What: Dean’s Lecture Series, St. John’s College
Who: Karl Ivan Solibakke, Syracuse University, Department of Arts and Sciences
Title: Passages, City Surfaces, and Urban Imagination: Benjamin and Baudelaire
Where: Great Hall, Peterson Student Center, St. John’s College
When: Friday, January 30, 8 p.m. (note new date)
Contact: 984-6000 (St. John’s College Switchboard)
Details: This lecture is free of charge, open to the public, and followed by a question and answer period.
Since its publication in 1983 Walter Benjamin’s Passagen-Werk (The Arcades Project) has become an essential compendium of nineteenth century modernism in European intellectual history and an exhaustive, though fragmentary, inquiry into the emergence of bourgeois urban culture between the Revolution of 1830 and the Paris Commune in 1871. Compiled in the years between 1927 and the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, the material the German-Jewish cultural critic drew together laid the groundwork for what was to have been a definitive monograph on Paris during the central decades of the nineteenth century.
Concentrating on Baudelaire’s experience of Paris, Benjamin pays tribute to the atomization of collective memory into private memories. By adopting a technique that he had previously developed for his analysis of Marcel Proust’s mémoire involontaire he applies a materialistic approach to Baudelaire’s private memory. His metaphorical comparison of shock as an individual sensory form and shock as part of the process of social production is a forceful attempt to construct individual experience as collective knowledge and thus make it transmissible for later generations.
As the lecture intends to show, the book on Baudelaire remains an eloquent tribute to the prerogatives of literary expression, since Benjamin saw in Baudelaire’s lyrics a seismographic mirror of the ruptures and shocks that both beset and stimulated nineteenth century urban imagination.
KARL IVAN SOLIBAKKE is Love Distinguished Research Professor in Modern German Culture at Syracuse University, where he is completing two volumes on cultural memory in visual and textual contexts. In addition to his monograph on Ingeborg Bachmann and Thomas Bernhard, he has also edited volumes and published articles on Benjamin, Jelinek, Heine, Uwe Johnson, Goethe, Schiller, Kafka, and Gustav Mahler. General Manager of the International Walter Benjamin Society, he is co-editor of the society’s publication series, Benjamin Blätter.