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For My Love - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
For My Love
Here is section IX of Walter Benjamin's "Theses on the Philosophy of History" in its entirety, together with a reproduction of the Paul Klee work that inspired it. Note that the German word Engel is masculine, which helps to explain why this potentially gender neutral being is rendered as a "he":
Mein Flügel ist zum Schwung bereit,
ich kehrte gern zurück,
denn blieb ich auch lebendige Zeit,
ich håtte wenig Glück,
-- Gerhard Scholem, "Gruß vom Angelus"
A Klee painting named "Angelus Novus" shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history.

His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
Paradise here is not a goal we can attain, but somewhere that will always be out of reach because it lies in the past. I like to think of the pile as the sort of place where the odd postcard, book, or snapshot rises to the top to catch the eye, like an autumn leaf swirling on a moody current.

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slanderous From: slanderous Date: April 29th, 2005 07:23 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I love, love, love this passage.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: April 29th, 2005 07:54 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Me too. It always takes my breath away. And then I think, why can't theory be more like that, poetry in which though bobs up and down, the burden of significance borne up by the molecular structure of water.
slanderous From: slanderous Date: April 29th, 2005 08:55 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I think it's a) because Benjamin is a genius at doing beautiful prose and brillant politics simultaneously and, yeah, that shit is hard, but also b) the sometimes-at-cross-purposes demands for both "clarity" and skillful display of the technical language in the contemporary academy makes it that much harder. Those theorists we do have (or had) who are also poets are far and few between, and continue to be marginalized, I think.

There's been some recent efforts, though; I'm thinking of Avery Gordon's Ghostly Matters, for instance.
slanderous From: slanderous Date: April 29th, 2005 08:56 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Man, speaking of crappy prose--!
counter_memory From: counter_memory Date: April 30th, 2005 03:46 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Paradise here is not a goal we can attain, but somewhere that will always be out of reach because it lies in the past.

I read the Theses as trying to disentangle the emancipatory project of Marxism from its crippling entanglement with progress. The last of the enslaved do not attain freedom by embracing the march into the future through homogenous, empty time that is progress. Rather, they (we?)redeem the past, all of its broken, bloodied, and dead generations, through their weak messianic power to create a crisis that blasts the present out of the continuum of historical time. Intensifying progress by transforming the world into a vast workhouse merely abets progress. We struggle not so much for the liberation of the future as for the redemption of the past.

Social Democracy thought fit to assign to the working class the role of the redeemer of future generations, in this way cutting the sinews of its greatest strength. This training made the working class forget both its hatred and its spirit of sacrifice, for both are nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than that of liberated grandchildren.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: April 30th, 2005 05:26 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's very, very well put. It's hard to distill that much complexity into something so clear and concise. That I know that you put that interpretation to work at work for workers past and present makes it that much more awesome.

As far as the passage from Benjamin goes, I was trying to make sense of something that has always troubled me: the fact that the wind blows the angel into the future and therefore away from a "Paradise" that has to be in the "rear view mirror" of the progressively minded. I've read a lot of Benjamin, as you surely have as well, but I struggle to figure out whether he 's trying to recast spiritual thinking in a purely secular form or is, rather, interested in retaining the separateness of the spiritual within the secular. My reading of "Paradise" in this instance is as a place that cannot be regained via conventional, linear time but which, precisely because it is "under erasure," animates our attempts at redemption.

I agree wholeheartedly with the critique of progressivist thinking you discern in Benjamin. While it might not be to your taste or politics, I'll recommend my mentor Wendy Brown's book Politics Out of History, also a favorite of slanderous, for its elaboration of Benjamin's critique.
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