Passagenarbeit

As I pass on to the Passagenarbeit, let me summarise my argument. Benjamin's underlying assumption is that capitalism, represented in its most advanced and decayed form in the Paris of the nineteenth century, marks a reversion to myth, an archaicising that is constitutive of modernity.45 In suggesting that capitalism was caught in the dreamworld of myth, Benjamin sought to extend Marx's analysis of capitalism, particularly his famous notion of the fetishism of commodities. In order to break out of such myth, Benjamin develops a number of categories such as waking from the dream, a violent blasting out of history and the dialectical image. Allegory becomes the method of doing so, now very much part of the method rather than an object of study. As Susan Buck-Morss argues, Benjamin tried to avoid not only the 'betrayal of nature' involved in the spiritual transcendence of the Baroque Christian allegorists, but also that political resignation of Baudelaire and his contemporaries which ultimately ontologizes the emptiness of the historical experience of the commodity, the new as always-the-same.46

However, as I have argued, allegory is a method that Benjamin develops out of biblical commentary, particularly as a theological form of commentary. Although he identifies and astutely develops the key problem of the future within Marxism, his way of dealing with it has profound implications for his suggested solution.

Method: collector as allegorist

First, however, I want to argue for the deeply theological nature of his treatment of the arcades. The personification of methods appears with 'The Collector' in Konvolut H,47 whom I will prefer to the much more popular - at least among critics - ragpicking flâneur of Konvolut M. Of course, 'The Collector' personifies Benjamin's own task: 'Here, the Paris arcades are examined as though they were properties in the hand of a collector'.48 The

45 As a general introduction to the Arcades Project, nothing surpasses that by Rolf Tiedemann in the Collected Works: Tiedemann 1991.

46 Buck-Morss 1989, p. 201.

47 On the collector, see Steinberg 1996, also the first sketch of 1927-30; Benjamin 1999a, pp. 857-8; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, pp. 1027-8.

48 Benjamin 1999a, p. 205; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 272.

collection becomes a purposive historical system into which the irrational and haphazard items are integrated: 'for the true collector, every single thing in this system becomes an encyclopedia of all knowledge of the epoch, the landscape, the industry, the owner from which it comes'.49

Above all, the collector is an allegorist with a theological twist.50 Despite the differences with the baroque allegorist - the collector seeks to bring things together in order to locate their affinities, whereas the allegorist has given up on this, preferring to interpret the dispersal itself - both allegorist and collector struggle against the confusion and scatter of things. If the collector's compilation is never complete, the allegorist can never have enough of things.51 But the collector is also theological: he has an 'unequalled view of the object' that takes in more 'than that of the profane owner'.52 Likened to a physiognomist and dictionary, the ordering of the world through the collector's objects has 'a surprising and, for the profane understanding, incomprehensible connection'.53

One last item knits the Trauerspiel book and the Passagenarbeit into the same methodological fabric: allegory now draws upon the leitmotif from Marx's Capital on the fetishism of commodities. Here, the commodity becomes the allegorical form par excellence, an even more fragmented item than those gathered by the baroque allegorists. For the collector 'detaches the object from its functional relations' and elevates 'the commodity to the status of allegory'.54 In this breathtaking move, Benjamin seeks to integrate Marxism with his earlier work on allegory - it is not for nothing that the close of Konvolut H on 'The Collector' is peppered with quotations from Marx, who turns out to be something of a collector himself:

Marx, in the afterword to the second edition of Das Kapital: 'Research has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its various forms of development, to trace out their inner connection. Only after this work is done can the actual movement be presented in corresponding fashion. If

49 Benjamin 1999a, p. 205; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 271.

50 Benjamin 1999a, p. 206; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 273.

51 Benjamin 1999a, p. 211; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, pp. 279-80.

52 Benjamin 1999a, p. 207; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 274; see also p. 857; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 1027.

53 Benjamin 1999a, p. 207; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 274.

54 Benjamin 1999a, p. 207; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 27.

this is done successfully, if the life of the material is reflected back as ideal, then it may appear as if we had before us an a priori construction'. Karl Marx, Das Kapital, vol. 1, ed. Korsch (Berlin <1932>), p. 45.55

Passages

As far as the work as a whole is concerned, the 'passages' provide not merely a map of Paris - streets, arcades, metro, catacombs, sewers (C and L), barricades in the new Haussmann boulevardes (E), architecture (F), railways (F), the bourgeois interior (I), the running together of domestic interior, or dream house, and arcades (L), the streets of the flâneur that become one with the residences (M), the streets themselves (P), their modes of lighting (T) and so on - but the spatial arrangement of Paris itself is also an allegory, a way of reading the city. Thus, after the first Konvolut in which the extraordinary dimensions of the arcades begin to take shape, the second moves on to fashion, an element of capitalism that itself arose at the time of the arcades, where women were first enabled to go out, to promenade, escorted of course, to see and be seen in the latest fashion. By the third Konvolut, this allegory moves to the catacombs and underground passages of ancient Paris, and, here, allegory takes flight, with perpetual references to myth and the gods. But the complexity builds, for even the underground has its own temporal and spatial intersections, the newer Metro crossing lines with ancient vaults, limestone quarries, grottoes and catacombs.56 Paris itself becomes a model for allegory, a method within itself. For the topography, 'its arcades and its gateways, its cemetaries and bordellos, its railroad stations and its . . . ', speaks of 'more secret, more deeply embedded figures of the city: murders and rebellions, the bloody knots in the network of the streets, lairs of love, and conflagrations'.57 And then Benjamin returns, time and again but from different angles, to the various layers of an allegorical Paris and the modes by which it began to multiply and represent itself in new technologies and practices: the arcades, railways and architecture in light of iron construction (F), railways themselves (U), exhibitions and world expos (G), dream houses

55 Benjamin 1999a, p. 465; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 581.

56 Benjamin 1999a, p. 85; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 137.

57 Benjamin 1999a, p. 83; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, pp. 134-5.

and interiors (L), prostitution and gambling (O), panoramas (Q), mirrors (R), painting (S), photography (Y) and lithography (i).

It is not so much the banal point that Paris is a 'text', nor even that the city may be interpreted according to a particular method. For Benjamin, it seems, the city, explored in its various levels begins to read itself. Not only does the physical and spatial arrangement of the city function allegorically, but it also provides a reverse key for the less than tangible elements in the Passagenarbeit.

Most symptomatically, allegory's function shifts from the Trauerspiel book to the Passagenarbeit. Not only does allegory enter the fabric of the latter work, where allegory becomes a practice rather than a topic, but it also gains a double register that seeks to connect historical materialism and theology. As for Marxism, Benjamin dispenses with the vague references to 'bourgeois' culture or language that characterised his earlier work in favour of more specific connections to political economy. Time and again there is an identifiable economic register that relates culture directly to political economy.

The most obvious presence of political economy is in the whole Konvoluten devoted to such topics as the 'Haussmannisation' of Paris - the clearing of large tracts of the city by Baron von Haussmann under Napoleon III and the construction of massive boulevards. Again, Benjamin's interest is in the passages of Paris, but here he focuses not only on the economic dimensions of the process - land speculation, government debt and so on - but also on the political. For the new wide boulevards were supposed to negate the possibility of constructing barricades by insurrectionists; of course, they provided the means for the largest of barricades, some up to two stories high. By Konvolut X, on Marx, we find a range of Marxist concepts, such as the labour theory of value (use-value, exchange-value, surplus-value), the division of labour, and endless quotations on the fetishism of commodities. The hard materialism in these sections is the most strikingly new element in the Passagenarbeit, for Benjamin was attempting a revision of crude Marxist determinism: 'It is not the economic origins of culture that will be presented, but the expression of the economy in its culture'.58

58 Benjamin 1999a, p. 460; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, pp. 573-4.

The double allegory of Marxism and theology

Alongside allegory, the Passagenarbeit does not dispense with specific theological references. However, Benjamin seeks not to explain religious ideas in terms of Marxist categories; by contrast, the items that interest him -unexpected and peripheral though they might be - are read in two directions, or what I want to call a double allegory. Rather than adding Marxism to the allegorical mix, Benjamin's method undergoes a fundamental shift. The allegorical moment of interpretation enables him to read the various cultural products in terms of political economics and/or theology.

Although the impetus came from Benjamin's own explicit adoption of Marxism without giving up his earlier theological concerns, he found in Marx - especially the first part of Capital that was minimal reading for Marxist literary critics - the justification for such a dual register. Symptomatic is the repetition of an oft-quoted sentence from Marx where Benjamin finds the inseparability of theology and Marxism: 'A commodity appears, at first sight, to be a trivial and easily understood thing. Our analysis shows that, in reality, it is a vexed and complicated thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties'.59 Taking on a life of its own in the market, it becomes a 'material immaterial [sinnlich übersinnlich]' thing, an idol full of the breath of life.

The ultimate model for Benjamin's allegorical connections between theology and economics comes in the endless Konvolut on Baudelaire (J), although an earlier note signals his interest: 'Baudelaire on allegory (very important!), Paradis artificiels, p. 73'.60 What seems to intrigue Benjamin about Baudelaire is that he not only provides a master key of nineteenth-century Paris, but also how his poetry is riddled with both theological and biblical themes. Unable to believe in an 'exterior visible being' that is concerned with his fate,61 Benjamin notes that Baudelaire's poetry speaks endlessly of Christ, Jehovah, Mary, Mary Magdalene, the angels, and, somewhat later, Satan. All of this forms

59 Benjamin 1999a, p. 181; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 245. A slightly different translation appears at Benjamin 1999a, pp. 196-7; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 260: 'A commodity appears, at first sight, to be a trivial thing and easily understood. Our analysis shows that in reality it is a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties'. The first quotation in my text comes from Rühle 1943 [1928], whereas the second is drawn from Mehring 1928.

60 Benjamin 1999a, p. 841; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 1009.

61 Benjamin 1999a, p. 312; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 394.

part of the allegorical maze of his work, in which Baudelaire rivals Adam in naming all that was not named - hopes, fears, regrets, curiosities and so on. These function in an allegorical register, as 'souvenirs' of human beings - of remorse, repentance, virtue, hope and anguish (theological categories) - that can become allegorical only in their passing, much like the medieval souvenirs of the gods.

The most sustained effort to read Baudelaire as an allegorist comes in a stretch of the Passagenarbeit where Benjamin invokes many of the categories from the Trauerspiel book such as melancholy, brooding, fragments, corpse, Golgotha and so on. As the 'armature of his poetry',62 Baudelaire was fascinated by the beginnings of allegory in late Latin poetry, where the names of gods appear as allegorical marks of something else. But then Benjamin quotes his own text in the Trauerspiel - the first of a number of occasions - to make the point that the appearance of allegory in the high Middle Ages was the result of the confluence of Antiquity and Christianity, of the nature of the gods and guilt-laden physis. But rather than appearing late, for Baudelaire, the 'allegorical experience was primary for him; one can say that he appropriated from the antique world, as from the Christian, no more than he needed to set going in his poetry that primordial experience'.63 Melancholic, arguing that smiling or laughing were fundamentally Satanic, embodying a violence that could destroy the false harmony of the world, homeless, estranged and alienated from everything that might have been familiar, Baudelaire's allegory is for Benjamin based on the fragmentation and ruins that he first considered in the Trauerspiel book.

Yet, in all his discussion of Baudelaire, Marx is never far away.64 Benjamin uses Baudelaire to strengthen his insight into the connection between allegory and commodities, since the commodification of experience that comes with capitalism finds its proper mode in allegory.65 More specifically, Benjamin argues that price is the crucial marker of allegory: invoking yet again the 'metaphysical niceties' of which he was fond, he argues that the unforeseen

62 Benjamin 1999a, p. 324; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 408.

63 Benjamin 1999a, pp. 324-5; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 409, see also pp. 366-7; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, pp. 463-4.

64 See also the heavy dose of quotations from Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire in Benjamin 1999a, pp. 357-9, 368; and Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, pp. 451-5, 465.

65 See Benjamin 1999a, pp. 328, 346; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, pp. 413, 436.

and unpredictable nature of price is 'exactly the same with the object in its allegorical existence'.66 Here, the vagaries and fluctuations of allegorical meaning become one with the vagaries and fluctuations of commodity prices.

What interests me here is the sheer elision of commodity, price tag and allegorical meaning. This brings all the criticism of Adorno to bear - that Benjamin's method cries out for at least some mediation rather that mere juxtaposition. As others have pointed out, Adorno was not quite fair to Benjamin, whose throwing together of items - the embodiment of the allegorist as collector - sought to generate meaning from such a process. But Adorno's criticism works very well at another level: Benjamin does place allegory, a fundamentally theological mode of biblical commentary, cheek by jowl with the Marxist critique of commodities and price. Does this transform allegory into a great modernist enterprise, as Benjamin himself now suggests, finding its fulfilment in capitalism?

Let me consider a little more closely the theological moves, which become overt in Konvoluten C and N, one an example, the other theoretical. The theory first: with a few passing brushes, Benjamin suggests that theology is as much part of the Passagenarbeit as the Trauerspielbuch, although now it is a little more enigmatic: '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.'67

Saturation and diffusion mark the relation: Benjamin's thinking takes up theology only to see it spread and blend, so that what is written is no longer legible as theology. Is this a refusal of the truth content of theology that I considered earlier? There is no explicit suggestion of such. Rather, theology can operate only indirectly:

. . . history is not simply a science but also and not least a form of remembrance. What science has 'determined' (festgestelt), remembrance (Eingedenken) can modify. Such mindfulness can make the incomplete (happiness) into something complete, and complete (suffering) into something complete. That is theology; but in remembrance we have an experience that forbids

66 Benjamin 1999a, p. 369; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 466.

67 Benjamin 1999a, p. 471; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 588.

us to conceive of history as fundamentally atheological, little as it may be granted to us to write it with immediately theological concepts.68

According to this passage, theology has a profoundly melancholic note about it: as remembrance not only may it bring happiness to an end but it can also reopen a past suffering. But this remembrance, if we work backwards through the quoted text, is also history, a 'form of remembrance'. As remembrance, history is then inescapably theological, and yet such a theological history must be written indirectly. Neither atheological nor immediately theological, that is the dilemma Benjamin attempts to face in the Passagenarbeit. His use of theology, as a method, has then become indirect, mediated (through Marxism). But is it not also the case that the appropriation of theology as a method means that the possibility of the concepts themselves having some viable space becomes highly problematic?

My emphasis on theology as a method is not without reason, for Benjamin offers a snippet in this direction:

Bear in mind that commentary on a reality (for it is a question here of commentary, of interpretation in detail) calls for a method completely different from that required by commentary on a text. In the case of one, the scientific mainstay is theology; in the other case, philology.69

I cannot help but read the last opposition - theology and philology - as the trace of an older opposition between theology and biblical studies. For is not philology, the working with texts, a method that arises from biblical criticism, or more specifically textual criticism - the close attention to manuscripts and versions in order to interpret the text? But Benjamin seems to prefer theology, or commentary on reality over against philology. In fact, 'commentary on a text' (biblical studies/philology) has not so much been sent into exile as subsumed within 'commentary on reality' (theology). The catch, of course, is that Benjamin's primary mode of analysing the 'reality' of nineteenth-century Paris is by working with texts: in other words, he uses philology, textual commentary, in order to generate a theological commentary on reality. This is about as explicit as Benjamin gets: theology thoroughly subsumes textual,

68 Benjamin 1999a, p. 471; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 589.

69 Benjamin 1999a, p. 460; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 574; see also Benjamin 1999a, p. 858; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 1028.

and thereby biblical, commentary. This is simultaneously an awareness of the tensions between theology and biblical studies and yet an abdication of pursuing the difference further. He falls back on the dominance of theology, a move that generates major problems with his analysis in the

Passagenarbeit.

But what of the example I mentioned earlier, in Konvolut C? Here, as we descend to a subterranean Paris, the theological references teem. Like Pausanias, who produced a topography of Greece in AD 200, 'at a time when the cult sites and many other monuments had begun to fall into ruin',70 Benjamin's own topography traces the ruins of Paris's own cultic origins and past.71 Whether it is the 'muses' of the surrealists,72 the mythical topographies of Balzac or Hugo,73 gates as both border markers and triumphal arches,74 thresholds, whether penates, or household gods, at the entrances to arcade, skating rink, pub or tennis court,75 or the various entries into the 'underworld' of the Metro, each has its mythical referents. In the case of the latter, the underground names become sewer gods, catacomb fairies, the passages a labyrinth with 'a dozen blind raging bulls' and the signs themselves mark not the 'linguistic network of the city' but hell itself.76 So much so that guides offer tours to see the Devil.77

Benjamin's theological commentary reads the myriad dimensions of Paris as an allegory of hell. Here, he sublates his earlier argument on baroque allegory - the pagan gods simultaneously survive and are demoted as demons78 -in the Satanic hell of nineteenth-century capitalism. And who but the Satanic Baudelaire as the preferred guide for capitalism, for Baudelaire gives a 'radical-theological form to his radical rejection of those in power'?79 But, if we look more closely at the subterranean Paris of Konvolut C, we see not the

70 Benjamin 1999a, p. 82; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 133.

71 See also Benjamin 1999a, p. 861; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 1031.

72 Benjamin 1999a, p. 82; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 133.

73 Benjamin 1999a, p. 83; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 134; also Benjamin 1999a, pp. 92-5; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, pp. 145-9.

74 Benjamin 1999a, pp. 86-7; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 139.

75 Benjamin 1999a, pp. 88-9; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, pp. 141-2.

76 Benjamin 1999a, p. 84; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 136.

77 Benjamin 1999a, p. 85; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 137.

78 'Parallelism between this work and the Trauerspiel book. Common to both, the theme: theology of hell. Allegory, advertisement, types: martyr, tyrant - whore, speculator'. Benjamin 1999a, p. 854; Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, pp. 1022-3.

79 Benjamin 1973, p. 24.

traditional panoply of theological themes but also the pagan myths of Greece and Rome. Just like demons of baroque allegory, these pagan myths survive by descending to the underworld. The dialectical catch now, however, is that these myths are not merely survivals: they have in fact been generated anew by a profound archaicising that lay at the heart of modern capitalism.

Hell and myth draw closer together in Benjamin's discussion. He revisits a hell replete with ancient Greek characters (Tantalus, Sisyphus and the Danaides), Satan and the prime metaphors of capitalism who give themselves over to fate, the prostitute and the gambler. The mythical dimensions of nineteenth-century capitalism render it pure hell, a critique that also had the myths of blood, soil and the Blond Beast of fascism in mind.80 At this point, a whole series of other materials come into play, such as the sheer hell of the eternal return in Nietzsche,81 the hell of novelty, the systematic process of dream-like forgetting of the historical origins of the bourgeoisie, the idea of nineteenth-century Paris as a nightmarish dream, the new aesthetic response of boredom, and the belief in progress, the 'infinite perfectibility understood as an infinite ethical task', as another form of the myth of eternal return.

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