Modernity, transparency, and reflection

Ananya Roy introduced me to Benjamin’s work in 2008, through Susan Buck-Morss’ The dialectics of seeing (1989). I found the book maddeningly opaque, the first time I read it. Part of my challenge is that I come from a technical background embedded very much within the myths, ideologies, and assumptions of modernity. But after writing the previous posting, I opened her book to this passage on page 81:

Urban brilliance and luxury were not new in history, but secular, public access to them was. The splendor of the modern city would be experienced by everyone who strolled its boulevards and parks, or visited its department stores, museums, art galleries, and national monuments. Paris, a ‘looking-glass city’ dazzled the crowd, but at the same time deceived it. The City of Light, it erased night’s darkness–first with gas lanterns, then with electricity, then neon lights–in the space of a century. The City of Mirrors–in which the crowd itself became the spectacle–it reflected the image of people as consumers rather than producers, keeping the class relations of production virtually invisible on the looking glass’ other side. Benjamin described the spectacle of Paris as a ‘phantasmagoria’–a magic-lantern show of optical illusions, rapidly changing size and blending into one another.

Quod erat demonstratum:

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