Saturday, November 11, 2006

Benjamin on progress

"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. This 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, 'Theses on the philosophy of history' in Illuminations.
Image: Klee's Angelus Novus.


Anonymous said...

Nice analysis! Ahhh, reminds me of my teenage years studying modern art.

byron smith said...

I read this Benjamin quote years ago while studying philosophy and the concept of progress as an ever-growing pile of wreckage was powerful back then (even though I was quite sceptical of its applicability, since I still believed quite strongly in progress at the time). The quote stuck with me and when I posted this was actually the first time I'd bothered to go and look at the image.

byron smith said...

Tristan on poverty of care, a reflection on this Benjamin quote.