A Collection Of Passages

Tomorrow’s Soon Yesterday – But Today Is Still Today

Indoor Horizons 3 – Imprinting the idea in wax. The tabula rasa of the mindful eye.

The first Diorama opened in Paris in 1822, breaking the fourth wall to experience a new landscape within.

Leaving Walter Benjamin hovering over his blank page at a cafe in the arcade, let us continue our Indoor Horizons journey (navigating once again the dangerous terrain of the creative imagination without waiting around any longer in the vain hope that Virgil might turn up to be our guide), as we rise the ten steps to investigate the second stretch of the first heated Arcade in Paris – Passage Jouffroy – which will take us south in the direction of the Seine towards Boulevard Montmartre. Facing us is the amazing Musée Grévin, a waxwork museum founded in 1882 by the journalist Arthur Meyer, named in honour of the creative director Alfred Grévin. When given a blank slate he created a world in miniature, a fantastic vision of an imagination inhabited by wax caricatures. Emile Zola was a frequent visitor to Alfred’s world and the arcade was a place to which many writers turned to escape the main streets, returning to seek inspiration in the weird and wonderful objects in the windows hoping they might spark a new idea with which to graffiti the blank page.


The blank slate is a common challenge to the thinker, the writer, the photographer, the artist, the teacher, the dancer, the architect, the scientist, the architect, the athlete, the contemplator, the puzzle solver, the composer and the metaphysician. How do we face the abyss of the blank slate? How do we apprehend the transcendent flash of that creative spark and place it on paper? How do we make concrete the essence of something half glimpsed in a whisp of vapour, in the scent inhaled in a doorway, in the sound of the river merging with the hush of traffic. How do we penetrate that fog and bring something permanent back from the other side, as William Blake did return with gold from his visionary realm to imagine his own green and pleasant land?
We noted that Coleridge’s pleasure dome collapsed before he fully captured the complete vision of Kubla Khan. For Walter Benjamin he looked to the journey taken by Baudelaire and Breton through the dioramas of the arcades of Paris to recreate from the fragments the world they fashioned with words. The Diorama, the world in miniature can still be seen in Passage Jouffroy, represented by the glass snow globes and dolls houses which decorate the shop windows, all situated inside their own glass house of the iron framed arcade, living proof that ideas can be captured, from regions often considered beyond our grasp, to construct a world of imagination, where ideas are given shape and planted firmly in the realm of the everyday.


Andre Breton mentions Passage Jouffroy in his surrealist novel Soluble Fish. Here he used an innovative future perfect to portray the poetry of his dreams, like Coleridge he sought to build a vision to echo the world he experienced in those transcendent moments but the characters returned from the other side and followed him into the physical world of Passage Jouffroy; the arcade packed with curious characters in the window of the waxworks, the phantasmogoria which so enthrallled Baudelaire still haunt the windows fronting onto the arcade. The Dandy is alive an well in Passage Jouffroy. The ghost of the cane can be caught on reflection when the mindful eye takes the time to stop and look.


Stop and look- a simple instruction at the behest of John Ruskin. Perhaps take one painting or sculpture in a gallery and look at that, don’t try too hard, just observe it for longer than a minute and see what happens. In a new city with limited time there is a temptation to seek the impossible, to bring back an authentic feel of what that city and it’s culture has to offer. On arrival, everything is a new chance to grab life, yet the eye sees multiple colours screaming for attention, buildings are just shapes, the landscape is an unchartered wilderness which must be conquered by the senses for fear of wasting the chance to return somehow uniquely enriched by the ecstatic truth of the place itself.
Rather than racing past a million moments in a bold attempt to experience their authentic presence (perhaps a guide book suggests an expedition through an exhibition to try and capture at speed a tiny essence of the original moment of apprehension) – stop. Look and look again, notice and notice what you notice. Somewhere in the blur of brickwork reflected on your sunglasses there is a city waiting to impress itself upon you. There is a fine art you need to master, the art of seeing without looking too hard, stumbling upon a fresh perspective using what Gaston Bachelard called your active imagination, whilst being open to the drifting possibilities of chance encounters, impressions which might only rise to the surface in the weeks or years ahead. It is hard to submit to the experience whilst actively seeking to see the world in a fresh and open way, being actively passive, awakening the active imagination, watching for the ripple before throwing the pebble, but it is in the mastery of such a creative process that a moment can explode and go on exploding for the rest of your creative life, setting fire to scraps of paper to enlighten unexpected moments, in cities far away, forever reawakening the sense of place which appeared to you because, for once, you were truly open to let it land on your blank page.

Nabokov's sketch of Dublin Bay and the scenes from Ulysses

Nabokov’s sketch of Dublin Bay and the scenes from Ulysses

When Joyce brought us back to Howth Castle and Environs at the start of Finnegans Wake, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, was he simultaneously confronting his blank page in Trieste, in Zurich, in Paris and back on the deck of the boat leaving Dublin? (Drifting over the spot where Vladimir Nabokov has written Dublin Bay on his sketch above, about to exit page right) – Back on the deck with his character Stephen at the end of his portrait of the artist as a young man, going to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience, looking south (towards the Martello tower at the start of the journey in Ulysses) before craning his neck to the north (Howthward ho – towards the end of Ulysses – and towards both the start and end of Finnegans Wake) letting that moment impress itself on his soul, as yet unaware of how the essence of that very instant would one day bring his whole creative journey full circle, both inside and outside of time, forever shaping the lopsided view which would change the way the world looked upon the printed page. On that slow drift into exile, the slow drift from A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, through Ulysses into Finnegans Wake was he ever mindful of that moment or would he have described his state of being as mindlessful?


Try this different approach, let your being become mindlessful, let the riverrun like the wake of Finnegan. Allow a moment for the place to gain a sense of space and offer a new perspective upon those reflective shades. Rather than grabbing at the air try and let the place flow through you. This is the old Zen concept of listening to a mountain rather than trying to climb it at speed to reach the top only to look at somewhere else, darting the eye around the horizon looking for the next summit to conquer whilst missing the experience of where you actually are. Instead of trying to conquer a place or it’s vast array of culture, try Ruskin’s stop and look. Sketch a statue in a notebook for five minutes and let everyone else wander, you can catch them up. It need not even be a sculpture or a painting – a gallery is there to awaken the eye to the shapes of the world. That might be the silhouettes of people on the escalator at the Louvre, cut out shapes against the glass pleasure dome, like Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, we can grasp the essence of the pure moment with the mindful eye.


The return of that essence comes through those who have looked at the abyss and taken the leap. John Ruskin getting us to stop and look, Proust describing the transcendent moment he read Ruskin, Baudelaire writing about Proust which was revisited by Benjamin in his vast Arcades Project, Susan Sontag writing about Benjamin in her study of the moment when the eye frames an image before the click of the camera lens, Gaston Bachelard investigating the poetics of space using active imagination; they were all brave enough to take on the abyss, to step into the dark and start that journey which made a connection to the past and to the future by experiencing the present. If you want to write a reminder in your notebook when you are going to visit somewhere new try the heading – Tomorrow’s soon yesterday but today is still today.

Stepping out onto the Boulevard Montmartre where Jean Seberg met Nico to head towards the Passage Des Panoramas, it is a short walk west to Proust’s cork lined room where the Boulevard Montmartre becomes Boulevard Haussmann, and where J.K. Huysmans placed a character in his novel, À rebours (Against The Grain or Against Nature), the yellow book mentioned in the trial of Oscar Wilde and Dorian Gray. Having captured the indoor horizon of the diorama we must take that with us to enhance the panorama, the oldest covered passageway in Paris.

Imagination Taking Shape – A User’s Manual

Indoor Horizons 2 – Architecture of the Imagination.

Apprehension itself is an event inseparable from the story it discloses.

You left us last as we exited Passage Verdeau heading south towards the entrance to the first heated arcade in Paris, a mere six steps take you into a corridor walled with books.

Paris Arcade entrance

Six steps south a world of books opens to the eye

As you enter Passage Jouffroy from the north you are confronted, as Baudelaire and Benjamin were, by a corridor of books on a tiled floor not unlike the Knights Tour structure of Life a User’s Manual by Georges Perec. The structure of Perec’s novel has been compared to a jigsaw puzzle or a tapestry, interweaving the stories of characters who inhabit a fictional Paris apartment block. The Knights Tour, the possible routes a Knight can travel on the chess board, fascinated the Oulipo movement, a collection of writers, metaphysicians and mathematicians building a workshop for potential literature.

Pompidou Centre Paris

A narrative structure can elevate ideas to create a true work of art

Life a User’s Manual is regarded by some as another postmodern attempt to revolutionise the novel, perhaps the architectural equivalent would be the Pompidou Centre where all the workings are visible on the outside. A copy of said book was once purchased from Librairie Paul Vulin on a walk to the Pompidou, reading passages through the passages was like entering a maze within a maze. To make sense of ideas they must be made concrete, yet appear as clear as crystal glass.

Paris arcade bookshop

A good book is a tree made of leaves grasped from a world oft considered beyond our reach

We have been looking at how the spark of an idea is just that without the next step in the process, a fleeting flash in the dark which returns to black before attaining or apprehending the continued moment of illumination. Many metaphysicians such as Gabriel Marcel have spent a lifetime trying to capture that enlightened moment which, when it comes to the writing down, appears to be just beyond our grasp. Like Coleridge’s Kubla Khan which slipped through his fingers before he could finish the vision dome of which he had caught a glimpse in another world, a world of imagination. Coleridge’s pleasure dome crumbled before his eyes before he could complete the structure because of a sudden noise which diverted him from his reverie. After the door knock the visitor returned to Porlock but when Coleridge returned to the page the idea was dead.

We can attempt to apprehend the transcendent moment if we train the mindful eye. The idea which is sparked in the imagination can be parked next to other ideas in the memory using a narrative map, linking it within a creative structure in much the same way that architects François Destailleur and Romain de Bourges constructed Passage Jouffroy entirely from iron and glass to give Paris the first arcade of its kind. If you look up from inside you see the beauty of the light through the glass, you do not notice the structure. The sky enters the streets to offer the flaneur’s mindful eye a glimpse of the beyond, expanding the panorama of the indoor horizon.

Passage Jouffroy roof

A memory palace offers a glimpse of the panorama beyond the indoor horizon

Even if the creative mind can train itself to stop the chatter long enough to apprehend the insights from the world around, those individual sparks are still mere snapshots until they can be linked together to portray a narrative, to illustrate the progress of the journey, the odyssey. For some the structure should be invisible, the story should be clear glass but it still needs the iron frame to hold it together. If you look at Passage Jouffroy from above you notice the tight iron frame which holds the glass in place. It is simple and dark, and does not give any clue to the wonder of the view from the inside looking out. It is a clever illusion, a magician’s trick of the light.


The wireframe is required to build a structure for those ideas we first encountered alongside Baudelaire and Benjamin in Passage Verdeau. The journey begins to take shape within a narrative framework whether the relationship with the space be mythical, fictional or geographical, the echoes remain timeless; such as Orpheus approaching the underworld, or Jean Marais entering the hidden Paris behind Cocteau’s liquid mirror; such as Dante’s endless train of people who also populate the unreal city of Elliot’s Wasteland; such as Odysseus tied to the mast to navigate past the sirens, or Joyce’s characters succumbing to the sounds within Dublin’s Ormond bar; such as the artist in exile carrying their childhood places (where the heart first opened) inside their imagination, or Kurt Schwitters transforming physical interiors to represent his imagination. Like the workings of the Pompidou the imagination appears to have been turned inside out, outside in.


The locations may be interchangeable but the narrative of the voyage has the same frame, inside which we let ourselves discover new worlds, resurfacing the walls with reflections from our own imaginations, for each of us should utilise the magical glass and iron of the arcades to build a new version of somewhere else and expand our indoor horizons.

Next we will ascend the few steps from the world of books to the world of wax as we enter the phantasmagoria of Breton’s novels which heavily influenced Walter Benjamin’s view of the Arcades of Paris. Benjamin mapped his whole life on a blank piece of paper in one of the cafés, he saw the creative process as being part of a journey which could be navigated with the right map. Armed with that firm belief he took on the abyss of the blank page to create a second nature.

The Static Voyage of Baudelaire and Benjamin

Indoor Horizons 1 – The spark of an idea.

Waiting for the multiple encounters to echo a single memory upon which to hang the day.

“I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list.”  Susan Sontag

The birth of an idea, a fresh imprint in the snow begins with the first step. Welcome to our exploration of indoor horizons, breaking down the walls between worlds, using the Arcades of Paris as the framework we will explore the nature of the creative process from the spark of the idea to the expression of a complete vision, using the mindful eye as the symbol of that leap into the abyss, the attempt to apprehend what is so often beyond our grasp, always disappearing over the horizon just as we approach our target. Join us on the journey from the clouds above Montmartre over the rooftops to descend like the boy with the red balloon through the crystal glass into the world of Baudelaire, Breton and Benjamin.

For Baudelaire, it was possible to embark on a static voyage in time and space, to transcend everyday mundanity. When the mindful eye stopped to look, the world itself became a work of art.

Walking the arcades of Paris, Baudelaire was intoxicated by the sights, sounds and smells exploding before him as he wandered without destination to let the city impress itself on his flaneur mind until it found a form with which he could express the multitude of fulminations. He wanted to capture the essence of those infernal delights, to bottle the enchantment rather than the physical space so that he could construct his own version of Paris based on the map of his imagination. To him, the half caught reflections in the glass were the cornerstone around which he could build his own passage, the transmigration of the physical journey to the static voyage sparked by the eye transferring flashes of light onto his own Paris arcade.

Sartre + Sartre symbol

The fleeting images the flaneur captured in the Paris Arcades hooked the curious eye, intoxicated by symbolism.

Walter Benjamin took up the ghostly cloak of the Paris flaneur in his vast unfinished Arcades Project (Das Passagen-Werk) furnished with folio notecards, cuttings and observations much like the fluid layout future bloggers would employ, cross referencing a stream of entries or convolutes to be digested and travelled through in many different ways. You are more than likely reading this because a link enticed your fingers to embark on a similar journey or static voyage. You may bookmark this and return to our arcade via a different journey, the narrative is not always linear, increasingly it is comprised of fleeting glances and fragments which in turn will hopefully spark fresh creative ideas. Everything begins with that spark necessary to ignite an idea.

Benjamin appreciated the montage and cut up techniques employed by the Paris surrealists to portray the fragments of their ‘little universe.’ The universe in miniature, or worlds under glass, made up of objects such as snow globes, became a theme to which he would often return in the dossiers. The Paris arcades represented the world under glass where he discovered the panoramas and dioramas for his endless journey, the shop windows containing freeze framed scenes of life returning the epiphenomenal echoes and musical notes he had also noted in the work of the symbolists. His fascination with how the symbolists saw Paris centred on Baudelaire, the writer who created the term modernity, “to designate the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis, and the responsibility art has to capture that experience.” (The Painter Of Modern Life and Other Essays, edited and translated by Jonathan Mayne, Phaidon.)

For many, the different ages of the Arcades of Paris reverberate with the thoughts of symbolists, surrealists and flaneurs, swirling together like the spoon rotating the absinthe before Verlaine. It is barely possible to walk ten paces without bumping into a motif, or tripping over an intoxicating epiphany, even when you reach out for help your hand is likely to disappear through the phantom shoulder of the poet stumbling into the painting of a fellow artist, both of which might later be echoed in the montage of the Dadaist having a coffee, who in turn is observed by others as they mingle on their daily journey between worlds, absorbing the phantasmagoria wrapped up in the iron and glass of these lost passageways containing a secret cascade of symbols running through the heart of the city which establishment figures had fiercely sought to destroy. Some of the physical places may have been dismantled but figurehead phantoms still hover over shop fronts listening for that long echo back from there to here.

‘Not merely does each age dream the next one, but it aims, in so doing, to awaken.’ Walter Benjamin

Passage Verdeau Figurehead

Figurehead phantoms hover, watching over the palace of memories

The passages suffered at the hands of Baron Haussmann as he set out to make Paris ‘revolution proof,’ destroying many arcades in the dramatic changes which were designed to prevent the raising of barricades. Sadly submerged and marginalised, the remaining arcades declined to become curious backwaters in the middle of the city. At one time there were over 150 but as they fell from favour they were bequeathed to writers, artists and thinkers to wander, already abandoned as ghostly memory palaces of a Paris before Haussmann. In 1927 it was as if Walter Benjamin was building his own barricades in the Bibliothèque Nationale from whatever he could salvage from those memories to reconstruct a future dream for a city dweller lost somewhere along the way.

He would never reach the end of his journey in the Arcades Project, leaving behind a series of dossiers labelled A to Z broken down into lower case sections a to r. As with Finnegans Wake, you can enter the flow anywhere in the stream of folios collected in the thirteen years leading up to his death in 1940. Convolute J on Baudelaire is one place to start, or perhaps Convolute C on Ancient Paris, Demolitions and the Decline of Paris. Benjamin may have been carrying more of the Arcades Project in the briefcase clutched to his chest as he struggled for breath on the border between France and Spain. The mystery surrounding his final journey and that missing briefcase are worthy of a thriller in their own right and a bleak reminder of the dark ages in history when persecuted scholars were forced to flee to the margins like the monks on Skellig Michael clutching remnants of ideas which they thought worth saving so that others might one day pass them on to future generations.


Let’s start on the edge where only the dedicated flaneur would stray. The Paris arcade which appears at 31 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre has the sign CONDUISANT AUX GRAND BOULEVARDS informing the stroller that they are about to embark on a journey should they be brave enough to pass through the dark mouth of this portal to another world, a world of sensation. Even the letters on the sign are resized to tempt the eye towards an odyssey of distant perspectives where memory perceptions converge on poetical space.

Passage Verdeau Northern Entrance

Entrance at 31 Rue du Faubourg Montmatre

Passage Verdeau, 75 metres in length, one of the forgotten Paris arcades until sellers of books and postcards made it their home. Built in 1846-7 as an extension of Passage Des Panoramas and Passage Jouffroy. A place on the margins away from the increasingly homogenous Haussmann high street now to be found in any major city. The static voyage takes on another meaning in the sense of the numbing blandness which has removed any local character from so many urban centres, these streets are now all the same, dying their own death as a consequence, no longer holding value because they are simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, condemned to a fate worse than Haussmann, geographical mediocrity. Yet nobody expected the speed at which the high street itself would be overtaken by a virtual arcade where eyes and fingers can wander at will, looking for wonders beyond the uniform uniforms of high street fashion. The journey has returned to the flaneur experience of letting something different hook the eye and inspire a new idea.

Passage Verdeau is the place for the collector, the browser looking for something unusual to awaken the spirit upon entering a cathedral of words and images illuminated by the streams of light filtered through the glass roof. Like Beckett and Seinfeld, searching for nothing, and in that nothing possibly finding the spark to ignite a revolutionary idea. This is one of the later arcades to be constructed, just before Haussmann’s first wave of demolition. A photographic shop which opened in 1901 sits next to windows filled with rare books, old postcards and the odd phantom figure frozen in time. Exit at 6 Rue de la Grands-Batelière where Passage Jouffroy (and its wondrous waxwork world) awaits only a few steps to the south.

Passage Verdeau Southern Entrance

Exit at Rue de la Grands-Batelière

Revisit us soon to wander more forgotten passageways and map further margins of the imagination.

Featured by Instamatic Camera Does Culture

We are honoured to be featured in MDWS011 Special Limited Edition publication put together by enigmatic artist collective Instamatic Camera Does Culture. Think they are going fast… More info on Meadows Me Artist Collective site here

Includes film negative flexidisc insert with music feat exclusive mixes from

Tempo Solace and Gene Green
Sunset Heist

Also Includes:
An unforgettable pull out memory map
Special Edition Collage art
Dada origami – paper martial arts
Walter Benjamin’s Paris by Sartre + Sartre
John Dee v Robert Fludd – Mind Games 1.

Exclusive novel extracts and articles on artists, collectives, cinema, music, design, dataviz, architecture, photography, philosophy, mind games, psychogeography, cities, landscapes, futurebooks, tech, art, culture, and much more.

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