I am exploring The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin’s unfinished magnum opus, through poetry. It seems like he was reaching for ideas we need today but, because of his tragic death, we do not have. Below is an example from Planet-Struck:
from THE ARCADES PROJECT
The picture frame which shows the items off
itself is gold, the chairs mahogany,
the auburn candle flames glow mutedly
like love-shot eyes and Bordeaux leather shines
behind the merchandise which wears the fee –
it all must be ablaze with soft gas-lilt,
all colours, radiant, from many ports –
everything glitters, ormolu and gilt,
the produce which the common earth has built,
gifts of the World from every quarter bought
and boated to this windowpane. They seem
as in their bedroom and at home, the sheen
of skin, duck eggshell of meringue or crème
broule, all paint and food, an in-between
confection, strange/familiar, a dream
you’ve had before, the bit of skirt you’d die
to get between the sheets, the petticoat
you would disrobe, but not too strange to lie
with in the semi-dark so what you bought
is real enough to pinch and money buys
a lot these days: behind the lightest touch
the slightest stroking of the cheek, its presence
can be felt, a ghost not here as such
but pulling strings, controlling each response
so you will dance, a puppet to its twitch,
the very picture of success and love,
their trappings and their surfaces, the look
of beauty, raven hair, that sort of stuff,
the kind of breathless shape Odysseus took
when laying Circe is what I’m thinking of –
these are transactions traded every day
but Capital is blind and can’t explain
what else exchanges hide: the secret way
to dump your shame by laying down a coin,
covering it with guilt, grief, dismay.
Who cares about the morality of these legs?
What one wants is to go where they go.
Shrug it off. For the night is young and begs
you let her go but you do not want to.
You want to see her bleed, the wasted hag.
Such souls of the night can never be made pure –
they’ll shipwreck those who try to rescue them –
a kind of suburb of the mind where whores
haunt the industrial estates like dirty gems
and drape their arses on the rusting bars;
did you know how young they start them now?
(Under the sodium in negligees,
the children stand by cars, their mouths blasé
like pomegranates from the work of Poe,
and close them on the fountains of decay);
as young as four in our industrial towns
(not on display but in the catalogue)
they stand in line because the pimps and crones
who sell them beat them purple in the fog
and silence them with phenobarbitones.
The traffic like the great ocean conveyor
runs around the Earth and spreads the wares
to named, discriminating connoisseurs
and this is truly what they say they are,
rare experts of the most exquisite pleasures.
Composed by Aled Start
Words by Julian Turner