Illuminations: Essays and Reflections

Finally, a book of Benjamin’s essays that is somewhat approachable and readable! It comes with a long intro essay from Hannah Arendt, and essays by Benjamin on Kafka, Baudelaire, Proust, Nikolai Leskov, on translation, on book collecting, and art in the age of mechanical reproduction. Despite being over-Kafka-nated, his essay was enjoyable especially after Arendt set the stage of their similarities (K only 10 years older, both alien Jews in a German land, both geniuses who found posthumous fame). I also found a lot of use in the essay on Leskov’s storytelling since I’m currently obsessed with the idea of plot/tales/stories.

As always, Benjamin can be relied on to provide quality content about boredom:

“If sleep is the apogee of physical relaxation, boredom is the apogee of mental relaxation. Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away. His nesting places —the activities that are intimately associated with boredom—are already extinct in the cities and are declining in the country as well.”

The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project

A very approachable guide by Susan Buck-Morss to Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project which has been gathering dust on my bedside table for months now. “The effect of technology on both work and leisure in the modern metropolis had been to shatter experience into fragments, and journalistic style reflected that fragmentation.” This, the essence of Benjamin’s masterwork. Buck-Morss’s book was published in 1989, before any version of Arcades Project hit the streets, and this is a useful guide that remains helpful even though the project has been published on its own. Photographs and illustrations help to make her point, along with biographical information about Benjamin.