . . those facts of daily existence—food, clothing, shelter, family routines, civil law, recreation, social relations—which have always been of prime concern in the life of the great majority of individuals. [Charles Seignobos, Histoire sincère de la nation française (Paris, 1933)] [N5a,5]

"Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht. And deeper than the day remembers.’
Author's Note
What history is the most long-lasting? What do we remember? As historians, where do we look for the most insightful and reliable evidence? What stories do we want to tell? Do we need to tell? Benjamin’s questions and incitement in The Arcades Project are part of the twentieth-century debate about the meaning and practice of cultural history which he also explores in his essay, "Eduard Fuchs, Collector and Historian."

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).

Introduction Notes

00:02. Credit Sequence:
O Mensch, O Mensch O man! O man!:
Author's Note
The music is Gustav Mahler’s setting in his Symphony no.3 of Nietzsche’s midnight song in Thus Spoke Zarathustra

00:23 Paris Arcade
Gibt ach, gibt ach Take heed, take heed

00:35 Broadway in New York
Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht What does the deep midnight say?

00:47 "In the fields with which we are concerned, knowledge comes only in lightning flashes. The text is the long roll of thunder that follows" [N1,1]

Author's Note
Ilumination is one of the most important of Benjamin’s categories. "It is not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words: image is dialectics at a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is purely temporal, the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialectical: not temporal in nature but figural. Only dialectical images are genuinely historical—that is, not archaic—images. The image that is read—which is to say, the image in the now of its recognizability—bears to the highest degree the imprint of the perilous critical moment on which all reading is founded." [N3,1]

00:58 Table of Contents
1:15 "The subject of this book is an illusion expressed by Schopenhauer in the following formula: to seize the essence of history, it suffices to compare Herodotus and the morning newspaper."

‘Ich schlief, ich schlief! ‘I slept, I slept!
Author's Note
The challenge here—and in this project more generally—is to find a visual language in which to convey Benjamin’s commentary on the nineteenth-century German historical tradition, and on the nineteenth-century German philosophical interpretation of history. The "essence of history," in Schopenhauer’s phrase, is the whiplash of moving betweeen the distant, isolated and grandly Historical—for which what could be more emblematic than the first book of history, with its story of the war between Greece and Persia — and the banality of the everyday: history in its raw form, but not yet Historical.

I believe that the contrast between the ordinariness of the front page of the New York Times of September 11, 2001—which I had just put down when I looked out the window and saw smoke where I used to see Tower 1--and the History that so rapidly overtook us all, makes this point.

Zarathustra’s self-recrimination stands of course for us all---we are usually unaware of the historical unfolding all around us until it bursts into presence.
1:39 "What is expressed here is a feeling of vertigo

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