Academic of the day: Walter Benjamin (1892-1940)
Benjamin is yet another German sociologist. His main source of inspiration? Baudelaire! Benjamin focused on literary theory for some time, and wrote extensive commentary and exploration of Baudelaire’s work. (He even translated Les Fleurs du Mal)
In 1927, he focused his energy writing about the arcades of nineteenth-century Paris. The arcades are glass-roofed rows of shops that were early centers of consumerism. The Arcades Project remains unfinished, as Benjamin committed suicide before being detained by the Gestapo.
In the Arcades Project, Benjamin presents a montage of quotations from, and reflections on, hundreds of published sources, arranging them in thirty-six categories with descriptive rubrics such as Fashion, Boredom, Dream City, Photography, Catacombs, Advertising, Prostitution, Baudelaire, and Theory of Progress.
His central preoccupation throughout these themes is what he calls the commodification of things–a process in which he locates the decisive shift to the modern age. Modernity is defined as our ability to consume. Socialization is centered around consumption: people are now congregating at the shopping center. The store is the central point of social contact.
Wow, not much has changed since 1927!
Sorting through the Arcades Project:
I pulled some of Benjamin’s thoughts on fashion from his unfinished work. Here are some thought provoking ideas. I’d love to hear your comments!
Remember my post on death? Well, apparently Benjamin had some death fears to overcome himself. He asserts that fashion is a parody of death. The constant changing of fashion avoids death, and that our need for perpetual newness is fueled by our subconscious desire to avoid death. Wow, deep. (At this rate, I’m bound to achieve immortality)
For fashion was never anything other than the parody of the motley cadaver, provocation of death through the woman, and bitter colloquy with decay whispered between shrill bursts of mechanical laughter. That is fashion. And that is why she changes so quickly; she titillates death and is already something different, something new, as he casts about to crush her. For a hundred years she holds her own against him. P 63
Fashion can also been a satire on love. (I disagree! I think fashion is love! But that, my friends, is for another post.) Fashion is actually filled with secret resistance to love.
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 (aka not inspiring sexual desire, repulsive) imaginable. This judgment is not so far wrong as might be supposed. Every fashion is to some extent a bitter satire on love; all sexual perversities are suggested in every fashion by the most ruthless means; every fashion is filled with secret resistances to love. p65
Hmmm, I wonder if shopping becomes a substitute for love and romance? This could be a really interesting spin off topic. . .
Extreme fashion. Fashion can only exist in the realms of extremities. Why? Well, if it’s not extreme, it ceases to exist.
Fashion consists only in extremes. Inasmuch as it seeks the extremes by nature, there remains for it nothing more, when it has abandoned some particular form than to give itself to the opposite form. It’s uttermost extremes: frivolity and death. P. 70
And the most thought provoking question of all:
Does fashion die because it can no longer keep up the tempo “ at least in certain fields? P.71
I think this question was aimed towards communist and totalitarian regimes. Can fashion exist when Hitler is dictating identity? What about Russia and Cuba? How can people assert identity through fashion when individuality is repressed?
A penny for your thoughts! Please comment: