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The colonies in concrete: Walter Benjamin, urban form, and the dreamworlds of empire

Vandertop, Caitlin (2016) The colonies in concrete: Walter Benjamin, urban form, and the dreamworlds of empire. Interventions: international journal of postcolonial studies, 18 (5). pp. 709-729. ISSN 1369-801X

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While a number of scholars have sought to lift Walter Benjamin's urban writing out of its original European context and to appropriate it for studies of postcolonial cities and cultures, few have attempted to situate Benjamin's original analyses of urban consumer culture within the wider context of European colonialism in the nineteenth century. Yet Benjamin's montage of the Parisian capital in the Arcades Project captures a key moment in the integration of metropolitan consumer publics into new global markets, and, with its plethora of exotic commodities, imperial spectacles and world fairs, records popular imaginative constructions of the colonies as spaces of leisure, luxury and abundance. This essay suggests that, in linking these images to the abstract and mysterious properties of the commodity form, and in underscoring the forms of abstraction at work in the ‘dreamworlds’ of metropolitan consumer culture, Benjamin's work can be seen to expose a colonial politics of the visible at the heart of nineteenth-century metropolitan consciousness. His theoretical interventions, moreover, give shape to an alternative mode of reading the metropolis – one that brings traces of the uneven histories and structural legacies of colonial exchange into the field of vision.

Item Type: Journal Article
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Law and Education (FALE) > School of Language, Arts and Media
Depositing User: Caitlin Vandertop
Date Deposited: 13 Mar 2017 00:28
Last Modified: 05 Apr 2019 00:57

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