From Walter Benjamin



The crowd is not only the newest asylum of outlaws; it is also the latest narcotic for people who have been abandoned. The flâneur is someone abandoned in the crowd. He is thus in the same situation as the commodity. He is unaware of this special situation, but this does not diminish its effect on him; it permeates him blissfully, like a narcotic that can compensate him for many humiliations. The intoxication to which flâneur surrenders is the intoxication of commodity immersed in a surging stream of customers.

“The pleasure of being in the crowd is a mysterious expression of the enjoyment of multiplication of number.” [Quoting Baudelaire]

…the web of the woods appear as the archetypes of mass existence.

A street, a conflagration, or a traffic accident assembles people who are not defined along class lines.

In the flâneur, the joy of watching prevails over all.

The hero is the true subject of la modernité. In other words, it takes heroic constitution to live modernity.

Modernity must stand under the sign of suicide, an act which seals a heroic will that makes no concession to a mentality inimical toward this will. Such a resignation is not resignation but heroic passion.

The black suit and the frock coat not only have their political beauty as an expression of general equality, but also their poetic beauty as an expression of public mentality… we are all attendants at some kind of funeral. — The unvarying livery of hopelessness testifies to equality…

“The majority of the writers who have concerned themselves with really modern subjects have contented themselves with the certified, official subjects… Yet there are subjects from private life which are heroic in quite another way…” [quoting Baudelaire] The apache abjures virtue and laws; he terminates contract social forever. Thus, he sees himself as a world away from the bourgeois and fails to recognize in him the features of the philistine accomplice which Hugo was soon to describe with such powerful effect in Les Châtiments.

The poets find the refuse of society on their streets and derive their heroic subject from this very refuse.



Walter Benjamin. “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire”, in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, BostonBelknap Press; 2006, pp. 3-92.