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BY CHANCE, Susan Buck-Morss’ book, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, an interpretive reconstruction of Walter Benjamin’s unfinished Passagen-Werk (Arcades project), arrived amidst all the news about the breaching of the Berlin Wall. For a moment, it felt like an energy transfer was taking place between two 20th-century monuments: the demolition of the touchstone of cold warriors, the rebuilding of a monument for left-wing academics, assembled by Buck-Morss from the rubble of Benjamin’s notes for his unfinished opus. But didn’t the smashing of the wall (not to mention the price tags soon affixed to its remains) undermine Benjamin’s foundations?

For Benjamin, the arrow of history pointed from Paris to Moscow. For many citizens of today’s Berlin, Benjamin’s native city, the arrow has spun around, pointing if not toward Paris at least toward the new car, the

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