chapter  14
Benjamin’s Arcades Project and the Postcolonial City
ByRajeev S. Patke
Pages 18

Among the several Benjamins to be conjured from Walter Benjamin’sArcades Project is the one who invites a speculative discourse on the idea of the postcolonial city. We can imagine him first conceding, and then qualifying, three propositions about himself: He mitigates the force of the first-that he was Eurocentric-with the counterproposition that the cities he wrote about were formative of a discourse that can be transposed to other cities whose patterns of urban development was shaped by forces analogous to those he studied in the period of their inception. He then concedes that his work on the city remains problematic in several ways related to an uncertain temperament and method, but urges the recognition that his method came to resemble his object of study, and the fortuitous correspondence reinforces the self-reflexive relation between modern cities and the discourse they generate. His third concession-that his use of Marxian ideas mixes them with elements of bourgeois thought-is marginalized by the recognition that he always took his Marx with such a difference that to confine him within such a debate would be to take him in the wrong spirit. He then proceeds to reiterate, in the specific instance of the postcolonial, a more familiar general claim made by many contemporary readers of the metropolitan experience, such as Heinz Paetzold, that the set of approaches he uncovered continue to remain valid wherever the project of modernity is at work, because they help us address “the split image of modernity, modernity’s promises for social and individual emancipation, as well as modernity’s failures.”2