In 1839 it was considered elegant to take a tortoise out walking. This gives us an idea of the tempo of flânerie in the arcades. (Benjamin, The Arcades Project, M3,8)
Boredom is a warm gray fabric lined on the inside with the most lustrous and colorful of silks. In his fabric we wrap ourselves when we dream. We are at home then in the arabesques of its lining. But the sleeper looks bored and gray within his sheath. And when he later wakes and wants to tell of what he dreamed, he communicates by and large only this boredom. For who would be able at one stroke to tum the lining of time to the outside? Yet to narrate dreams signifies nothing else. And in no other way can one deal with the arcades—structures in which we relive, as in a dream, the life of our parents and grandparents, as the embryo in the womb relives the life of animals. Existence in these spaces flows then without accent, like the events in dreams. Flânerie is the rhythmics of this slumber. In 1839, a rage for tortoises overcame Paris. One can well imagine the elegant set mimicking the pace of this creature more easily in the arcades than on the boulevards.
― Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (D2a,1)
Your understanding of allegory assumes proportions hitherto unknown to you; I will note, in passing, that allegory, long an object of our scorn because of maladroit painters, but in reality a most spiritual artform, one of the earliest and most natural forms of poetry, resumes its legitimate dominion in a mind illuminated by intoxication.” Charles Baudelaire, Les Paradis artificiels (Paris, 1917), p. 73. (On the basis of what follows, it cannot be doubted that Baudelaire indeed had allegory and not symbol in mind. The passage is taken from the chapter on hashish.) The collector as allegorist.
― Walter Benjamin,The Arcades Project, H2,1
Possession and having are allied with the tactile, and stand in a certain opposition to the optical. Collectors are beings with tactile instincts. Moreover, with the recent tum away from naturalism, the primacy of the optical that was determinate for the previous century has come to an end. The flâneur optical, the collector tactile.
― Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, H2,5
What is decisive in collecting is that the object is detached from all its original functions in order to enter into the closest conceivable relation to things of the same kind. This relation is the diametric opposite of any utility, and falls into the peculiar category of completeness. What is this “completeness”? It is a grand attempt to overcome the wholly irrational character of the object’s mere presence at hand through its integration into a new, expressly devised historical system: the collection. And for the true collector, every single thing in this system becomes an encyclopedia of all knowledge of the epoch, the landscape, the industry, and the owner from which it comes. It is the deepest enchantment of the collector to enclose the particular item within a magic circle, where, as a last shudder runs through it (the shudder of being acquired), it turns to stone. Every thing remembered, everything thought, everything conscious becomes socle, frame, pedestal, seal of his possession. It must not be assumed that the collector, in particular, would find anything strange in the topos hyperouranios, that place beyond the heavens which, for Plato, shelters the unchangeable archetypes of things. He loses himself, assuredly. But he has the strength to pull himself up again by nothing more than a straw; and from out of the sea of fog that envelops his senses rises the newly acquired piece, like an island. Collecting is a form of practical memory, and of all the profane manifestations of “nearness” it is the most binding. Thus, in a certain sense, the smallest act of political reflection makes for an epoch in the antiques business. We construct here: an alarm clock that rouses the kitsch of the previous century to “assembly.
― The Arcades Project, H1a,2, Walter Benjamin
The world exhibitions were training schools in which the masses, barred from consuming, learned empathy with exchange value. “Look at everything; touch nothing.
― The Arcades Project, G16,6 (Benjamin on Pinterest)
Poverty disgraces no man.” Well and good. But they disgrace the poor man. They do it, and then console him with the little adage. It is one of those that may once have held good but have long since degenerated. The case is no different with the brutal “If a man does not work, neither shall he eat.” When there was work that fed a man, there was also poverty that did not disgrace him, if it arose from deformity or other misfortune. But this deprivation, into which millions are born and hundreds of thousands are dragged by impoverishment, does indeed disgrace. Filth and misery grow up around them like walls, the work of invisible hands. And just as a man can endure much in isolation, but feels justifiable shame when his wife sees him bear it or suffers it herself, so he may tolerate much as long as he is alone, and as long as he conceals it. But no one may ever make peace with poverty when it falls like a gigantic shadow upon his countrymen and his house. Then he must be alert to every humiliation done to him and so discipline himself that his suffering becomes no longer the downhill road of grief, but the rising path of revolt. But of this there is no hope so long as each blackest, most terrible stroke of fate, daily and even hourly discussed by the press, set forth in all its illusory causes and effects, helps no one uncover the dark powers that hold his life in thrall.
― Walter Benjamin, One Way Street