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Lying about the future produces history.

Umberto Eco

Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) had a tumultuous life. It is possible to enclose his thought as anti-dogmatic, humanist, anarchist, touching on many salient issues of the 1900s. He died between Spain and France escaping from Nazi persecution. He was against every border and grotesquely, he found his self-imposed end near the line of two states, trying to reach America.

Theses on Philosophy of History:

The core of his thought is reconciled and subsumed in the Theses on Philosophy of History[1], an unfinished work with a sadly adventurous story, that is a collection of 18 theses plus two appendices written up until 1940. The central thesis is the ninth one: the thesis about the Angel of History. It stems from a constant meditation on the watercolour by Paul Klee (1879-1940) entitled Angelus Novus, owned by Benjamin since 1921. The topics there covered are manifold. Some openly declared and others more covertly shown. Fully understanding the metaphor embodied by the Angel is possible by sifting through the elements of Benjamin’s writing.

The text has no linear structure and is rendered through very metaphoric images. The goal is to reformulate and reform historical materialism and to propose again the true mission of the philosopher/historian involved in the movements for emancipation. There is a critique of historicism, philosophy of history and the idea of ​​progress. At the basis of the fundamental reasoning lies the union between materialism and theology, ergo between historical materialism and political messianism because according to the author, every critical thought and revolutionary force must unite these areas. Marxism without theology would have been merely a mechanism in search of historical laws while theology alone would lead to a naive mysticism. Here, therefore, the longing for emancipation of historical materialism must be supported by the utopian impulse and the theological desire for redemption, implementing a Copernican revolution in history (both philosophy and politics)[2]. Looking to the past, not to the future. For instance, Marx warned that the revolutionary movement would have buried the dead towards a different future, while Benjamin wants to focus on the past in order to change the future. His revolution would invite the dead to the table of history. The future, as normally imagined, is empty, abstract, while the past is real, and must be interpreted. Future happiness is an enigma, while the whole past is imbued with happiness, even that happiness that has not come true[3].

According the author, a weak messianic force was delivered to every generation that came before us. While other thinkers and critics of society say that the past cannot be changed, Benjamin conceives the problem mystically[4]. Each present epoch coexists with the memory of the past, because those who live in the present are both what they have become and what they have not been able to become[5]. The criticism of historicism is therefore addressed to history as an entity told only by the winners, who feed the ideology. Therefore, historical materialism must sift through history to critically look at tradition, orienting towards the forgotten. Only thus would one be able to speak of a true universal history[6]. As in linguistic, thanks to the mystical-artistic method of derivation, he tries to recall the past and give it its real name[7]. The mistake of political movements consists in having considered progress in the future, creating Fascism and Marxism. The latter one believed that development laws led to a classless society. But Benjamin sees that the only valid historical law has always been a perennial state of exception, where men live a perennial state of malaise and exploitation, which is also useless in society. Then capitalism would never have died of natural death, as the Marxist believes, but the very idea of ​​progress is linked to the concept of catastrophe.

Angelus Novus:

Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus design is used by Benjamin as a metaphor to describe the link between progress and catastrophe. The Angel is pushed violently by a storm and his face expresses horror because he turns his gaze to the past where he sees only ruins[8]. The Angel would like to stop in order to arouse the dead and comprehend/comprise again the broken (the left aside of history), but he cannot because progress, as a terrible storm, pushes him away into the future[9]. The Angel sees the metaphysical significance of phenomena, while men see only the succession of events.

The philosophy of history oriented towards progress sees time as kronos, that is, a quantifiable sequence (clock, numerical units). Conceiving time in this sense makes the present an eternal evil héxis[10]that can only hope for the future. Kairos is instead full time, infinite meaning. Kairological time that encourages action, that is Time here and now, qualitative. Every present should be seen as a possibility and an occāsio. Every trice is a door through which the messiah can enter to change the continuous repetition of the equal, and of the atrocity of history[11]. The new historian, therefore, conceiving of time as Kairos, must elaborate the dialectic in the stopping position as a dialectical image[12]. Benjamin wanted to demonstrate the ephemeral will of the nineteenth-century social order and to combat the prehistoric character of capitalism which makes men slaves and not masters of their history, subject to unjust economic laws dictated by the logic of exploitation and dominion over nature and other human beings.

His revolutionary main concept is the one to implode the continuous and homogeneous time (the one propelled by the spirit of mere unhuman capitalism) against the fragmented time (that is the one of revolution and new possibilities). The main aim then, is to create a continuous new time, overcoming the everlasting domination of time as plain unmanned historicism. Benjamin describes the ephemeral character of certain angels by referring to Kabbalah. He says that God creates at every moment an endless number of new angels, all destined only to sing his praises for a moment by his throne before dissolving into nothingness. It is clear that his Angelus Novus, neither as personal angel nor as angel of the history, succeeds to accomplish this ephemeral task, since in the first case it keep his eyes too long staring at the man in front of it (Benjamin himself), while in the thesis he has no possibility of carrying out his historical quest of raising the dead and reconnect the pieces.

Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) highlights the theological and mystical aspect of his friend’s thought. He also rightly emphasizes the personal, autobiographical aspect of many Benjaminian writings, including the Theses. Scholem, who was somewhat familiar with Klee’s painting, also wrote a poem entitled Greeting from the Angel dedicated to Benjamin in 1921 for his birthday, and it is no coincidence that the German philosopher cites the first verse in the epigraph. Scholem’s commentary on this Benjaminian writing is fundamental to understanding the Angel of History. The term angel in Hebrew is identical to that of messenger (mal’akh). Benjamin refers primarily to the traditional Jewish image of the personal angel of every human being who represents his secret self and whose name, however, remains hidden from him. The celestial self of every human being (as well as everything else created) is woven in angelic form but also partly in the form of its secret name, in a veil that hangs before the throne of God. This Angel, of course, can also be in contrast and in a relationship of strong tension with the earthly creature with which it is associated[13]. The Angel reflects the melancholy gaze of Benjamin himself, here perfectly mirroring the decadent allegorist Baudelaire. For Benjamin the winged figure resembles everything from which he was forced to part: people and especially things.

Klee’s Angel comes from the future to which he returns, drawing behind the human partner who is looking at his face, thus making him a participant in what he actually wants, happiness. In the final draft, the way back will not be an escape to the utopian future. Happiness is described dialectically by Benjamin[14]. He analyses happiness: the contrast in which the ecstasy of uniqueness, of novelty, of the not yet lived, is combined with that bliss of repetition, recovery, lived. Therefore, he has no hope of novelty by any other way than that of return, when he leads a new human being with him. In the general economics of the Theses, the dialectic of happiness between novelty and repetition, which is the central theme of Baudelaire’s interpretation and modernity, is nothing other than the relationship between the present and the past of the qualitative and discontinuous time of remembrance[15]. Updating the past means reactivating it to save it in memory. This is the task of the materialistic historian. The Angel no longer brings happiness, on the contrary, it represents the horror of historical time with the expression of the face – mouth open and eyes wide with amazement and terror – and wings open to flight. He turns his back on the future and looks the past in the face: in this way he indicates to the historical materialist what is the right position to interpret the historical events of the past in the light of the present. His perception is opposite to that of historicism: instead of a chain of events that follow one another from the past to the present (which are accumulated in cultural heritage), the Angel sees the catastrophe, the ruins, the rubble of history[16]. From the origin, the earthly paradise, a storm comes that pushes him relentlessly into the future, preventing him from fulfilling his mission, which is to arouse the dead and reconnect the fragments. In this way the rubble does nothing but increase, inexorably. In other words, what is believed to be progress is nothing more than permanent catastrophe. A separate consideration must be made on the paradise of origins.

This is where the storm starts, that is, the accumulation of the events of history, and for this reason the gaze of the historian, who is the gaze of the Angel with a weak messianic force, must ideally be directed precisely to that point to grasp the image of the authentic Erfahrung. But there is no historical memory of this point of origin, i.e. the prehistoric past of classless society, just as there is no experience of the pure divine Language from which historical languages ​​proceed after the post-Adamite fall. This point of origin is given only as an authentic image, from which derive the dialectical images which can only be historically recovered in the instant of Jetztzeit. Therefore, one can only remember those images which in their authenticity refer to their origin, and which in their monadological concentration contain the sense of another story, of another time, of another language.

The Angel of History cannot be the messiah, but is rather identified by Benjamin with himself and, broadly speaking, with the materialist historian[17]. However, the Angel’s image is necessary to make the historian aware of the direction in which he must look and act: the other tradition with another time, another writing and another politics. The centrality of this thesis, which does not only concern its chronological and indexical location, is an important indication of Benjamin’s awareness of his failure: historical and existential pessimism is radical[18] and hope is, if anything, entrusted to the eschatological messianic utopia. If the task of the historian[19] in fact, is decisive for preparing the revolutionary action of the oppressed class[20], it now seems that he is unable to complete his task[21]. Moreover, Benjamin’s idea of ​​the classless society of the future is considerable in a certain sense such as the return to primitive communism, although not entirely coinciding with it[22].

Benjamin underpinning knowledge and linguistic:

In order to grasp some of the more relevant aspects that found his claims in this work, and that make it possible for the Angel of History to draw meaning, it is essential to see the evolution of the Benjamin’s themes. Regarding politics, he wants to extend the political subject of emancipation to a more heterogeneous group than the Marxist proletariat alone. He tries to grasp everything starting from what is small, lightly using general concepts, and understanding ideas from phenomena. His interest on linguistic and aesthetics is manifested in the texts which are full of metaphors. He believes in future generations seeing youth as invested with a revolutionary mission. For example, in this case he has greater trust on future generations than Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969). This believing is also based on the conception of memory that Benjamin has[23].

The investigation around language is significant because it influences the whole course of its philosophical production. Language does not know how to give names to things, because subjective. Here philosophy is important for this: to rediscover the true meanings. This is reversed in the case of history where it is possible to recall what has been lost, and restore the denied happiness[24].

His investigation of history is rooted in Judaism, thanks to which he sees the abyss between reality and language. “True Language is silence”[25], where those who keep silent push the thresholds of true language. Thus, Benjamin esteems the poet who approaches a pure expression. Thought and language complement each other. But bearing in mind that with linguistical expression one is limited to language and does not clearly arrive at thought. There is then a “human Language” and a “Language of things” (each being has a spiritual essence that tries to communicate linguistically). The divine Language is the creator of Verb and knowledge. The Language of the knowledge of Adam knows by giving a name to things, does not create, it recreates what has already been created. The silent Language of things is then the one to chase. Between these languages ​​there is an uninterrupted continuous communicative flow, which can only be travelled by the divine Language that crosses the entire order of creation. Man falls and begins wanting to create as god, and names things, and tries to dominate everything, even other men[26]. Here is the gulf between meanings and signifiers which lays the foundation for Benjamin’s historical analysis. Through judgment, things no longer show themselves for what they are but for how the subject sees them, which can mistake. Only artistic languages ​​are endowed with messianic strength capable of bringing the truth to light. Writing dominates thought and approaches meaning.

The Enlightenment has “disenchanted the world” or “emptied the meaning”[27] and critical theory[28] has analysed its influences. Here is discovered a world guided by mere utilitarian rationality, without ideals[29]. This makes the human (historian) be truly a master of the world and not slave to its own thinking. The Enlightenment has failed and can be seen in the mechanization of life, in the loss of meaning and community values. Also, because the concept of progress is intended as a norm, it leads towards future stages of moral perfection neglecting will and passion. It is therefore necessary to re-illuminate the Enlightenment, rereading it in a romantic key. This is the hidden message from Benjamin’s thesis on the concept of history[30]. The experience must be made romantic by adding irritation. Experience thus is able to make the breaking of the aura possible but also and therefore make it possible to fully read and understand it. Romanticism must not be bourgeois but must follow an idea of ​​humanity, based on true experience. Erlebnis is to make experience passively, Erfahrung is to live the experience, gaining from the process.

Hermeneutics is the key to understand the complex and dense Theses on the concept of history. History as art is pregnant with meaning. The art critic, like the critic of history, must trace the true and authentic content of the work, making it current. This is sometimes difficult for the author, just as it is difficult for the passive inhabitant of the present to grasp the truth in the here and now, together with all the possibilities of revolution, which Benjamin indicates with the concept of constellation. The purpose of his work can be indicated as the search for a broader rationality than the traditional Enlightenment attitude[31].

Another relevant writing to understand the background of the Theses is Capitalism as religion[32] of 1921. Capitalism fulfils the same concerns that religions responded to. The church was the governing body, now it’s finance, or the capitalist-financial ideal. Every day is a celebration of this wrong historical conception and it can be changed. The underpinning of that capital soul is summarized with this identity: fault is debt, faith is credit. Faith is the reiteration of the entangled creed in an erroneous ideological perspective for Benjamin[33]. This is why in his mystical analysis and consideration of language, Benjamin proposes to create a tower as a prelapsarian babel, where to find a paradisiacal nominal Language. Therefore, a sort of genealogical analysis but updated. Current in time. It differs from the classical idea of faithful translation to the original. Each epoch must update the translations to re-actualize them.

It is relevant to consider how Benjamin analyses language as if he was analysing history. Sense, and not just form, must be preferred, without forgetting the persistence of form in reality. The goal is then about aesthetic, and in history is to reach nominal Language that defines things for what they are. Benjamin sees hope where it has been cut[34]. The thinker suggests to contemplate “Ideas” (from the Greek ἰδέα, to see). Such as Truth is idea and name. Ideas (truths and therefore images) are to be understood as deified words, free from original sin, but in any case, linked to the immanent, and therefore to be interpreted.

The figure of the artist is therefore fundamental. Because he shapes reality with his allegorical intentionality. As only a stronger subject can beat the dominant subjectivity. The meeting in Capri of a crowd adoring the Duce Mussolini makes him understand how the same mass does not worship the Duce but the propaganda that surrounds it, i.e. the aura. Hence the intuitions behind the final part of the celebrated Reproduction/Reproducibility[35]work, where he declares it necessary to re-politicise art and free it from fascist aestheticization[36]. Therefore, Marxism and Marx inspire the Passages of Paris[37], which are an analysis of society but with all the mystical theological knowledge filtered by and on Benjamin’s “Language of things”. He wrote these Passages in Paris. They are narratives of events rather than explanations of something. He didn’t intend to theorize but he wants to operate, like in movies or photography, from a near standpoint. Namely, a fragmented language that allows a constellation of concepts and times. He describes particularities (shops, boards, showcases, etc) in order to explain more general mechanism of the consumer and capitalistic society. He analyses how economy is declined into culture. It is possible to consider him as an archaeologist, that among the ruins he looks for the fragments that history has forgotten[38].

The intent is to analyse the spirit, the aura carried by the phantasmagoria of the objects transcendent from the superstructure. Art is an instrument to which Benjamin dedicates several writings[39]. Art serves as a tool to understand the world. For example, technical progress somehow widens the moral distance between man’s moral action and action itself. Creating paradoxes and injustices to which a real solution and fault result complex to provide. Responsibility is entrusted to objects. Here is how instrumentality dominates human freedom[40]. But Benjamin’s hope is that technique could also free the masses. It is possible to grasp that looking at some of the famous Benjamin’s work on the art techniques. For example, in Little History of Photography[41]and The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility[42]. Photo is art. It is more accessible. Photography is art because art is photography (reference to mystical image in still/firm time). The downside is that reproduction risks to not producing real experience[43], as everything seems mere repetition. The reproduction of the works of art leads to the destruction of the aura[44], the inner here and now, setting the bases for the market evolution of its perception[45]. This is why the first films try to recreate magic and fantastic situations, in order to give aura to their artistic projections[46].

What catches the attention is therefore the timing and space through with which this aura expresses itself. Actors and politicians benefit an aura, a phantasmagoria that is conveyed by marketing and advertising, arbitrarily building the facts narration[47]. From these analyses the double-edged Benjamin comes out. His materialistic theories intersect with his theological-linguistic theories. The mimesis expressed in Benjamin is dual. On one side a natural mimesis and on the other a human (cultural) mimesis. Beyond the sensitive, there is an imitation inscribed in the language, between object and speech. In writing one can grasp the highest meaning. The world is therefore full of symbols and it is not necessary to start from the subject to grasp them, as it is merely corrupt. Signs therefore have two capacities. They are tools and have the possibility of assigning their real name and meaning to things because they are the custodians of the mimetic capacity. Thus, not only nature present itself as a text to be interpreted but also the nature of language. In this way, similarly, Kafka tells of the mythological values ​​that survive in the civilized world. The study on films and photography along with The Passages represent the technological advances that had deceived collective consciousness in the coils of a dream: the dream of humanity’s progress for a better future. It is necessary to awake humanity from this illusion to realize an authentic and human history. The main themes of The Passage are natural history; the denunciation of the overwhelming power of goods adored as divinities; the criticism of the concept of progress; and the concept of dialectical image.

As stated in the Theses, the author affirms that the historical nature and social world is not authentic and natural, as instead the dominant ideology maintains. An instrument aimed at finding the truth in various situations is therefore outlined. If Darwin claimed that nature had an evolutionary history, Benjamin replied that the evolution of history was not natural (there is not a single logical course required).

The very idea of ​​uniqueness is a myth and the mythical character of capitalism, as a constant repetition of the identical, is seen in commerce and emphasized in the means of technical and artistic production. The products imitate and are linked to the past and are hardly revolutionary. Thus, the same exploitation of antiquity is repeated. If with Marx there was the fetishism of commodities adored like divinities, for Benjamin there is now the fetishism of images. The products become independent from those who produce them, goods become a fetish with which people communicate. The producer becomes a derivative of the produced object and the object becomes subject while people become objects. The exchange value therefore hides the real value of the goods. Thanks to art this is therefore visible. Compared to Marx who focuses on production, Benjamin focuses on the market and the fetishist character of the goods on display studying the phantasmagoria, that is based on a primitive religious fetishism related to the worship of sacred objects. The goods are everyone’s object of desire, without anyone opposing the magical character of it. Just like the story told, it’s hard to resist it. The objects themselves are phantasmagorias offered as new but always old, like the ideal of history.

The myth of future progress and happiness had harnessed the collective consciousness and also the social movements that identified social progress with technological evolution (forgetting that it would change by maintaining production relations and the existing social order). Here came the error. Progress should not be conceived as a law of history. The prospect of history that is relentlessly advancing is like a mad locomotive. History does not have a destiny already always marked, but it is the result of the will of people.

The dialectical image is a loaded sense theoretical image used by Benjamin with different intents. It shows wishes and ruins, idyllic moments and violent phases. It is a way to underline the paradoxes of capitalism and history with its utopian potential and loyalty to traditional ideals. With these dialectical images Benjamin wanted to awaken citizens from the dream of capitalism; understand the crudeness of the present, and grasp the past in the present, in history and in language. Because Benjamin conceives history as a fusion of times, where it is possible to see at a glance what it has been to unite with the present here and now in a constellation of new possibilities and narratives.

Overall, the Benjaminian narration of The Angel of History is a milestone to grasp how important (consciously or not) Art performances can be proliferous in the sake of critical analysis. The Angel of History is a vision capable of interpreting the auratic composition of objects within their time and linguistic compounds, opening a completely different perception of history and human evolution, looking for the soteriological history.

Bibliography:

J. BAUDRILLARD, La societé de consommation. Ses mytes ses structures, Gallimar, Paris, 1974, trad. it. G.  Gozzi e P. Stefani, La società dei consumi, Bologna, 2010.

W. BENJAMIN, Theses on the Philosophy of History, ca. 1935-40, in W. BENJAMIN, Illuminations, 1955, edited by H. Arendt, tr. by H. Zorn, The Bodley Head, London, 2015.

W. BENJAMIN, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels,1925, Eng. tr. The Origin of German Tragic Drama.

W. BENJAMIN, Sul concetto di storia, a cura di Gianfranco Bonola e Michele Ranchetti, Einaudi, Torino, 1997.

W. BENJAMIN, Kapitalismus als religion, 1921,in Gesammelte Schriften, edited by R. Tiedemann, H.    Schweppenhäuser, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 1985, Eng. tr. Capitalism as Religion.

W. BENJAMIN, Kleine Geschichte Fotografie, 1931, Eng. Tr. Little History of Photography.

W. BENJAMIN, Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, 1936, Eng. trad., The Work of             Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, (second version, first typescript).

W. BENJAMIN, Passagenwerk, 1927-40.

P. BOURDIEU, Cose dette. Verso una sociologia riflessiva, Orthotes Editrice, Napoli-Salerno, 2013.

T.S ELIOT, The Waste Land, 1922.

M. B. HANSEN, Benjamin’s Aura, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 34, No. 2, 2008.

M. LÖWY, Segnalatore d’incendio, cit., p.77.

M. WEBER, Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus,1904-5, Eng. tr. The Protestant Ethic and         the Spirit of Capitalism.


[1] W. BENJAMIN, Theses on the Philosophy of History, ca. 1935-40, in W. BENJAMIN, Illuminations, 1955, edited by H. Arendt, tr. by H. Zorn, The Bodley Head, London, 2015.

[2] In the first thesis, historical materialism is presented as an automaton playing chess (history), which is believed to be destined for victory because it knows the laws of history. But for Benjamin this automaton needs theology inside because it is the charge of utopian enthusiasm, and of the desire to transform the world here and now. Theoretic actions must therefore infuse messianic force into revolutionary politics.

[3] Cf. II thesis. The past awakens the enthusiasm of what could have been and was not and thus it deserves to be redeemed. The idea of redemption is not in the future, but in the here and now, and it must not escape opportunities for happiness.

[4] He argues that with a new form of memory, the present can be changed. Therefore, he takes the praxis from the past to update it, changing it, outside of nostalgia. A sort of moral commitment with what has already happened.

[5] Here the concept of waste is highlighted. A discard that also thanks to art and its application is possible to see.

[6] Materialist historiography.

[7] Redemption of the past equals the ideal naming.

[8] A similar image of destruction and ruins is presented by T.S Eliot in The Waste Land,1922.

[9] The look full of sadness was the look that materialistic historians should had in looking at the past, in order to desire redemption against progress that proved to be fatal.

[10] Habitus. Cf. P. BOURDIEU, Cose dette. Verso una sociologia riflessiva, Orthotes Editrice, Napoli-Salerno, 2013.

[11] Time is one of the main focus of him. He rejects the simple Kronos (mechanical time), because time is not an arrow towards the best, but everything can change. Then he accounts to Kairos (power, occasion), qualitative moment of zeitgeist, or the “time-now”, nunc stans.

[12] This dialectic synchronizes the present trice with past moments to favor the revolution and avenge the past. Revelation is in secular history, and it happened in the messianic, heavenly time (imbued with fraternal feeling). This method should reconcile nature and humans, as happened before the disintegration of language that led individuals to want to dominate everything, and then actually be dominated by it. Practically, the dialectical image is understandable in the present as a recurrence of a selected past that reappears. For instance, the recurrence of the 80’s style in the present pop culture, is not completely given by chance. This happens in every bit of present in every time. Analysing this aspect of the present gives insight on what is left aside from memory and what is presented as actual and idealistic. There is a difference between divination and commemoration. The former one is the inherited time and it has no critique within, the latter one is the etic choice that escapes the progressive development of universal history, because is driven by a conscious redemption.

[13] In the Benjaminian meditations on Klee’s painting there is also the Luciferian element of satanic beauty that comes from Baudelaire. In this regard, Michael Löwy (1938-) cites two poems from the Fleurs du mal that could have influenced the thesis: Une gravure fantastique (the infinite, windy cemetery / where people of history sleep / under the rays of a white and pale sun ) and Femmes damnées (Descend, descend, lamentable victims, / run to hell without escape! / Down to the deepest abyss, where together, / scourged by a wind that does not come from the sky, / crimes crumble like a deaf hurricane!). Cf. M. Löwy, Segnalatore dincendio, cit., p.77. For poems Cf. C. Baudelaire, Opere, curated by G. Raboni e G. Montesano, Introduzione di G. Macchia, Mondadori, Milano 1996, pp.144-145, 230-233.

[14] Cf. II thesis.

[15] Eingedenken.

[16] It is precisely the figure of the Angel of history, who perceives history as a catastrophe a parte Dei, the great invention of Benjamin.

[17] Here Benjamin’s historical pessimism emerges very clearly: in the moment of danger, in the present that he is experiencing, despite having indicated to the intellectual the criteria for a new methodology of history opposite to that of historicism (including social democracy and Marxism), he does not believe that this task can be accomplished. Hope is not for us, he seems to say with Kafka, but for future generations. The future, however, here has a different meaning from what those who look to the progress and inevitability of the revolution expect. The Angel, in fact, turns his back on him, as the future is absolutely uncertain, precisely because the past has not yet been redeemed due to the impotence of the historian’s work in the present situation. In the overall reading of the Theses, Benjamin leaves a weak hope that does not allow to completely identify the work of the historian with that of the Angel: the latter responds to the absolute impotence of the latter with a theoretical and political work aimed at attempting to modify the own present.

[18] The Angel cannot do anything.

[19] Here the Angel.

[20] The messiah of which he speaks from theses VI.

[21] Only the cultural task remains: to recover the gaze of the Angel and to turn one’s back on the optimism of progress (turned to the future), looking at the face from where rubble accumulates. The problem therefore remains: the storm certainly cannot be stopped. And it is indicative that it comes from the past, the paradise of origin, the earthly paradise: as the Kabbalistic doctrine of the tiqqun states, the original state of divine harmony was broken by the shevirat hakkelim, the “crushing of the vessels”, and this break cannot be restored by men, but only by an messianic eschatological intervention. This is the only way to hope for restitutio in integrum.

[22] A strong analogy can be seen with the study of Benjamin’s language. For him, the classless society of the future, the new paradise, does not constitute a pure and simple return to that of prehistory: it contains within itself, as a dialectical synthesis, all the past of humanity (all the history of language). True universal history, founded on the universal remembrance of all victims without exception, the profane equivalent of the resurrection of the dead, will only be possible in the future classless society.

[23] Not passive memory and divination on what seems to be the main history, but active and revolutionary remembrance on the lost and the possible future.

[24] His materialism has the imprint of theology to combat injustice that has continued in history (I thesis). Materialism is rebellion and struggle of oppression, theology, tenacity and redemption. Materialism alone cannot be revolutionary because it trusts only in the tension between classes, therefore the strength inscribed in Jewish theology (will, redemption, tenacity, change, trust, remembrance) is needed to change things in the here and now. To fight the world, a cultural revolution “from above” (of thought) is needed. Youth must make the sacrosanct decision for change. Interesting how he perceives the idea of ​​progress as early as 1915 in The students’ lives essay. Where he contrasts the need to conceive each present as a “state of perfection” (i.e. messianic kingdom that can transform the world here and now).

[25] The Jewish ban on building reified images.

[26] According to Benjamin there is no dialogue that is not tragic.

[27] Max Weber.

[28] Adorno with Horkheimer.

[29] Benjamin follows Kant in saying that humanity must have the courage to know, and that means are needed, but above all, the ends. And does a critic of Heidegger who he considered servile because close to national socialism and who uses “being there” as an authentic animal instinct who uses “tradition” to shine heroically but betrayed by himself. Heidegger loved blood and tradition, things that Benjamin places in the mythology that creates history. War is therefore a barbarism that has its roots in the erroneous concept of development now consecrated in the “reality” of man in society and in its thought. Heidegger is the expression of historicism, the belief that history proceeds in a constant evolution bent to reason and progress.

[30] Thus, reread Kant without scientific forcing.

[31] Following this line, in Critique for violence hemakes criticism a moral issue. Accusation of violent imposition is natural law (such as natural law, which sees the good end but justifies violence) and positive law (which justifies unjustified natural violence, the violence of law). Violence, an instance found by analysing the course of time, culture and history through the eyes of Benjamin, founds and preserves the right to injustice. This violence has a mystical character for Benjamin and is the repetition of the right of the powerful. In this case the solution can be the strike, which has a divine character and love of life. It is a stop of time, an essential element expressed in the Theses on history.

[32] W. BENJAMIN, Kapitalismus als religion, 1921, in Gesammelte Schriften, edited by R. Tiedemann, H. Schweppenhäuser, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 1985, Eng. tr. Capitalism as Religion. Text inspired by Max Weber. F. M. WEBER, Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus,1904-5, Eng. tr. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

[33] The poor and the weak are guilty of not accounting for the cult due to capital and therefore go into debt to be “healthy”. Benjamin reasons about the concept of inverse theology as essential. It justifies Benjamin in saying that the messiah should be profane. The messiah who can intervene in history will not be transcendental, but profane because history is profane, and true human happiness is here and now, not in another place. This future transcendentality of happiness is one of the elements of the dominant ideology against the weak.

[34] For example, in the The Origin of German Tragic Drama he sees how the conflict between the bourgeoisie and nobility is evident in the Baroque world and could have resolved differently (instead of the dominant instrumental reason that founded inhuman capitalism). The tragedy here is seen as mystifying mythology, while the drama speaks of the raw reality of the facts, full of redemptive possibilities. This is how to understand an element without using general concepts, but “constructions of contexts”, different perspectives.

[35] W. BENJAMIN, Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, 1936, Eng. trad., The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, (second version, first typescript).

[36] Despite these affinities with communism, which remains to change the world not only theoretically, he feels betrayed and moves away. For example, he sees in Soviets the desire to create a new structure but in facts, new castes are being created.

[37] W. BENJAMIN, Passagenwerk, 1927-40.

[38] This can be understood from the subtitle of the Paris work “a dialectical phantasmagoria”.

[39] He appreciates surrealism in that it accords language to images. Materialism and spirituality. For example, the art essays praises Dadaism which desacralized art and breaks the mold of the market and conventionality. While for example Futurism is not good because it defends the aesthetics of accelerated life and is not interested in the link between art and social liberation.

[40] Cf. M. HORKHEIMER, Eclipse of Reason, 1947, Mansfield Centre, CT, 2013.

[41] W. BENJAMIN, Kleine Geschichte Fotografie, 1931, Eng. Tr. Little History of Photography.

[42] Cf. W. BENJAMIN, Kleine Geschichte Fotografie, 1931, Eng. Tr. Little History of Photography. W. BENJAMIN, Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, 1936, Eng. trad., The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, (second version, first typescript).

[43] Erfahrung / Erlebnis. Advertising or regime language.

[44] M. B. HANSEN, Benjamin’s Aura, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 34, No. 2, 2008.

[45] In reproduction the magical and cultural character is lost, gaining exhibition value.

[46] E.g. Griffith, or Gance. “[…] a retrograde in front of a Picasso turns into a progressive in front of a Chaplin” (Benjamin).

[47] For example, creating sensation (creative writing or storytelling science).

One thought on “Angelus Novus’ Eyesight: On Benjamin’s Aesthetic Mysticism

  1. Pingback: Angelus Novus’ Eyesight: On Benjamin’s Aesthetic Mysticism – The Philosophical Hack

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