Thursday, February 17, 2011

the great idlers, the waterfront loafers and the vagabonds.

I know what you're thinking, I do. You're thinking 'gee, Rosie. You were posting regularly, more than regularly, even. My RSS feed was so choked with your deep, thoughtful and inspiring posts that my days started waltzing to the rhythm of your words but lately... well, lately things have changed. You've changed. You're so distant now, and my RSS feed/Bloglovin'/Twitter feed/Facestalking is void of your pithy and timely insights into fashion, your life, embodiment and, well, your life. I feel unappreciated. Post! Post! POST!'

So, okay, here I am, armed with the book giving masseurs the city over cause to celebrate. Benjamin! Hurrah! So we've just had our third reading group and I'm no less smitten by his unconventional organisation of material, brief and beautiful observations and peripatetic mind so this post will be an edit (fashionspeak alert) of my favourites from today. And in the spirit of transposing my notebook into digital form and emulating Benjamin, the post will be a restaging of my battered cardboard-cover Moleskine notebook. (I'm not wanky about Moleskines- it's not a status objet for me (I HAVE TASTE I HAVE DISCERNMENT I HAVE MOLESKINE) but let's face it- their paper is beautiful to write on and the in-betweeny size of the books are a good size. But this is not a post about Moleskines.)

Convolute C [Ancient Paris, Catacombs, Demolitions, Decline of Paris]
p83. Paris 'a landscape built of pure life'- Hugo von Hofmannsthal. 'And at work in the attraction it exercises on people is the kind of beauty that is proper to great landscapes.' Beautiful. City as manmade landscape that is as magisterial and striking as the natural world.

'Paris is a counterpart in the social order to what Vesuvius is in the geographic order: a menacing, hazardous massif, an ever-active hotbed of revolution. But just as the slopes of Vesuvius, thanks to the layers of lava that cover them, have been transformed into paradisal orchards, so the lava of revolutions provides uniquely fertile ground for the blossoming of art, festivity, fashion.'
-Beautiful. What a visual- the layers of a city, accumulated after years of gradual growth, a collaborative effort seen as one at the end but only after the work of hundreds of thousand uncoordinated feet and hands and minds, building what they needed when they needed. The end product as a cohesive unit. Metaphor for blogosphere?

p84. Benjamin had a way with words. The proof:
'One knew of places in ancient Greece where the way led down into the underworld. Our waking existence likewise is a land which, at certain hidden points, leads down into the underworld- a land full of inconspicuous places from which dreams arise. All day long, suspecting nothing, we pass them by, but no sooner has sleep come than we are eagerly groping our way back to lose ourselves in the dark corridors.'

p85. Realising what Benjamin's sense of humour looked like (and chuckling to myself in the Schaeffer Library like the eccentric bat I am) 'Whoever has stood on a streetcorner of a strange city in bad weather and had to deal with one of those large paper maps- which at every gust swell up like a sail, rip at the edges, and soon are no more than a little heap of dirty coloured scraps with which one torments oneself as with the pieces of a puzzle- learns from the study of the Plan Taride what a city map can be. People whose imagination does not wake at the perusal of such a text, people who would not rather dream of their Paris experiences over a map than over photos or travel notes, are beyond help.'

p87. '...All this, in our eyes, is what the arcades are. And they were nothing of all this. "It is only today, when the pickaxe menaces them, that they have at last become the true sanctuaries of a cult of the ephemeral, the ghostly landscape of damnable pleasures and professions. Places that yesterday were incomprehensible, and that tomorrow will never know.'

Out of group discussion off this paragraph, that the arcades were both ruins and places of ruination (people went there to do drugs, to pick up prostitutes or to prostitute themselves) and were sites at which respectability and immorality converged. The conceit of the seller and the sold being collapsed in the person of the prostitute also an apt metaphor for the arcades themselves.

And, an aside- words can contain memories that are triggered in a way as instant and vital as catching the whiff of an important scent. For example, the word 'Chatelet.' Instantly I am standing or sitting on the Metro, engulfed by the Metro smell (that, incidently, the trains in Toronto share) sort of a dusty smoke scent, close, warm and rebreathed; and the narrow whitish plastic seats and the darkness of the tunnels as you are spirited through them, external lights a momentary blur out the small rectangular windows (with rounded corners.) And the voice of the recorded Metro lady saying the name of the next station, 'Sha-tlay. Sha-tlay.' 

And as I end this rumination, an excerpt from next week's reading (Convolute E [Boredom, Eternal Return]) because it cannot wait:
'Only someone who has grown up in the big city can appreciate its rainy weather, which altogether slyly sets one dreaming back to early childhood. Rain makes everything more hidden, makes days not only gray but uniform. From morning until evening, one can do the same thing- play chess, read, engage in argument- whereas sunshine, by contrast, shades the hours and discountenances the dreamer. The latter, therefore, must get around the days of sun with subterfuges- above all, must rise early, like the great idlers, the waterfront loafers and the vagabonds: the dreamer must be up before the sun itself.'

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