Friday, 19 June 2009

The Angel of History

Angelus Novus by Paul Klee 1932
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 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 in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a 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.

-- Walter Benjamin, 9th thesis on history. It is said that Hannah Arendt smuggled the manuscript of his ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ across the Spanish-French border at Portbou a few months after his death.

Human history: see Carolyn Forché poems The Angel of History (1995) and the anthology she edited, Against Forgetting: 20th Century Poetry of Witness (1993); Doron Altaratz' video; Wikipedia on the lives of Klee, Benjamin and Arendt; Bruno Arpaia's novel, The Angel of History (2006) about Arendt and Benjamin and their circle. TBA: A video of Chad Markey's Kairos presentation 18 Jun 09.

Human pollution: Tyee 19 Jun 09 and Wikipedia on the Great Pacific Garbage Swirl: an estimated 100 million tons of plastic debris, which is 7 times the amount of living plankton in the area, and is a highly efficient killer of sea life.

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