Posts Tagged ‘les passages’

While browsing through the selection of books on Paris in the Musée d’Orsay gift shop, I was delighted to come across this little volume, which I read in part during my study abroad in Paris. Walter Benjamin was a Jewish intellectual and essayist who wrote this little book about Paris; he is an interesting figure whose life ended tragically when he committed suicide to avoid being turned over into Nazi hands.

Paris, Capital of the 19th Century

I don’t know if these essays have been translated into English, but even if you read a little French they are worth trying to read in that language. One of them, “Fourier ou Les Passages,” was my first introduction to les Passages, the covered arcades that served as early shopping malls in Paris. All of the essays are both intriguing and informing, as well as beautifully written. For example, in “Baudelaire ou Les Rues de Paris,” he writes:

La génie de Baudelaire, qui trouve sa nourriture dans la mélancolie, est un génie allégorique. Pour la première fois chez Baudelaire, Paris devient un objet de poèsie lyrique.

Benjamin’s writing powerfully evokes the mythic qualities of Paris, and I am sure that reading his work during my first stay there was crucial to the development of my deep fascination with this great city.

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