To Seize the Truth (Reading Benjamin’s Theses V & VI)

poussin - The_ashes_of_phocion_collected_by_his_widow_1648
Nicolas Poussin, Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion (1648)


• V: Benjamin’s theory of the image, from his early interest in allegory to his late formulation of the ‘dialectical image.’
• VI: The stakes of radical historical work as a means of ‘telling history against the grain.’

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Thesis V:

The true image of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image that flashes up at the moment of its recognizability, and is never seen again. “The truth will not run away from us:” this statement by Gottfried Keller indicates exactly that point in historicism’s image of history where the image is pierced by historical materialism. For it is an irretrievable image of the past which threatens to disappear in any present that does not recognize itself as intended in that image. Continue reading “To Seize the Truth (Reading Benjamin’s Theses V & VI)”

What is Historical? (Reading Benjamin’s Theses III & IV)

Klutsis - Lenin_and_socialist_reconstruction_Design_for_poster_-_Gustavs_Klucis
Gustav Klutsis, Lenin and Socialist Reconstruction (1920).


• III: The practices of historian and chronicler; their methods of citation, repetition, and judgement.
• IV: The materialist conception of history as class struggle.

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Thesis III:

The chronicler who narrates events without distinguishing between major and minor ones acts in accord with the following truth: nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost to history. Of course only a redeemed mankind is granted the fullness of its past—which is to say, only for a redeemed mankind has its past become citable in all its moments. Each moment it has lived becomes a citation a l’ordre du jour [a citation to be taken up as (part of) the business of the day]. And that day is Judgment Day. Continue reading “What is Historical? (Reading Benjamin’s Theses III & IV)”

The Soteriological Machine (Reading Benjamin’s Theses I & II)

Varo - The Juggler - 1956
Remedios Varo, The Juggler (1956).


• I: Benjamin’s opening allegory of the Mechanical Turk, the distinction between historical materialism and historicism, and the place of theology.
• II: The retrospective definition of happiness and the secular counterparts to messianic redemption.

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Thesis I:

There was once, we know, an automaton constructed in such a way that it could respond to every move by a chess player with a countermove that would ensure the winning of the game. A puppet wearing Turkish attire and with a hookah in its mouth sat before a chessboard placed on a large table. A system of mirrors created the illusion that this table was transparent on all sides. Actually, a hunchbacked dwarf—a master at chess—sat inside and guided the puppet’s hand by means of strings. One can imagine a philosophic counterpart to this apparatus. The puppet, called “historical materialism,” is to win all the time. It can easily be a match for anyone if it enlists the services of theology, which today, as we know, is small and ugly and has to keep out of sight. Continue reading “The Soteriological Machine (Reading Benjamin’s Theses I & II)”

Reading Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Concept of History (Contents)

benjamin reading

From January 12th to February 9th 2023, I delivered a series of lectures for the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy on Walter’s Benjamin’s final work, the “Theses on the Concept of History.” These lectures examined each of the theses in turn, identifying their core concepts as they are introduced and offering explanations for the more cryptic passages with reference to Benjamin’s earlier works. What follows is a short introduction to the theses and their place within Benjamin’s life and legacy, followed by a table of contents for the lectures. I’ll be tidying up my lecture notes and adding them here over the next few weeks, with this post serving as a hub for those that follow. Continue reading “Reading Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Concept of History (Contents)”