… In the streets of Paris, Benjamin earned a living as a journalist while hunting out concrete examples on which to field test and then synthesize cutting-edge social theories. Encouraged by fellow German expatriate author Franz Hessel, he learned how to wander Paris with a voyeuristic curiosity modeled on that of the flaneur — a detached, attentive spectator who believed in the “religious intoxication of great cities” — who passed through every line of Charles Baudelaire’s poetry, especially the groundbreaking volume Les Fleurs du Mal (1857).

– Tim Keane in ‘Walter Benjamin on How to Stop Worrying and Love Late Capitalism’ as found at: https://hyperallergic.com/390574/the-arcades-contemporary-art-and-walter-benjamin-the-jewish-museum-2017/  (July 15, 2017) accessed 19 September 2017 also published at: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/118955609/posts/390574

 

Describe your street. Describe another street. Compare.

Georges Perec ‘Approaches to What?’ in Species of Space and Other Pieces

What can we know of the world? What quantity of space can our eyes hope to take in between our birth and our death? How many square centimeters of planet earth will the soles of our shoes have touched?

George Perec in Species of Spaces and Other Pieces

 

Make an effort to exhaust the subject, even if that seems grotesque, or pointless, or stupid. You still haven’t looked at anything, you’ve merely picked out what you’ve long ago picked out. Force yourself to see more flatly.

George Perec in Species of Spaces and Other Pieces

To write: to try to meticulously to retain something, to cause something to survive; to wrest a few precise scraps from the void as it goes, to leave somewhere a furrow, a trace, a mark or a few signs.

George Perec in Species of Spaces and Other Pieces

In the meantime we agreed to forget our cares for the night. We took a little money from our savings and walked to Forty-second Street. We stopped at a photo booth in Playland to take our pictures, a strip shot of four shots for a quarter. We go a hot dog and papaya drink at Benedict’s, then merged with the action. Boys on shore leave, prostitutes, runaways, abused tourists, and assorted victims of alien abduction. It was an urban boardwalk with Kino parlors, souvenir stands, Cuban diners, strip clubs, and late-night pawnshops. For fifty cents, one could slip inside a theatre draped in stained velvet and watch foreign films paired with soft porn.

– ‘Patti Smith’s “Forty Second Street Urban Boardwalk” in: Patti Smith,  Just Kids, Bloomsbury, London, 2010, P 107.

 

 

“A strange ecstatic feeling at such times often possessed me … The crowded streets—the signs of wealth and prosperity—the bustle—the very confusion and disorder appealed to me, and I was filled with delight.”

Ebenezer Howard [upon his return to London from America]

… so that the world and space seemed to be the mirror one of the other both minutely stored in hieroglyphs and ideograms, and each of them could equally well be or not be a sign…

Italo Calvino, Cosmicomics as quoted by Georges Perec in Species of Space and Other Pieces

A related technique that Benjamin does not only describe but also employs is montage. Here, the idea is that by juxtaposing unlike things, a text and photographs for example, barriers between conventions are broken down, leading to a larger diffusion of categories and taxonomies. Often this effect can be achieved even without the use of different forms of media. Once again in the Arcades Project, Benjamin explains his strategy of what he calls literary montage. He writes:

Method of this project: literary montage. I needn’t say anything. Merely show. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations. But the rags, the refuse-these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.

Anarchist All The way Down: Walter Benjamin’s Subversion of Authority in text, Thought and Action,  James R. Martel in PARRHESIA , Number 21, 2014, 3-12.

 

 

Feeling totally isolated and dépaysé in his tiny digs on West 96th Street, unable to find work, he roamed the city, taking in the spectacle of its modernity – the dizzying downtown skyscrapers, the aerial vectors of its subway system, the giant billboards, the vaudeville movie theatres, the electrified nights…

– Richard Sieburth describing Blaise Cendrars’ encounters with New York in a review of Cendrars’ Oeuvres Autobiographiques Complètes ‘Blaise Cendrars in the sky’ in Times Literary Supplement , n.d