Benjamin’s Dialectical Image and the Textuality of the Built Landscape


  • Ross Lipton SUNY Binghamton



In The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin describes the architectural expression of nineteenth century Paris as a dialectical manifestation of backwards-looking historicism and the dawn of modern industrial production (in the form of cast iron and mass produced plate glass). Yet in the same text, Benjamin refers to the dialectical image as occurring within the medium of written language. In this paper, I will first discuss the textuality of the dialectical image as it emerges from Benjamin’s discussion of allegorical and symbolic images in his Trauerspiel study and the ‘wish symbol’ in The Arcades Project. I will then discuss the ‘textual reductionism’ implicit in Benjamin’s theory of the dialectical image, in which the dense pluralities of urban space are reduced to a finite script to be pieced together through Benjamin’s constructivist method of historical observation. The textuality of the dialectical image will be elaborated on by discussing it in relation to the practice of translation. This discussion will be further contextualised by discussing a cadre of German/Austrian planners and architects who attempted to translate architectural idioms between cultural identities in Kemalist Era Turkey. The article concludes with a short recapitulation on the dialectical image as both an object of scrutiny and a method of observation, one which also takes into consideration the specific historicity of the observer.

Author Biography

Ross Lipton, SUNY Binghamton

In the spring of 2007, Ross Lipton received his Bachelor’s degree in Literature from New School University. In 2010, he received a Master’s of Liberal Arts from the University of Pennsylvania. From 2010 to 2015, Ross taught World Literature at SUNY Binghamton while working towards a doctorate in Comparative Literature. He currently teaches Philosophy at La Salle University in Philadelphia. He is presently working on a dissertation exploring the influence of musical harmony, as a metaphor for both aesthetic and social / political concordance, on the various articulations of urban space from the late eighteenth century to the late twentieth century.


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