The present essay sketches in broad outlines the philosophical armature of Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project by analyzing the central theoretical notion in that incomplete manuscript of his: the dialectical image. So as to bring out the uniqueness of Benjamin's use of image, I consider his account of its relation to language. Rather than setting an opposition between language and image, I argue that language is the medium in which the dialectical image can emerge at all. I further think of the emerging image as characterizing the mode of presentation of the material of the investigation as a whole, or in other words, the dialectical image is what constitutes the presentation of what Kant calls an idea with the material of experience. The image so revealed is not a representation of reality, but rather Benjamin thinks of it, after Goethe, as an archetype, a standard for judging the significance of historical reality. The possibility of recognizing the image of the past further depends on being attuned to a peculiar temporality, a movement within the medium of memory in which the meaning of the past is realized in the present. Finally, as I argue, the past emerges in authentic historical remembrance initially in a distorted form which Benjamin compares to the form of meaning in dream experience. The recognition of the image must then be understood as the traversal of that space of semblance which brings out its truth, as the awakening from the dream.
Eli Friedlander; The Measure of the Contingent: Walter Benjamin's Dialectical Image. boundary 2 1 August 2008; 35 (3): 1–26. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2008-010
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