Key Quotes – Walter Benjamin ‘The Arcades Project’


“Lining both sides of these corridors, which get their light from above, are the most elegant shops, so that the arcade is a city, a world in miniature” p31

“Years of reckless financial speculation under Louis XVIII. With the dramatic signage of the magasins de nouveautes, art enters the service of the businessman.” p34

“Shops in the Passage de Panoramas: Restaurant Veron, reading room, music shop, Marquis, wine merchants, hosier, haberdashers, tailors, bootmakers, hosiers, bookshops, caricaturis, Theatre des Varietes. Compared with this, the Passage Vivienne was the “solid” arcade. There, one found no luxury shops. Dream Houses: arcade as nave with side chapels.” p37

“…attributed Louis Phillipe the saying: “God be praised, and my shops too.” The arcades are temples of commodity capital.” p37

“Arcades as origin of department stores? Which of the magasins named above were located in arcades?” p37

“The main character, the General, has in peacetime become an industrialist and indeed a great manufacturer. “Here manufacturing replaces, at the hghest level, the field worked by the soldier-labourer. The praises of industry, no less than the praises of warriors and laureates, were sung by Restoration vaudeville. The bourgeois class, with its various levels, was placed opposite the class of nobles: the fortune acquired by work was opposed to ancient heraldry, to the turrets of the old manor house. This Third Estate, having become the dominant power, received in turn its flatterers.” Theodore Muret, ‘L’histoire par le theatre, vol. 2, p306″ p39 – A2a,6

“Evidently people smoked in the arcades at a time when it was not yet acustomary to smoke in the street. “I must say a word here about life in the arcades, favoured haunt of strollers and smokers, theatre of operations for every kind of small business. In each arcade there is at least one cleaning establishment. In a salon that is as elegantly furnished as its intended use permits, gentlemen sit upon high stools and comfortably peruse a newspaper while someone busily brushes the dirt off their clothing and boots.” Ferdinand von Gall, ‘Paris und seine Salons’, vol. 2 <Oldenburg, 1845>, pp. 22-23″ p41 – A3,9

“Rainshowers annoy me, so I gave one the slip in an arcade. There are great many of these glass-covered walkways, which often cross through the blocks of buildings and make several brachings, thus affording welcome shortcuts. Here and there they are constructed with great elegance, and in bad weather or after dark, when they are lit up bright as day, they offer promenades – and very popular they are – past rows of glittering shops.” Eduard Devrient, ‘Briefe aus Paris’ (Berlin, 1840), p. 34″ p42 – A3a,4

“The arcade is a street of lascivious commerce only; it is wholly adapted to arousing desires. Because in this street the juices slow to a standstill, the commodity proliferates along the margins and enters into fantastic combinations, like the tissue in tumours. – The flaneur sabotages the traffic. Moreover, he is no buyer. He is the merchandise.” p42 – A3a,7

“For the first time in history, with the establishment of department stores, consumers begin to consider themselves a mass. (Earlier it was only scarcity which taught them that.) Hence, the circus-like and theatrical element of commerce is quite extraordinarily heightened.” p43 – A4,1

“Signboards. After the rebus style came a vogue for literary and military allusions. “If an eruption of the hilltop of Montmatre happened to swallow up Paris, as Vesuvius swallowed up Pompeii, one would be able to reconstruct from our sign-boards, after fifteen hundred years, the history of our military triumphs, and of our literature.” Victor Fournel, ‘Ce qu’on voit dans les rues de Paris’ (Paris, 1858), p.286 (“Enseignes et affiches”).” p51 – A7a,3

“The importance of good professional standing is magnified in proportion as consumer know-how becomes more specialized.” p51 – A7a,4

“…the male employee, who replaces the seduction of man by woman – something conceived by shopkeepers of the ancien regime – with the seduction of woman by man, which is psychologically more astute. Together with these comes the fixed price, the known an negotiable cost.” …” p52 – A8,3

“Sales clerks: “There are at least 20,000 in Paris…. A great number of sales clerks have been educated in the classics… ; one even finds among them painters and architects unaffiliated with any workshop, who use a great deal of their knowledge… of these two branches of art in constructing displays, in determining the design of new items, in directing the creation of fashions.” Pierre Larousse, ‘Grand Dictionnaire universel du XIX siecle’, vol. 3 (Paris, 1867), p. 150 (article on “Calicot”)” p53 – A9,1

“Street salons: “The largest and most favourably situated among these [street galleries] were tastefully decorated and sumptuously furnished. The walls and ceilings were covered with… rare marble, gilding,… mirrors, and paintings. The windows were adorned with splendid hangings and with curtains embroidered in marvellous patterns. Chairs, fauteuils, sofas… offered comfortable seating to tired strollers. Finally, there were artistically designed objects, antique cabinets,… glass cases full of curiosities,… porcelain vases containing fresh flowers, aquariums full of live fish, and aviaries inhabited by rare birds….” p54 – A9a,1

“Our epoch will be the link between the age of isolated forces rich in original creativeness and that of the uniform but levelling force which gives monotony to its products, casting them in masses, and following out one unifying idea – the ultimate expression of social communities.” H. de Balzac, ‘L’Illustre Gaudissart’, ed. Calmann-Levy (Paris, 1837), p.1.” p58 – A11a,7

“On Baudelaire’s “religious intoxication of great cities”: the department stores are temples consecrated to this intoxication.” p61 – A13

“Here fashion has opened the business of dialectical exchange between woman and ware – between carnal pleasure and the corpse. The clerk, death, tall and loutish, measures the century by the yard, serves as mannequin himself to save costs, and manages single-handedly the liquidation that in French is called revolution. For fashion was never anything other than the parody of the motley cadaver….” p63 – B1,4

“A definitive perspective on fashion follows solely from the consideration that to each generation the one immediately preceding it seems the most radical anti-aphrodisiac imaginable” p64 – B1a,4




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