Discussion Topics for Criticism:

In The Arcades Project, Benjamin asserts:  

There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another. A historical materialist therefore dissociates himself from it as far as possible. He regards it as his task to brush history against the grain (190).

With that in mind, how is Benjamin’s Spectacles a critique of the culture that produced it? How is it a part of the culture?

How is this work interacting with Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project? Does it advance The Arcades Project? Does it create an intertextual dialogue?


Is this work instructional or expository?


If the reader is unfamiliar with Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, does s/he feel alienated by Benjamin’s Spectacles? Can it be appreciated or even emotionally effective on its own merits? When/How is context relevant?


Can the readers devise their own context for Benjamin’s Spectacles (from personal or shared experience or observation) and create their own cultural critiques?


Is this work trying to identify a social context/construct and investigate our relationship to it? Are we supportive or in opposition? What does this work hope to expose to us or enlighten us with?


If the text presents a problem, does it also propose a solution? How so?


How does the manuscript handle what Benjamin could/couldn't entirely foresee about capitalism today (i.e., present wars, conflicts, and the general state of global affairs)?


Theodor Adorno essentially said Benjamin could not simply gather material (text) and have this material critique materialism on its own, while Benjamin, in part, had hoped to make manifest capitalism’s absurdity by the sheer immensity (mall-like book) of evidence. With this in mind, why did the author "sample" Benjamin's The Arcades Project? What, in your opinion, can one do, textually, to protest a political, social, or ideological system?

Even if you support Adorno's criticism of The Arcades Project, is there another way of reading The Arcades Project that might open doors to new areas of thought or feeling?


Discussion Topics for Creative Writing:


What artifice is used to present Benjamin’s work? Figurative language? Tone? Tropes?


What strategy does Ulmer use to explore this situation? Rhetoric? Lyric?


What are the themes (vs. “the content”)? How do these two interact?


Why does this idea need to be expressed in poetry?


Since the reader can’t gauge the “intent” of a writer, which is often a topic we, as readers and critcs, treat as “taboo,” does “intent” come through as a theme? Is the work successful in this regard?


Many contemporary poets are working with the medium of “found art,” including Christian Bök, Kenneth Goldsmith, and Caroline Bergvall. How do we distinguish between that which critiques its source and that which celebrates it? When is “found art” art? When is it not? Does its reconfiguration or detournment matter? Is art that serves a function still a “pure” art? Can it be both?


Ekphrasis: Writers Intersect with The Arcades Project

Jorie Graham Materialism

Robert Duncan “Passages poems

Michael Davidson The Arcades

W.G. Sebald Austerlitz

Shadowtime, an opera with music by Brian Ferneyhough and libretto by Charles Bernstein

Poets and writers working with political themes:

Bertolt Brecht The Caucasian Chalkline

Lucille Clifton Good Woman

Agha Shahid Ali A Nostalgist's Map of America

Carolyn Forche The Country Between Us, “The Colonel”

James Galvin X: Poems

Anne Carson Plainwater; Irony, Glass, and God

Adrienne Rich Diving Into the Wreck

Denise Levertov With Eyes at the Back of Our Heads

Writing on Related Topics

Susan Sontag Regarding the Pain of Others

Walter Benjamin On Hashish

M. Bakhtin Rabelais and His World

Michel de Certeau The Practice of Everyday Life

Michael Taussig Walter Benjamin’s Grave

Jean Baudrillard Simulacra and Simulation

Theodor W. Adorno “Portrait of Walter Benjamin” from Prisms (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought)

Guy Debord Situationnist Internationnel