Focusing on some of Walter Benjamin’s scattered remarks on “anecdote” in The Arcades Project and ancillary works, this chapter asks how anecdote came to appear to Benjamin to provide a critical model of historical perception, critical in the sense that it eludes the failings of both the rationalist approach to the past (which Benjamin associates with Hegel) and the empiricist approach to the past (which Benjamin associates with Ranke). It argues, finally, that the critical, anecdotal model of historical perception is concretized in Benjamin’s late “physiognomies,” that is, in his examinations of the gambler, the flâneur, the melancholic and other modern historical types. These figures and their diverse forms of life provide historical time with the “standard” that Benjamin seeks.
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