From city-dreams to the dreaming collective: Walter Benjamin's political dream interpretation

Philosophy and Social Criticism 22 (6):87-111 (1996)
Abstract
This essay discusses Walter Benjamin's development of 'dream' as a model for understanding 19th- and 20th-century urban culture. Following Bergson and surrealist poetics, Benjamin used 'dream' in the 1920s as an heuristic analogy for investigating child hood memories, kitsch art and literature; during the early 1930s, he also developed it into an historiographic concept for studying 19th- century Parisian culture. Benjamin's interpretative use of the dream cuts across Ricoeur's distinction between the hermeneutics of 'recol lection' and the hermeneutics of 'suspicion'. The political dream analyst seeks to discharge the 'fatal powers' of the ideological dream, while at the same time fostering the experience of waking in which dream elements may recollectively be grasped. Benjamin extends this dialectic of dreaming, interpreting and waking to the relation between historical epochs and the tasks of the materialist historian. Puzzling out the recent past's dreamlike rebuses may serve in the task of a present historical awakening. Key Words: Walter Benjamin • city • dream • hermeneutics • surrealism.
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