Walter Benjamin’s massive torso, The Arcades Project (1999), was one of the fi rst works to actively theorize the relationship between space, aesthetics and consumption. The architecture of the arcade, popularized by the Parisian Haussmann architecture, precedes the late modern aesthetic of consumer space. In the arcade, the goods are on display at the same times as the fl âneur is capable of passing through the arcade as an autonomous, enterprising and choosing subject. Consumption becomes an aesthetic experience; space and consumption are merged in the special practice producing spaces of consumption. The visual qualities of the arcade architecture enable a spatialization of the goods, a displacement and spatial distribution in consumer space. [I later added everything else before this, for context.] Therefore, the arcade is one of the first distinct urban spaces; spaces of production are characterized by rural aesthetics and ethics emphasizing accumulation, the physical transformation of nature. The spaces of production are paradoxically rural spaces located within urban environments... The arcade is overturning this assemblage of aesthetics and ethics and makes consumption a spatial practice distinguished from that of the spaces of production. The space of consumption is thus characterized by its loss of facticity; its ontological status is never once and for all determined – a certain degree of uncertainty is always present in consumption because of its symbolic qualities.

How does it make sense for ethics (moral principles) to feature in 'spaces of production'? Funnily enough, I find this use paradoxical. But for what does the passage use paradoxically? Please explain the steps or thought processes, so that I can try to resolve by myself in the future?

Source: 40% down para 1, p 146, Mastering the National Admissions Test for Law, Mark Shepherd

  • Did the original really say "Walter Benjamin's massive torso"? A "torso" is the part of the body other than the head, arms, and legs. Saying that Walter Benjamin has a massive torso sounds like you're saying that he's fat. I wonder if the original didn't say "tome". Or perhaps this is another definition of "torso" that I'm not familiar with. – Jay Sep 19 '14 at 18:25

Well, of course a patch of ground in the city is not a conscious being that can choose to behave ethically or not. (Well, outside a science fiction novel or the beliefs of people with fringe philosophical ideas.) But the people who created that space and who use that space can have ideas about its proper use that involve ethical considerations. While it is meaningless to talk about the ethics of a rock in the sense of the rock making moral decisions, it is quite reasonable to talk about the ethics of a rock in the sense of people making moral decisions about how they use that rock. Using a rock as an example suddenly brings to my mind a news story I saw a while ago of a dispute between two neighbors, where at one point the one neighbor decided to put a very large rock blocking his neighbor's driveway. One could certainly question the ethics of that use of a rock.

The paradox the writer describes is that he sees an "arcade" as being a rural-like environment, but it is located within a city. It's not clear to me from the paragraph quoted why an arcade would be "rural" -- just because it's a big open space? I'm not sure -- but whatever his reasoning for that, he's saying that an arcade is a prominent feature of an urban environment, but is essentially rural, and so this is a paradox.

  • +1. Thanks. I updated my OP to provide more context. Does it help? Will you please to respond in your answer, and not as a comment? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Sep 19 '14 at 14:16
  • Sorry, the additional context still does not make clear to me why this is a "rural" space, but I don't think it's important to reply to your question. For whatever reason, that's how he sees it. – Jay Sep 19 '14 at 18:21

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