In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

boundary 2 30.1 (2003) 143-168

[Access article in PDF]

Architectural History:
Benjamin and Hölderlin

Claudia Brodsky Lacour

Vgl. dagegen Hölderlin: "Ich liebe das
Geschlecht der kommenden Jahrhunderte."

Compare with Hölderlin: "I love the
genus of the coming centuries."

—Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk

Passagen are buildings, and the name of Walter Benjamin's work. This in itself presents no small stumbling block to understanding the Passagenwerk. In his important introduction to its first edition, Rolf Tiedemann employs the "image" of a "house" or "building" to describe the structure of Benjamin's unprecedented construct, developing the terms "building materials," "sketch," "excavation site," "floors," and "walls" to convey the "architecture of the whole," or, as he puts it, "to stay within the image." 1 Yet as Tiedemann's [End Page 143] inaugural exposé turns from structural to historical and conceptual concerns, the metaphor that the Passagenwerk seems immediately to suggest be substituted for itself becomes, at the very least, untenable in the logical sense, for this is a "building," Tiedemann notes, "with two very different plans," having "received," midconstruction, a second "foundation . . . capable of carrying greater weight" (GS, 1:14, 25). Despite that formal and historical discontinuity, "the reader . . . may perhaps image to his speculative eye . . . the building Benjamin never built" (GS, 1:14). Yet such an imaging must remain "in shadowy outlines," "the shadows" that "confront" any attempt to "trace" a "consistent overview" of the building's "architecture" because they originate not in speculative but rather "philological difficulties" (GS, 1:14). And with the mention of philological, or specifically textual, difficulties, the metaphor of the text as "building" falls away within Tiedemann's essay, "the image" it was to stay "within" now become an insufficient synecdoche for the disparate whole it attempts to explain. The Passagen themselves, Tiedemann cautions correctively, "are only one theme alongside many" in the work that bears their name (GS, 1:15).

One philological, rather than metaphorical, way to approach a text for which no image or ready-made conceptual language accounts is to compare it to other work in which descriptive metaphor and philology do not mesh. The inability of attentive commentary to "remain within the image" is a measure of the "philological difficulties" residing in just that discrepancy. For little indicates as clearly the depths of difficulty encountered in places of textual obscurity as the inadequacy of the terms by which those places are named. Named for an already outmoded form of building it reflects upon but does not and cannot represent, unprecedented not least in the degree to which it is composed of prosaic citations of preceding texts, Benjamin's unparalleled work is perhaps best recognized in the act of doing what it says—producing its own illuminating precedent in the present moment of legibility itself.

Following Benjamin's theory of reading as a "recognition" of "truly historical," "dialectical images"—images whose truth is neither descriptive nor pictoral but immediately historical, a present "loaded to the bursting point with time"—any recognition of the Passagenwerk on its own terms would have to recognize it in other terms, in the recognition of past images: "The read image, that is to say the image in the now of recognizability, carries in the highest degree the stamp of the critical, dangerous moment, which is at the basis of all reading" (PW, N3,1). It is the suggestion of the present essay that Benjamin's work, too, be read in this "critical," "historical" [End Page 144] sense, in the recognition of images whose truth can "come to legibility" [zur Lesbarkeit kommen] with the Passagenwerk "now" (PW, N3,1). In the language of the Passagenwerk, the "place" of that legibility is the "language" of the Passagenwerk, its own "time of truth" first "determined" as "present" by the images it brings to light, the "explosive" "meeting," that Benjamin calls "reading," of the "truly historical" with the "synchronic," of dialectics with "standstill," or the image itself (PW, N2a,3; N3,1). Like the Passagenwerk, published posthumously and composed of language in pieces, the images in question similarly come to us inflected by the persuasion...