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Eurydice at Euston?: Walter Benjamin and Marc Auge Go Underground

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>3/01/2014
<mark>Journal</mark>Societies
Issue number1
Volume4
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)16-29
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Taking as its point of departure Walter Benjamin’s repeatedly unsuccessful attempt to give spatial form to his past, this paper suggests that it is perhaps the contemporary French anthropologist, Marc Augé, who provides the most appropriate envisioning of a ‘map of memories’ in his brief writings on the Parisian métro system. For Augé, the labyrinthine subway network constitutes nothing less than a ‘memory machine’ in which lines and station names serve as mnemonics, recalling long-forgotten childhood encounters and experiences. Mirroring the cityscape above, places themselves unexplored, unknown, the serried toponyms of the métro become an incantation summoning forth the shades of the past. As Augé points out, those stations that provide opportunities to change lines are felicitously termed ‘correspondences’, a Baudelairean term that fascinated Benjamin and informed his key historiographical notion of the ‘dialectical image,’ the intersection and mutual illumination of past and present moments. For me, Augé’s highly suggestive reflections bring to mind my own memories of a London childhood around 1970. Looking at the London underground map today, I cannot but see the sites of many past meetings and partings, dots connected by lines forming complex figures, constellations of memory.