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The Arcades Project

4.45  ·  Rating details ·  2,694 ratings  ·  113 reviews
"To great writers," Walter Benjamin once wrote, "finished works weigh lighter than those fragments on which they labor their entire lives." Conceived in Paris in 1927 and still in progress when Benjamin fled the Occupation in 1940, The Arcades Project (in German, Das Passagen-Werk) is a monumental ruin, meticulously constructed over the course of thirteen years--"the theat ...more
Paperback, 1088 pages
Published March 30th 2002 by Belknap Press (first published 1982)
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Average rating 4.45  · 
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Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I haven’t quite finished this. It is very long and I don’t know that it is the sort of book that you ever really finish. It is a book that is sort of written back-to-front. I mean, normally, books have a whole lot of joined up text and then, to support what is said in that text, there might be pages and pages of end-notes and references. This book does that in reverse - endless ‘notes’ and very little written text by the author. You need to know a couple of things before you start this, I think. ...more
Feb 29, 2008 marked it as to-read
Two members of my family are currently obsessed with this book, so I think I'd better at least flip through it before I try to have dinner with both of them again.

Great story behind it, according to my dad: George Bataille had to stash this one in the medieval section of the Bibliothèque Nationale where he worked, when Benjamin fled the Nazis. Then, many many years later, way after that whole Nazi thing had blown over, a bunch of people were sitting around one day scratching their heads wonderin
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
I f**kin’ hate shopping malls.

I suppose, were I to have stuck it out, and had Benjamin stay’d on a little longer and gotten this thing wrap’d up, he may have assisted me somewhat in articulating exactly why I f**kin’ hate shopping malls so much. I can scarcely utilize them for their urinal=capacity ; just duck-in duck-out. But amid 200=odd pages of stuff about Baudelaire I just quit. Just walk’d off.

I don’t really do the nineteenth century. I don’t really do Paris. I don’t really even spend mu
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An absolute miracle of a book. In two ways.

I've been on a Benjamin-binge lately, and it all ends up here, as Benjamin said, "the theater of all my struggles and ideas", in this marvellous, fascinating piece of multidisciplinary tome with tons of layers in its fragments. On the first level, it is a history of the rise and fall of the arcades (early consumer culture/shop-crammed passageways) in Paris of the 19th century. Down another level, it is a historiographic work that completely reverses the
May 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in modernism and literary criticism
The Arcades Project is sprawling, unclassifiable....oneiric.

Posing as an historical analysis of the Parisian arcades--the outdoor equivalent of (and precursors to) shopping malls--this book is also (among other things) a cultural history of the 19th century, an intellectual biography of Baudelaire, an essay on the philosophy of history, a meditation on industrialization, a portrait of the city of Paris, one of the best works of criticism on literary modernism, a reflection on the textual styles
Wes Allen
Sep 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Arcades Project is a difficult work to review, so please bear with this inept student of history and philosophy as I struggle to compose my thoughts about this extensive literary montage.

Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin never completed The Arcades Project (Passagen Werk in German), which he worked on from 1927 until his untimely death in 1940. He was 48 years old. The book remained in the form of meticulously gathered quotes and philosophical meanderings written on hundreds of note-cards. Prominent Benjamin
Ana Anderson
Sep 24, 2008 marked it as to-read
I've been reading this book forever...
Nov 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is the kind of book you are always currently reading, because this is the kind of book that is almost impossible to read entirely, and once you've read it you need to start reading again. Fragmented and brilliant, sometimes confusing but always worthwhile, this book will come back to you again and again. It's supposedly a history of bourgeois Paris in the 1800s, but really it's a history of people, of culture and consumerism, of replication and lights, of wandering the city and modernity an ...more
Andrew Nolan
Aug 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I feel like I just speed read the Necronomicon.
Jay Sandover
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
You could not say this work of scholarship is deeper than it is wide, nor could you say it is wider than it is deep. It is DEEP and WIDE. It is definitely the most ambitious thing I've ever encountered. Incomplete because Benjamin did not live long enough to finish it. In fact, the story of what happened to the manuscript at the end of his life is included in the volume, and it moved me to tears. The late 30's and early 40's were desperate times.

This book covers everything from Proust and Baudel
Where to start with this behemoth?

First, let it be said that Benjamin was one of the 20th Century's most original minds, and I've been a big fan for years. My thesis advisor in college always tried to push this book off on me, but now that I've read it, I don't know how she could have expected me to use it academically. These little fragments, a great many of them quotes, are almost like a mosaic that hasn't quite come together, the grand, final, unfinished project of Benjamin's life. I doubt ma
Nick Grammos
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I go through this book now and then with no purpose in mind. The raw materials of a book, Benjamin planned to write, are on offer as the raw materials for others to think on. And that's all I do with it. I read, I sit, I think of Arcades. Anyone who lives in Melbourne could walk into Howey Place in the city and look up at the covered arcade and think what it meant to have that glass and steel roof above your head when shopping.
The Arcades Project is the ideal "map" of Paris, in the Deleuzian sense. The reader may enter through any pathway, following lines-of-flight and flows between the multitudinous fields of interest. Is not Benjamin's obsession with the "flaneur" an obsession with departure from the striated urban landscape to enter a smooth-space between its walls?
I don't know if I'll read a book sadder than this.
Mr Shahabi
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is, truly, the greatest unfinished work in history

When a man daydream and contemplate on his surrounding, hearing remedies of the past, ghosts of heroic tales, and the footprints of millions of souls in the streets of the divine city of Paris. And that man happens to be Walter Benjamin? You know that your in for a treat.

I know that il reread this book again and again in the coming years, because like it's title, it's an unfinished project, maybe I can find a personal closure with Walter, an
michal k-c
May 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
read this for research so i don’t feel like writing a lot here. couple quick points:
1) Benjamin predicted capitalism won’t die a natural death, but he did not predict capitalism being resuscitated multiple times by unnatural means (2009 financial crisis, this COVID recovery)
2) Department stores finished what Napoleon started
3) boy can you ever tell what sections Adorno wanted Benjamin to add (like the chapter simply titled “Marx”
4) worth reading the whole thing if not only to get to the final a
Mary E. Martin
Oct 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
One doesn't so much "read" this book as refer to it. It is one massive, beautiful jumble of thoughts inspired by the arcades built in the nineteenth century in Paris. Benjamin draws greatly upon other writers and their ideas. Because it is almost entirely impossible to categorize the work which is more than one thousand pages long, in terms of literature, most people simply call it research for something else, the form of which isn't yet clear.

I have turned to it as a resource as I write the ne
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Of course... I haven't read the entire book yet. This book is full of quotes and little pieces of thoughts and complex ideas... Is like an enormous puzzle! That's why I love it... I love to "solve" things, to travel through words and concepts... I love when I know that I'm another piece of that puzzle.

This is not an "easy" book (I'm not going to define "easy" for me... that's not so easy)... but it is really advisable to all the people who want to get lost for a while into one of the greatest mi
Sean A.
So I didn't read all of this. Anyone that tells you they had is either chronically underemployed for a very long time, a tenured professor on sabbatical or a liar. But at any rate, I did make it to the section that is a 200 page unfinished novel on Baudelaire.
The Arcades Project does in a way work as Benjamin's unfinished masterwork. Whether or not it is readable straight through or straightaway legible or decipherable is kind of besides the point. This man was made to create dense behemoths an
Nov 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The Arcades Project

A ragbag book. For years, Benjamin acquired quotations, anecdotes, and any sort of thing related to the covered shopping arcades to be found around Paris. As the project continued the connection with the original interest became more tenuous – the most significant part of the book is a long essay on Baudelaire. The entire collection is organized in Benjamin’s own filing system; it is a repository from which he drew the material for many of his published articles. The contents
Mar 06, 2011 added it
Shelves: philosophy
/////////////////////////oooooooooooooooooooooooooooo>................>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>< <<<<<<<<< <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< <<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>> --------------------------------------------
I T H I N K I H E R N I A T E D M Y B R A I N & C A P A C I T Y F O R P A T I E N C E........................................................................................................................................................................................................................
But a
Sep 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: partial-reads
Walter Benjamin's notes on the decrepit Parisian arcades are, as a few of the other reviewers have already noted, the sort of thing one doesn't "read" so much as refer back to. To call this a "book" is, to an extent, misleading, since it's really the compendium of notes Benjamin scribbled while researching what was to be his life's project. These notes are too valuable to simply relegate to some university's archive for the exclusive use of dedicated Benjamin scholars. But they're incomplete, fr ...more
Apr 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I'm not certain how to coherently talk about the Arcades Project or if something like "coherently talking" is even appropriate given the nature of this beast. Baudillare, The Flaneur, examinations into boredom, the role of architecture in turning people into ever greater consumers and commodities, the failures of capitalism and heavy industry, 19th century fashion... ad infinitum. The one thing I think I can say confidently about these 1000+ pages of fragments is that they are next to impossible ...more
H Lamar
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Arcades Project. What can be said of a work that defies classic narrative, criticism, philosophy, structuralism, modernism, studies in architecture, thinking, walking, gazing into, and it is a work so vast and inclusive I keep it close and just open up anywhere in the book, read a few passages and grapple with them or absorb in the moment as if right there next to Benjamin in conversation on just why is it that he Arcades of Paris bring about such near religious observations on sign, signifi ...more
Sep 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The Arcades Project is a remarkable catalogue—a listing of influences and thoughts. It is in some sense not unlike Joyce's or Woolf's attempts to catalogue the ideas and feelings of a single day, only with Benjamin it is an attempt to list and represent the experience of the bourgeois in the century of progress, in effect to undermine the lunacy of ideaology. It is an early post-modern attempt to center history not on the rulers of history but on the downtrodden, the forgotten. In pieces and fra ...more
Oct 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those who love shopping malls and want to think about them - especially 19th Century shopping malls
Arcades in Europe are the first shopping malls. And this is what Walter Benjamin projected his big writing project on. Saying that, this book is totally insane. It's the Rainbow Gravity of cultural theory. It's difficult in parts, but with Benjamin as the driver, you have no choice than to go for the ride.

But also I strongly suggest one checks out Benjamin's other books or essays before going into the Arcades Project. After reading his other wonderful and brilliant essays/books - then you should
Aug 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I love Benjamin. Really. I was first introduced in my advanced french literature class. I took it up again with an independent research grant to study Flanerie. His observations and beautifully written and amazingly accurately rendered. His writing is such that you feel you can taste and see and smell everything he does. And the breadth of his coverage is simply astounding. Again - I love Benjamin.
Jul 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I have read this book both in the original and in translation several times. My copy is falling apart but I can not find a suitable replacement in the library or in used book stores, aquizition of a new one is cost prohibitive. I find myself lost in the endless explications and musings until I often am surprised when looking up to not find the glass and metal skeleton of an actual arcade. I try to read some of it every day.
rêveur d'art
"Even the automobiles have an air of antiquity here."
― Guillaume Apollinaire

A monumental work! Makes you wonder how even greater the work would have been had Walter Benjamin lived to finish it. As it stands, it's a tour de force. He quotes a great deal from French primary sources and well-known artists and writers. In this case, I'm glad I had the French edition at hand.
Jun 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read
the traces of a mighty mind and passion struggles to rebuild the capital city of the 19th century and everything important linked to it, including it's soul and dreams. it is true that if the worldwideweb can be condensed in to a book then it would certainly be like The Arcades Project
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Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German-Jewish Marxist literary critic, essayist, translator, and philosopher. He was at times associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory and was also greatly inspired by the Marxism of Bertolt Brecht and Jewish mysticism as presented by Gershom Scholem.

As a sociological and cultural critic, Benjamin combined ideas drawn from historical materiali

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