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Historical Citation and Revolutionary Epistemology

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The Image/Word Distinction in Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project

image of Journal of the Philosophy of History

This article defends the thesis that there are multiple points of exchange between the categories of “word” and “image” in Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project. Benjamin describes the truth of the articulate wish of the past as “graphically perceptible” and the image as “readable.” In this respect the vocabulary of “word” and “image” that Benjamin’s early work had opposed are not just deployed in concert, but specific features of the vocabulary of “word” and “image” become exchangeable. The distinctive features of this exchange can be used to expound on Benjamin’s peculiar understanding of revolutionary experience and the significance of the break that it marks with his early way of opposing the word and the image. In particular, the exchange of features between word and image can explain the mechanics and intended effect of his idea that the meaning of history can be perceived in an image. The study of this exchange also shows that although the framework of “graphic perception” entails an experience of motivating meaning that is epistemologically grounded, the citation model of history is unable to secure the extension of the sought after legibility of the nineteenth century to a recipient.

Affiliations: 1: Monash


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