In 1927, on the occasion of a several-months-long visit to Paris, Walter Benjamin began taking notes on the Parisian Arcades for his most ambitious book project, which remained unfinished because of the repeatedly interrupted work process and, ultimately, his suicide in Portbou in 1940 when fleeing the German occupation. It was published posthumously as The Arcades Project. The fragments included, among others, the essay “The Artwork in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935–39). With her introduction to a selection of these handwritten notes, Nikola Doll describes how the author attempted “to integrate the principle of the montage as an epistemological technique.” Color charts, schemata, and diagrams act as guiding principles to navigate the thicket of excerpts and quotations. Benjamin’s personal color-coding shows an attempt to make order within the vast constellation of his own notes—a tension between an impulse toward structure and the potential of the open field of his interests.
Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) was a writer and philosopher.
Nikola Doll (*1970) is art historian and curator.