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The Dialectics of Seeing


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Table of Contents

Part 1: temporal origins; spatial origins. Part 2: natural history - fossil; mythic history - fetish; mythic nature - wish image; historical nature - ruin. Part 3: is this philosophy?; dream world of mass culture; materialist pedagogy; afterword - revolutionary inheritance.

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Susan Buck-Morss delves into Walter Benjamin's 'Arcades Project' with the same passionate thoroughness, critical wisdom, appetite for irony and subversion, and the sleuth's love for the search with which Benjamin himself explored/late 19th century Parisian arcades. It is a wonderful commentary on both Benjamin's important work and the formation of our consumerist presebt. The Dialectics of Seeing provokes one to think in new ways about many things. -- Professor Paul Breines, Department of History, Carney Hall Boston College In the vast literature on Walter Benjamin which has taken on almost industrial proportions, this book of Susan Buck-Morss is a true relief-- a brilliant reconstruction of the almost invisible text of Benjamin's Arcades Project. Reconstructing the philisophical and political meanings hidden in the fragments of Benjamin's quotes and notes, this book represents a magistreral masterpiece illuminating Benjamin's philosophy of mass culture and its redepmtive features. Critical theory has found in her one of its few incorruptable and irreplaceable interpreters. -- Leo Lowenthal, Professor of Sociology, University of California and Frankfurt University, West Germany

About the Author

Susan Buck-Morss is Professor of Political Philosophy and Social Theory, Department of Government, and Professor of Visual Culture, Department of Art History, Cornell University.


To German philosopher Benjamin (1892-1940), the glass-covered shopping arcades of 19th-century Paris were the first dream-worlds of mass culture. He spent 13 years taking notes for the ``Arcades project,'' but the manuscript was a morass of fragments at the time he committed suicide. By decoding all sorts of urban phenomena--casinos, street signs, prostitution, apartment interiors, boredom, railway stations, Baudelaire's poetry, etc.--the Marxist cultural critic hoped to pierce the myths of progress, consumerist bliss and faith in technology. In a major act of biographical-literary excavation, Buck-Morss, professor of political philosophy at Cornell, reconstructs Benjamin's thought processes as he penetrated the collective cultural fantasies spawned by mass production and the mass media. The narrative is enlivened by a diversity of intriguing illustrations, from French period cartoons to contemporary photographs. (Nov.)

Buck-Morss has written a wonderful book. Although rigorously analytic, the book doesn't sacrifice those qualities in Benjamin's writing that are not reducible to method. His lyrical, hallucinatory evocation of the city as a place of dreams, myths, expectations. -Herbert Muschamp, Artforum
Wonderfully imaginative...Like Benjamin, Buck-Morss is a surrealist explorer, her mysteries unraveled by intuition, revealed by illusion. -Eugen Weber, The New Republic

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