moments – monads – myth – montage
the modern experience, according to benjamin is characterized by swift shifts of focus, as a string of momentaufnahmen – snapshots of the moment.
marx’s work hoped, from the outset, to ‘reform consciousness’ as he wrote to alfred ruge in 1843, and such reformation ‘consists entirely in making the world aware of its own consciousness, in arousing it from its dream of itself, in explaining its own actions to it’
for the philosopher leibniz, a monad is an object blasted free of time for the purposes of analysis – it is concentrated time, an event horizon, where pre-history, the present, and history not yet, are forced together and compressed. for benjamin, the paris arcades and the panoramas of the ninetieth century adopt the form of the monad, an ur-place to be excavated as archaeology to discover the origins of capitalist modernity- the mechanism of bourgeois rule and the methods developed to oppose it.
>the materialist presentation of history leads the past to bring the present into a critical state< benjamin
the juxtaposition of these differential moments in time, for the purpose of bringing the present into a critical state, is a methodological feature of the arcades project in which all events are seen as interconnected, implicated in one other, and history is discontinuous and subjected to the cinematic jump-cut.
the arcades… >are residues of a dream world… an ur-place where, in a paradigm of dialectical thinking… the spell bound dream is broken, and >in the course of waking up… dialectical thinking [becomes] the organ of historical awakening.< this dialectical thinking is undertaken in the spirit of the > rapidity and intensity of dreams… < where what is past is combed through > in order to experience the present as a waking world, a world to which every dream at last refers<
>history is a nightmare from which we are trying to awake< joyce
the semblance that forms modern reality, if it is not penetrated by a dialectical awakening will present itself as a dream world cloked by myth, in which capitalism is presented as a natural phenomenona – where europe fell into a new dream-filled sleep, accompanied by a reactivation of mythic forces. the historical materialist must see not what appears as history as natural but what appears natural as history. benjamin saw that underneath the surface appearance of a modernity of modernisation- of accelerating rationalisation, lay its flip-side, a world of myth, a contradictory formation, a modernity of mythology and archaic magic.
this is what benjamin describes as >the ambiguity of the arcades< as a monad of extreme cultural ambivalence it present itself as ‘janus faced’., as a dialectical image pointing in two directions at once an expression of oppression, through commodification, alienation and the ideology of consumption, and liberation through a socialised non instrumental production and a ‘concrete utopia’ of plenty.
where this contradiction plays out >newness becomes a fetish. transitoriness must ever outbid itself… in the dynamic of the modern, the novel rapidly becomes outmoded, it quickly becomes out-of-date fashion, remainder[ed] – history as bargain bin. and in this permanent move to built-in obsolescence, the commodities of the modern disclose secret connections to the mythological, that which is ancient and out of reach. this is the dialectic established at the core of the modern. it is a relay between the newest and the oldest.<
lefebvre’s theory of ‘moments’ could be added to this understanding