I think I’m still partly reading Aragon as an insight into Walter Benjamin, although last night, in the vicinity of page 137, I really began to enjoy it. There are some wonderfully phrases: “who will reveal to me the secret of the iron hoops which line the paths along the lawn’s borders […]?” (p144 pub. Exact Change)

louis aragon
Louis Aragon

As I’ve said before it’s very much concerned with the surreal in everyday life. I would have thought perhaps that these days, when to see a person marching down the road clutching their ear and engaged in an animated half of a conversation is a common sight, such insight might have become redundant, but it’s not the case. Reading some of the sentences –  a bridge “claiming victims even from among passers-by who had no intention of killing themselves but found themselves suddenly tempted by the abyss” (p137) – is still electrifying.

But I’ve strayed from the point. The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin is one of my favourite books to get lost in, because of its open-endedness. Whether or not WB intended for it to have the structure we encounter seems to me to be a little beside the point – this is the work we have. Each section, or ‘convolute’, is made up of quotes from hundreds of other works all collected by WB and presented with his comments as a sort of mosaic; each convolute is on a different theme, all building up a picture of nineteenth-century Paris, from the bottom up, as it were. It is a surreal text, a collection rather than a construction in the usual sense.

The fascinating thing about it from a reader’s perspective is the cross-references, the way the different convolutes interact with each other. It’s multi-dimensional rather than a linear progression of thought. I’ve never been able to sit down and read a whole convolute in order without flicking around – remembering something I read elsewhere in the heftly volume that reminds me of the thing in front of me – following weird patterns through the quotes. It’s great fun. And this is why I wonder if WB was alive and writing today whether he might have looked to present the AP as a website.

Walter Benjamin

I don’t usually go in for wild speculation but it would be a fantastic way to present the material. Each convolute could be its own page, or series of pages, with cross-referencing links between words and themes in such a way as to enhance the clash of quotations and concepts you get whilst reading. It might be a strange experience – you could easily get lost in the convolutes – but at the same time I imagine it would get past the unfortunate linear nature of a book-form. Plus you could have more pictures, which the reader(s) of this blog will know I like.

One last quote from Aragon – “We enter the park feeling like conquerors and quite drunk with open-mindedness.”  (p137) Open-mindedness to me, here, is the boundary-less sense of possibilities, the sense you get from reading The Arcades Project. And, surely, it’s what the internet is for.


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