After their 1924 summer in the Bay of Naples (Capri), Walter Benjamin and Asja Lacis wrote the essay "Neapel", which appeared in Frankfurter Zeitung in 1926. It is Benjamin's first recording of his reflections on the modern city experience.
The ruins of Pompeii and Naples stimulated them to distinguish within the process of decay categories such as spatial porosity (suggested by Lacis) and temporal transition. In terms of architecture, "one can scarcely discern where building is still in progress and where dilapidation has already set in" (1924:417 in Howard Caygill 1998). Porosity appears as the central image of the everyday life experience that 'captures the fact that the structuring boundaries of modern capitalism - between public and private, labor and leisure, personal and communal - have not yet been established: "Just as the living room reappears on the street [...] so the street migrates into the living room"; "For the sleeping and eating there is no prescribed hour, sometimes no place" (p.314)' (in Susan Buck-Morss 1989:26).
According to Buck-Morss this essay is the methodological beginning of Benjamin's Passagen-Werk experiment, by using street images to interpret the city. 'The images are not subjective impressions, but objective expressions. The phenomena - buildings, human gestures, spatial arrangements - are "read" as a language in which a historically transient truth (and the truth of historical transiency) is expressed concretely, and the city's social formation becomes legible within perceived experience' (p.27).
Benjamin illustrates through an anecdote that 'in the south of Italy, on the hollow and crumbling shell of the precapitalist order, modern social relations have been shakily, unevenly erected' (Buck-Morss, p.26):
"In a bustling piazza a fat lady drops her fan. She looks about helplessly, too unshapely to pick it up herself. A cavalier appears and is prepared to perform this service for fifty lire. They negotiate and the lady receives her fan for ten" (p.313).