Originally posted on urbangeography:
Benjamin’s explorations of the city, in such texts as Berlin Chronicle, One Way Street, and most famously his Arcades Project, used moments, or ‘scraps of urban life’ to unlock the intimate connection between the spiritual and material manifestations of urban life. His fragmented images of childhood in Berlin Chronicle, unpublished in his lifetime, are retelling the story of the city, and recall the fleeting moments of urban life. Benjamin had a topographical imagination and embraced “thingness: seeing, hearing, and feeling only buildings, fences, doorknobs, vistas monuments, signboards, street names.” (Merrifield, 2002: 50). Through sight, smell and reading the city, allow the student of the city to come to decipher the signs of the city. He draws from George Simmel, a thinker of the modern metropolitan experience, which treatise, the Metropolis and Mental Life investigates the psychological basis of money on the metropolis itself and it alters everyday life according to the metropolises “innumerable interactions and encounters, its dissonance and unexpected upheavals, sheer noise and bustle” and its “fast discordant rhythms of metropolitan life” (Merrifield, 2002: 51).
Benjamin’s endeavour to reconcile philosophy with the minutia of everyday-life provides a methodology. Quotes and photographs, rescued from the wreckage of the past to become primary objects for critical inquiry into the spell of progress and the false promise of modernity. As a device for critical inquiry using the discarded objects of everyday urban and social life, this search for mysteries, is in a way it is an urban research agenda for thinking about the city as a deeply personal experience. Applying this principle, the city becomes a place where our bodies connection to the city. Shopping patterns, use of streets, old ads, discarded junk, urban plazas, these are not mere objects, but given adequate shape through theory can be provided meaning Observing the city as a mystery opens the kaleidoscope of urban public life: the invisible city (i.e. Murmur). It is a way to think about the metropolitan experience. In many ways this is the essence of urban geography.