Thursday, January 05, 2006

G--- L---, or: the symphony of consumption


can you guess where this photo was taken?

okay, okay, I'm not going to hold out -- too much longer -- :
The Galeries Lafayette -- built originally in 1893 by Theophile Bader and his cousin Alphonse Kahn as a haberdashery on the corner of rue Lafayette and Chaussée d'Antin. They were successful and expanded fast: in 1896, the company purchased the entire building at n°1 rue La Fayette and in 1905 the buildings at n°38, 40 et 42, boulevard Haussmann and n°15 rue de la Chaussée d'Antin.

At night, the facade gets a second facade on top of it -- in sparkly lights.

Balzac, cited by Benjamin: "The great poem of display chants its stanzas of color from the Church of the Madeleine to the Porte Saint Denis." [And the Galeries Lafayette]
Théophile Bader commissioned Georges Chedanne and then his pupil Ferdinand Chanut to design the interior, which looks to me like a giant opera house without a stage -- the boxes are just rotated around each other so that the audience is the show -- one can see and be seen, enjoying the pleasures of voyeurism as well as shopping. The glass and steel dome and Art Nouveau staircase were built in 1912 -- doesn't it look like the commodity fetish has taken over the aura of the sacred, and become the new sun we should orient ourselves towards? It looks like candy. It's run now by a conglomerate which also owns BHV and about 600 Monoprix stores, as well as little spin-offs; the families Meyer and Moulin helped build it up and still own a controlling portion of the company: 61%.
Citation by Benjamin from A. J. Wiertz: "Sun, look out for yourself!"


"There are relations between department store and museum, and here the bazaar provides a link. The amassing of artworks in a museum brings them into communication with commodities, which -- where they offer themselves en masse to the passerby -- awake in him the notion that some part of this should fall to him as well." [Benjamin, L5, 5]

Look, a Christmas tree. (I hope this gives you some idea of scale -- the Galeries are certainly too big to photograph without a panorama camera).

"Squares, o square in Paris, infinite showplace,
where the modiste Madame Lamort
winds and binds the restless ways of the world,
those endless ribbons, to ever-new
creations of bow, frill, flower, cockade, and fruit--"
Benjamin's citation of Rilke, Duineser Elegien.

Fashion: Madam Death! Madam Death!
--Giacomo Leopardi, "Dialogue between Fashion and Death"

Nothing dies; all is transformed.
--Balzac, Pens
ées, sujets, fragments
[epigraphs to convolute B]

Fashions are a collective medicament for the ravages of oblivion. The more short-lived a period, the more susceptible it is to fashion.
[B9a, 1]


Another photograph of the light in the Galeries Lafayette -- taken by a camera in fast motion.

"The subject of this book is an illusion expressed by Schopenhauer in the following formula: to seize the essence of history, it suffices to compare Herodotus to the morning newspaper... Our investigation proposes to show how, as a consequence of this reifying representation of civilization, the new forms of behavior and the new economically and technologically based creations that we owe to the nineteenth century enter the universe of a phantasmagoria. These creations undergo this "illumination" not only in a theoretical manner, by an ideological transposition, but also in the immediacy of their perceptible presence. They are manifest as phantasmagorias. Thus appear the arcades -- first entry into the field of iron construction; thus appear the world exhibitions...Corresponding to these phantasmagorias of the market, where people appear only as types, are the phantasmagorias of the interior, which are constituted by man's imperious need to leave the imprint of his private individual existence on the rooms he inhabits. As for the phantasmagoria of civilization itself, it found its champion in Haussman and its manifest expression in his transformation of Paris.
Nevertheless, the pomp and the splendor with which commodity-producing society surrounds itself, as well as its illusory sense of security, are not immune to dangers... humanity figures there as the damned. Everything new it could hope for turns out to be already a reality that has always been present; and this newness will be as little capable of furnishing it with a liberating solution as a new fashion is capable of rejuvenating society."
[From the Exposé of 1939]
Don't worry, according to Benjamin, the twentieth century will be an improvement on the nineteenth -- or can be, depending on us -- as he says in a different document also dating from 1939... and the twenty-first?

if you enjoyed or were puzzled by this or the other quotes in this entry, um, please go over to the little link from Amazon.com at the left-hand margin of this blog and click on it a few times! (ha, I am kidding...but do have a look at Arcades or Illuminations sometime). merci bien...

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