Sunday, July 22, 2007

Heavily insulated cloisters

The quotation nested in this passage from Benjamin pictures a time when modernity might plausibly have been imagined as a collection of external effects from which one could withdraw:
The following passage from Valéry (Oeuvres complète, J, cited by Thérive, Le Temps, April 20, 1939) reads like a reply to Baudelaire: “Modern man is a slave to modernity…. We will soon have to build heavily insulated cloisters…. Speed, numbers, effects of surprise, contrast, repetition, size, novelty, and credulity will be despised there.” (The Arcades Project, S10,2)
We are tempted to believe that the historical moment in which a suspension of the aesthetic forms of modern experience might have been possible is past, that the whole titillating array of shapes of difference and change and discontinuity is more or less built in to how you look at things and who you are and what you desire and as such is not anything you might escape from but rather the animating force of the thing that is always trying to escape each decaying pleasure and wishing for some wild opposite to cut transversally across the enveloping boredom. But if instead of a retreat into heavily insulated cloisters one imagines moving into increasing openness, the paradigm of which might be walking outside on Earth, and if one just starts walking, an entirely different narrative order of experience might reveal itself.