What the Angel Sees (Reading Benjamin’s Theses IX & X)

Caron - Dionysius the Areopagite Converting the Pagan Philosophers 1572
Antoine Caron, Dionysius the Areopagite Converting the Pagan Philosophers (1572).


• IX: The Angel of History, some readings thereof and a critique of its uptake as a positive model for historical thought.
• X: The perils of escaping the Angel’s melancholy position: the faith in progress that snares us and the problematics of Benjamin’s search for an archaic answer to modernity.

Return to contents
Previous section (VII & VIII)
Next section (XI & XII)

Thesis IX:

My wing is ready for flight,
I would like to turn back.
If I stayed everliving time,
I’d still have little luck.
—Gerhard Scholem, “Greetings from the Angelus”

There is a picture by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel who seems about to move away from something he stares at. His eyes are wide, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look. His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at 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 and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm.

(1) The allegorical scene

We begin the most famous of Benjamin’s theses with a reference to Paul Klee’s 1920 ink-wash drawing, titled Angelus Novus, or the New Angel, which has become practically synonymous with Benjamin’s philosophy of history if not his work in general. The reference to Klee’s drawing is not incidental: it was purchased by Benjamin in the spring of 1921 and was one of his prized possessions, which he kept with him throughout his travels in Germany as a journeyman critic, and which followed him into his French exile in the early 1930s.[1] So famous has this picture become that it is difficult today to extract it from its fame and figure out what initially attracted Benjamin to it, much less what use he wished to make of it in the extended allegory that makes up his ninth thesis. To make this process a touch easier, we can look at the Angel askew by examining some of Benjamin’s earlier engagements with the picture.

Paul-Klee angelus novus
Paul Klee, Angelus Novus (1920).

Indeed, this is not the first time that Benjamin had written on Klee’s Angel. In the conclusion to a 1931 essay on the critic Karl Kraus, Benjamin likens Kraus’s destructive practice to the Angelus Novus, “who preferred to free men by taking from them, rather than make them happy by giving to them.”[2] Evidently this is a different treatment of the Angel than the one found in the theses of 1940, in which the angel wishes to free humanity but is incapable of doing so. But still, in both accounts Benjamin emphasises the ephemerality of the Angel’s position in the world, suggesting that it is “perhaps one of those who, according to the Talmud, are at each moment created anew in countless throngs, and who, once they have raised their voices before God, cease and pass into nothingness. Lamenting, chastising, or rejoicing? No matter.”[3] The message that this angel brings is not one of good news, or not exactly, because it announces the “power not to preserve but to purify, to tear from context, to destroy”—a power that Benjamin notes is the only one in which the “hope still resides that something might survive this age—because it was wrenched from it.”[4]

This ambiguous hope, which lies not in this world but in its annihilation, will find a new shape in the theses of 1940, and it is also a sentiment foreshadowed in Gershom Scholem’s dedicatory poem that heads the Thesis IX. The stanza that introduces us to the Angel is taken from a poem that Scholem wrote on the occasion of Benjamin’s twenty-ninth birthday in 1921. An act of interpretation on Klee’s drawing, Scholem’s poem is written in the voice of the Angel, who hangs “nobly on the wall,” sent from heaven to watch over a humanity that does not interest it. In the final two stanzas of the poem, which follow the lines quoted in Benjamin’s thesis, the Angel declares:

“My eye is darkest black and full,
My gaze is never blank.
I know what I am to announce
And many other things

I am an unsymbolic thing.
My meaning is what I am.
You turn the magic ring is vain.
I have no sense.”[5]

In both Scholem’s and Benjamin’s texts we find substantial departures from the visible content of the drawing, adding to the scene new elements and subtly altering details of the Angel’s demeanour. Note that after introducing Klee’s New Angel in the first three sentences of the thesis, Benjamin adds that this is how the Angel of history must look. So there is a distinction to be made between Klee’s New Angel and Benjamin’s Angel of history—and although the drawn angel serves as a visual reference upon which we can surmise the appearance of the Angel of history, we are given liberty to depart from the specific features of Klee’s Angel, and turn to Benjamin’s own Angel of history.

(2) The Angel

There has been proposed that there is a likeness between this Angel of history and the angel that stands at the gates of Eden, forbidding the return of humanity to its state of primordial innocence and condemning us to lives of labour. Such a reading is suggested by Horkheimer and Adorno’s comments in Dialectic of Enlightenment about the angel with a fiery sword, who “drove humans out of paradise and on to the path of technical progress, [and who] is itself the symbol of that progress.”[6] What Benjamin adds to the biblical angel is its gaze, which expresses a desire to turn back the process of which it is the guardian, to halt the storm and piece together what has been broken. In Löwy’s account, the Angel has a “tragic gaze” because of its sympathy for a humanity that it cannot save and its desire “to bind the wounds of the victims crushed beneath the pile of ruins, [although] the storm carries it on inexorably toward the repetition of the past: to new catastrophes, new hecatombs, even vaster and more destructive.”[7] However, this reading runs counter to Benjamin’s comments in 1931 that the Angel can save humanity only by a process of subtraction, expressing a destructive character that sees humanity from an impersonal standpoint. It also contradicts Scholem’s characterisation of the Angel as a being disinterested in its human charges, as it stands as a mute witness, his eyes dark and full but never blank.

Following Scholem’s reading of both Klee’s picture and Benjamin’s commentary, Christine Buci-Glucksmann connects the Angel of History to a short, delirious text that Benjamin wrote in Ibiza in 1933. This text is titled “Agelisaus Santander,” a near anagram to Der Engel Satanas, or ‘The Angel of Satan,’ and describes the Angel as a creature apart from this world: “The angel resembles everything from which I have had to part: the people, and especially the things. He dwells in the things I no longer possess. He makes them transparent, and behind each of them appears the figure of the person for whom they are intended.”[8] For Buci-Glucksmann, the ambivalence of the Angel places it in a “border zone beyond and beneath the human,” inhabited by demonic and angelic forces alike, whose interests cannot coincide with those of the humans they observe, manipulate, and contemplate.[9] In reading the Angel as something other than human and without an explicitly moral standpoint on human affairs, Buci-Glucksmann defuses the typical antinomy of Benjamin scholarship, that places him as either a Marxist humanist or a Jewish-Messianic mystic. Instead, she makes the Angel a more purely modernist figure, reminiscent of the strange beings that populate the poems of Rilke or the stories of Kafka. Indeed, it is the inhumanity of the angel in Kafka’s work that interests Benjamin, when he writes of the angelic standpoint as one that is concomitant with a vision of imminent human destruction: “I would say that this reality is now almost beyond the individual’s capacity to experience, and that Kafka’s world, often so serene and pervaded by angels, is the exact complement of his age, which is preparing to do away with considerable segments of this planet’s population.”[10] While the world burns, the angels watch on.

Paul Klee, Woher? Wo? Wohin? (1940).

It is the melancholy of the Angel that Gillian Rose picks up on in her critical reading of the passage, the allegorical complexity of which she attributes to Benjamin’s own ambivalence, excluded as he is from the perspective of the angels, and as he futilely yearns for an “invisible, divine violence” imposed from outside creation.[11] Without an earthly solution to the human conflicts that trouble the Angel, and without intercession from on high, Benjamin’s allegory describes a “traumatized Angel,” which is unable to praise God and His works and therefore never able to leave this world, but is nevertheless driven onwards by the chaos that reigns over the earth; “he cannot stay and he cannot dissolve, but must impotently watch in horror the single catastrophe of History, the infernal raging caused by the same paradisical storm, as it piles up its debris at his feet.”[12] Far from a positive ideal for historical thought, the Angel speaks to our incapacity to fully grasp the motions of history, to bridge the gap between history and observer, and to intervene and prevent the destruction that bears down upon our heads.

Although commentators as different in their views as the Romantic-humanist Löwy and the Baroque-inhumanist Buci-Glucksmann tend to agree that the Angel stands as an ideal for historical thought, we may still cast doubt on this view and ask whether this angel is truly meant as a model for the historical thinker to follow. Certainly, we have encountered the Angel of history as an ambiguous figure of historical consciousness, whose angelic nature separates it from that history, condemning it to the inert perspective of an observer whose place is neither fully within nor outside of historical events. But although the Angel stands as a subject of historical thought, is its melancholy gaze all that is available to us?

(3) Hegel’s Spirit

To illustrate the significance of Benjamin’s Angel as a subject of history, we might compare it with another, no less infamous historical subject that also seeks to make sense of a past composed of ruins and fragments. I speak, of course, of Hegel’s Spirit, which appears in the final pages of his Phenomenology as a retrospective figure, who descends into a “realm of spirits” to commune with figures representing the earlier stages of its history, to breathe life into those old bones and summon into the present what has lain dormant in the crypt.[13]

At the final stage of its absolute knowledge, Spirit grasps itself and its history as a totality, and having turned back on its previous stages to know itself and its past it becomes “a conscious, self-mediating process.”[14] Spirit in Hegel’s sense is not an ethereal force that stands apart from the events that make up its history, but is the process by which the rational human community becomes conscious of itself and capable of shaping itself. Hegel writes that this realisation of absolute Spirit is retrospective in nature, as it is the point at which Spirit turns back on itself to assess what it has inherited from its history. This can mean the reduction of historical disputes to shadows of their former existence, as when the great philosophical problems of bygone eras are today taught as exercises for schoolchildren. It can also mean the rewriting of historical truth, as when a new form of consciousness is able to grasp something about the past which could not have been understood at the time. This retroactivity of absolute Spirit can even mean the abolition of certain details of the past, which in the present have lost their significance and are no longer deemed worthy of remembrance. In any case, this is the realisation of a true universal history, which is grounded in a Spirit that knows itself as the subject and object of its own historical knowledge.

For Hegel this is all well and good, but in the context of Benjamin’s Theses, we should also take note of the prominent critiques of Hegel’s Spirit of which Benjamin would have been aware. As Georg Lukács writes in History and Class Consciousness, although Hegel’s formulation of absolute Spirit is a major development in the historical consciousness of modernity, in it something crucial has nonetheless been missed. Standing at the pinnacle of bourgeois philosophy, Hegel has apprehended the form of universal history as a conscious, self-mediating process, but he has not grasped the real material instantiation of Spirit in history. Although absolute Spirit is intended as the culmination of a collective self-consciousness that knows itself and actively shapes itself, in doing so it also stands as the end of history in a stable and self-identical state. As Lukács writes:

“This amounts to the self-annulment of history. History is transformed into the mere realization of a goal inherent in its subject, its spirit from the very outset. At the same time, its immanent reality is also annulled: history does not contain its own real autonomous laws of motion, but on the contrary, the latter only really exist and come into their own in the science that comprehends and annuls history, i.e. in absolute knowledge.”[15]

In effect, “Lukács argued that Hegel’s proposed subject-object of history—world spirit—became a mythology” that could not bridge the gap between the idealism of Spirit and the reality of its historical existence.[16] The antinomy that develops here between the process of history and its realised goal remains unresolved in Hegel’s work, which requires history as the object of Spirit’s knowledge while demanding that it be wholly superseded in the knowing subject of history that is Spirit.[17]

(4) Angel contra Spirit

To return to Benjamin, we may find a counterpoint to Hegel’s absolute Spirit in the Angel of History. Like absolute Spirit, the Angel is a conscious subject that attempts to grasp history as a totality, such that “where a chain of events appears before us, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage.” Unlike Hegel’s Spirit, however, the Angel is not the agent of its own destiny, as it is blasted to-and-fro by the storm of progress, flying against its will into a future it cannot see, eyes transfixed on a past it cannot save. Whereas absolute Spirit, as the completion of history, promises a redemption of its past—a redemption which it cannot, perhaps, achieve—the Angel is a figure that apprehends history in its totality but without hope of salvation.

Paul Klee, Aspiring Angel (1939).

In effect, Benjamin’s Angel functions as the melancholic shadow of Hegel’s Spirit. Spirit knows itself as the culmination of its history, grasping itself as both the subject and object of its historical knowledge, and thereby sets itself apart from history as its transcendent conclusion; the Angel, on the other hand, sees the totality of history as an object apart from itself, which it is incapable of reclaiming and making whole. The Angel of History is a mythic figure that understands itself as myth. It is a totalising subject of history that has lost its ambitions of apprehending its place within history, and instead resides in a self-conscious inactivity apart from the events that it beholds.

The Angel is therefore, despite popular readings to the contrary, not a revolutionary figure but an emblem of bourgeois historical thought in the era of its decline. It communicates in allegory the critique of progress developed in the rest of Benjamin’s theses, inverting the imaginary of progressive thought to show its other face: the immutable laws of history become a raging, implacable storm; the gradual completion of progress’s infinite task is transformed into the endless accumulation of ruins; and the hope for a self-conscious subject-object of history gives way to the hopeless proposition of a spirit that watches over history, doomed never to act upon or alter its course. We will see each of these themes developed more fully in the theses that follow, but here, as with the allegory of the Mechanical Turk that opened Benjamin’s meditations, we are shown only a cryptic image to prepare the way.

Thesis X:

The themes which monastic discipline assigned to friars for meditation were designed to turn them away from the world and its affairs. The thoughts we are developing here have a similar aim. At a moment when the politicians in whom the opponents of fascism had placed their hopes are prostrate, and confirm their defeat by betraying their own cause, these observations are intended to extricate the political worldlings from the snares in which the traitors have entangled them. The assumption here is that those politicians’ stubborn faith in progress, their confidence in their “base in the masses,” and, finally, their servile integration in an uncontrollable apparatus are three aspects of the same thing. This consideration is meant to suggest the high price our customary mode of thought will have to pay for a conception of history that avoids any complicity with the concept of history to which those politicians still adhere.

(1) Left-wing melancholy

In the wake of the Angel, we are left reeling. The theses up to this point have built to a monstrous crescendo, gradually casting away all major forms of historical thought and rising to a feverish condemnation of all culture, all civilisation, and all foolish attempts to justify them. Who in this world is not complicit, the Angel seems to ask. Who is not subject to its icy gaze, condemned to lose themselves in the ruins of all our collective endeavours? Such a position of universal pessimism has certainly been attractive to many of Benjamin’s commentators, who take the Angel as an ideal for their own subjective positions. But in another respect Benjamin has written himself into a corner. If everything in this world is a ruin in the making, what point is there in our knowledge of that world, let alone our actions within it? To remove himself from this deadlock, Benjamin deploys the image of the monastic in meditation, whose discipline allows him a relative freedom from worldly affairs.

Taken critically, such a position of worldly disavowal is reminiscent of the position that Benjamin had once criticised as “left-wing melancholy,” defined as a radical attitude lacking a world to act upon.[18] It is also one which Lukács had described several years earlier, as the “utopian view of man as a ‘saint’ who can achieve inner mastery over the external reality that cannot be eliminated.”[19] The idealism of both the left-wing melancholic and the would-be saint means a ceding of all power in this world for the sake of a place reserved in the next. Looking further back, both of these positions may be identified as species of what Hegel called the ‘beautiful soul,’ which lives isolated from the world, self-assured that its inner truth is sufficient for all things, and, darkly, that any opposition to its truth is a chain imposed upon it from outside. “This beautiful soul is a ‘lost soul.’ It communes with its God and tells us what it hears. But it does not listen to what we say. So it has ‘trampled the roots of humanity underfoot.’”[20]

The meditation of the monastic is an odd choice of metaphor for Benjamin, as we are here asked to take on an ascetic practice that is in many respects akin to the melancholic positions criticised in previous theses.[21] But what is at stake here is not so much a turning from the world for its own sake, but an extrication from the vision of worldly ruin that has now overwhelmed us. If we are to disentangle ourselves from the angelic position, we must make a tactical retreat from its world, so as not to be seduced by the faith in progress that keeps its eyes fixed on the storm.

(2) Faith in progress

The ascetism of this thesis is presented in contrast to the faith in progress that has reigned among politicians from Benjamin’s day up to our own. This faith is described as one of three aspects of a singular worldview, which also includes a confidence in the politicians’ “base in the masses,” and “their servile integration in an uncontrollable apparatus.” If the faith in progress speaks for itself as an attitude toward the political course of history, we can elaborate on the other two traits as pertaining to the places of economics and the state within history, respectively. Each of these three elements—faith in progress, the masses, and the machine—will be analysed in more depth in the theses that follow, with the question of the masses predominating in Theses XI and XII, and the critique of progress taking centre stage from Thesis XIII onwards.

If the main part of Benjamin’s critique of progress is still to come, it is worth bearing in mind at this stage that this talk of a ‘faith’ in progress is not metaphorical, and that the progressive view of history is theological in character, with many a religious antecedent. Here we may turn to Franz Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption—a work of heterodox theology that was of great importance to a young Benjamin, which attempts to mix the Christian and secular Hegelian views of history into the framework of Jewish messianism. In that work, Rosenzweig notes that the belief that the realisation of the kingdom of God is imminent, that its appearance is all but assured by the progressive arc of history, is a position of utter despair. “That the kingdom is ‘among you,’ that it is coming ‘today,’ is a notion of the future which eternalizes the moment,” writes Rosenzwieg, which is to say that there is no motion, no development in history, and therefore no achievement of the projected future.[22] Rosenzwieg continues:

“[Progress] discloses its real nature soon enough through the concept of endlessness. Even if there is talk of ‘eternal’ progress—in truth it is but ‘interminable’ progress that is meant. It is a progress which progresses permanently on its way […] Thus the real idea of progress resists nothing so strongly as the possibility that the ‘ideal goal’ could and should be reached, perhaps in the next moment, or even this very moment.”[23]

The truth of progress is stasis. The future that is promised never arrives, although our faith holds that it may be realised at any moment.

(3) Dream-filled sleep of capitalism

In secular terms, this indefinitely extended moment before revelation can be understood as the perceived stasis of a society lacking the ideological scope to see beyond its present moment. That is, it is the eternal present of a historical moment that admits no alternative to itself, while promising the progress onto a better world that never arrives. In today’s theoretical parlance we could call this a kind of ‘capitalist realism,’ but Benjamin furnishes us with an allegorical image to better illustrate the hidden complexities of the situation.[24] In the Arcades Project, Benjamin writes of capitalism as a spell of sleep that was cast over modernity, bottling up the forces of consciousness that had been awoken by the Enlightenment, and haunted by its own unconscious elements that threaten to shatter the dream. In Benjamin’s words, “capitalism was a natural phenomenon with which a new dream-filled sleep came over Europe, and, through it, a reactivation of mythic forces [which now run rampant while] the first tremors of awakening serve to deepen sleep.”[25] With the metaphor of sleep comes the relation between dream-content and its causes, which Benjamin maps onto the Marxist notions of superstructure and base, such that the dreamworld of culture can only be truly grasped by relating it to the world hidden from that dream:

“The economic conditions under which society exists are expressed in the superstructure—precisely as, with the sleeper, an overfull stomach finds not its reflection but its expression in the contents of dreams, which, from a causal point of view, it may be said to ‘condition.’ The collective, from the first, expresses the conditions of its life. These find their expression in the dream and their interpretation in the awakening.”[26]

Like the stomach of the fitful sleeper, the economic base lies unconsciously within the capitalist dreamworld, becoming legible only in the language of the dreams and nightmares that fill its cultural sphere. For as long as these economic processes remain unrecognised they appear only as natural, unchanging facets of capitalist society, but when they are seized upon by the dreaming collective they are revealed as the hidden conditions that make the dream possible.[27] The process of awaking is therefore the process of dispelling the dreamworld of capitalism by bringing it out of the background of life and into the full light of consciousness.[28] It is also, stated in the political terms of the theses, the moment that faith in progress and all its attendant illusions are dispelled, allowing the historical present to be grasped as something other than an eternal, self-same moment.

(4) The ‘archaeomodern’ turn

Before moving on from this thesis, I would like to take the opportunity to mention a notable critique of the concept of the collective dreamworld, that goes some way to uncovering the intricacies of Benjamin’s theory of history and some of the difficulties that he faces in extricating himself from the melancholic position of his Angel. The critique I’d like to discuss is one made by Jacques Ranciere in his essay on what he calls the ‘archaeomodern’ turn in Benjamin’s thought. This turn is labelled ‘archaeomodern’ because it is both inextricably modern—that is, of the present, of the new—while sequestering an archaic past within its designs upon the future. Ranciere contrasts Benjamin’s position with that of Hegel, for whom modernity is essentially completed in the state of absolute Spirit, and compares it with that of Marx, who preserves the incomplete project of modernity in the anticipation of its completion in a future communist epoch. For Benjamin, however, the goal of modernity is unrecoverable because it is lodged in the past as the object of our desire, of which we dream but which we cannot recall.[29]

Recall in Thesis II when Benjamin defines happiness as the return of a past situation, object, or person; how in Thesis V he formulates the irretrievable image of the past as an involuntary memory; or how he constructs the utopian logic of the wish-image that refers its desire back to the primordial freedom of classless society. In each of these cases what is most sought after is also what is most distant, most inaccessibly lost in a historical sequence that spirals down through the ages to the most ancient days of humankind. When lost in the depths of history, to awaken from one dream means only to be caught in another, older dream—one which predates the ‘new’ dream-filled sleep of capitalism, but which is no doubt antedated by still more archaic dreamworlds.

Hence, Ranciere writes that “the archaeomodern turn presupposes a new turn—one turn more. The deeper the dream, the further the awakening, the more consistent is the evidence of the modern cogito, of the collective subject of modernity. Just as the sleep has become a dream, the dream becomes a phantasmagoria […] So the logic of the archaeomodern might be a logic of one-turn-more, a logic of the regressio ad infinitum, located at the core of the modern project.”[30] This is the dilemma that faces Benjamin’s melancholy Angel, who peers through the storm of progress to apprehend an endless landscape of rubble, just as much as it is a challenge for all modernist turns, which are perpetually confronted by the persistence of the archaic.[31] It is also the sort of problem that will not so much be resolved as it will be passed over, moved into the background of the following theses, as Benjamin turns from the Angel’s vision of universal ruin toward the more immediate matters of political survival.


[1] See the biographical note for 1921 in Walter Benjamin, Selected Works, vol. 1, eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 506.

[2] Walter Benjamin, Selected Works, vol. 2, eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 456.

[3] Benjamin, Selected Works 2, 457.

[4] Benjamin, Selected Works 2, 455.

[5] Walter Benjamin, Correspondence: 1910-1940, trans. Manfred R. Jacobson and Evelyn M. Jacobson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 184-5.

[6] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 148.

[7] Michael Löwy, Fire Alarm, trans. Chris Turner (London: Verso, 2005), 64.

[8] Benjamin, Selected Works 2, 715.

[9] Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Baroque Reason, trans. Patrick Camiller (London: Sage, 1994), 44.

[10] Walter Benjamin, Selected Works, vol. 3, eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 326.

[11] Gillian Rose, Judaism and Modernity (London: Verso, 1993), 209.

[12] Rose, Judaism and Modernity, 209.

[13] G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Terry Pinkard (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), §808.

[14] G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), §808.

[15] Georg Lukács, The Young Hegel, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Merlin Press, 1975), 546-7.

[16] Daniel Andrés López, Lukács: Praxis and the Absolute (Chicago: Haymarket, 2020), 423.

[17] See Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Merlin Press, 1971), 194: “Mythologies are always born where two terminal points, or at least two stages in a movement, have to be regarded as terminal points without its being possible to discover any concrete mediation between them and the movement. This is equally true of movements in the empirical world and of indirectly mediated movements of thought designed to encompass the totality. This failure almost always has the appearance of involving simultaneously the unbridgeable distance between the movement and the thing moved, between movement and mover, and between mover and thing moved. But mythology inevitably adopts the structure of the problem whose opacity had been the cause of its own birth. […] Mythology is simply the reproduction in imagination of the problem in its insolubility.

[18] Benjamin, Selected Works 2, 425.

[19] Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 191-2: “As long as such a view survives with all its original starkness its claims to offer a ‘humanistic’ solution to man’s problems are self-refuting. For it is forced to deny humanity to the vast majority of mankind and to exclude them from the ‘redemption’ which alone confers meaning upon a life which is meaningless on the level of empirical experience. In so doing it reproduces the inhumanity of class society on a metaphysical and religious plane, in the next world, in eternity—of course with the signs reversed, with altered criteria and with the class structure stood on its head. And the most elementary study of any monastic order as it advances from a community of ‘saints’ to the point where it becomes an economic and political power at the side of the ruling class will make it abundantly clear that every relaxation of the utopian’s requirements will mean an act of adaptation to the society of the day.”

[20] H.S. Harris, Hegel: Phenomenology and System (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1995), 77; includes imbedded quotations from Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Miller, §69.

[21] Löwy, Fire Alarm, 68.

[22] Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption, trans. William H. Hallo (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1970), 226.

[23] Rosenzweig, Star of Redemption, 227.

[24] See: Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Alresford: Zero Books, 2009).

[25] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), K1a,8-9.

[26] Benjamin, Arcades Project, K2,5.

[27] Benjamin, Arcades Project, K1,5: “And so long as they [the objects considered external to the collective: architecture, fashion, even weather] preserve this unconscious, amorphous dream configuration, they are as much natural processes as digestion, breathing, and the like. They stand in the cycle of the eternally selfsame, until the collective seizes upon them in politics and history emerges.”

[28] Benjamin, Arcades Project, K1,3: “The new, dialectical method of doing history presents itself as the art of experiencing the present as waking world, a world to which that dream we name the past refers in truth. To pass through and carry out what has been in remembering the dream!—Therefore: remembering and awaking are most intimately related. Awakening is namely the dialectical, Copernican turn of remembrance.”

[29] Alison Ross, Revolution and History in Walter Benjamin (New York: Routledge, 2019), 61-2.

[30] Jacques Rancière, “The Archaeomodern Turn,” in Walter Benjamin and the Demands of History, ed. Michael P. Steinberg (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996), 28.

[31] On the constitutive incompletion of all modernist projects, see: Fredric Jameson, A Singular Modernity (London: Verso, 2002).

3 thoughts on “What the Angel Sees (Reading Benjamin’s Theses IX & X)”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s