This vision of the recent past as already shrouded in dust acquires, in the works of a more dialectically or perversely inclined Modernism, the lineaments of the fantastic or of an oddly eroticized appreciation of decay. In the section of the Arcades Project entitled “Boredom, Eternal Return,” Walter Benjamin briefly refers to the role of dust in the nineteenth-century interior, a substance at once magical and mundane: “Plush as dust collector. Mystery of dustmotes playing in the sunlight. Dust and the ‘best room’…. Other arrangements to stir up dust: the trains of dresses.”4 In the decaying Paris arcades—the furred arteries of the modern city—dust both occludes and outlines the once-novel commodity and its slow desuetude. For Marcel Proust, too, dust was simultaneously to be feared (in the form of the lime-tree pollen that brought on his asthma, or the choking fumes of the coal fire in his bedroom) and welcomed for the physical and aesthetic veil it cast about him as he wrote; Proust lived his last decade in a cloud of medicinal powders, propped up among material remnants of his past—photographs, books, and furniture—that he refused to allow his servants to dust.
more from Brian Dillon at Cabinet here.