Labour, Nature, and Dream (Reading Benjamin’s Theses XI & XII)

Klutsis_(1920)_Electrification_of_the_Entire_Country 2
Gustav Klutsis, Electrification of the Entire Country (1920).


• XI: Conceptions of labour and nature as they relate to utopian desire.
• XII: The figure of the working class and its place in the capitalist dream-world, with a postscript on the role of technology in this relation.

Return to contents
Previous section (IX & X)
Next section (XIII & XIV)

Thesis XI:

The conformism which has marked the Social Democrats from the beginning attaches not only to their political tactics but to their economic views as well. It is one reason for the eventual breakdown of their party. Nothing has so corrupted the German working class as the notion that it was moving with the current. It regarded technological development as the driving force of the stream with which it thought it was moving. From there it was but a step to the illusion that the factory work ostensibly furthering technological progress constituted a political achievement. The old Protestant work ethic was resurrected among German workers in secularized form. The Gotha Program already bears traces of this confusion, defining labor as “the source of all wealth and all culture.” Smelling a rat, Marx countered that “the man who possesses no other property than his labor power” must of necessity become “the slave of other men who have made themselves owners.” Yet the confusion spread, and soon thereafter Josef Dietzgen proclaimed: “The savior of modern times is called work. The … perfecting … of the labor process constitutes the wealth which can now do what no redeemer has ever been able to accomplish.” This vulgar-Marxist conception of the nature of labor scarcely considers the question of how its products could ever benefit the workers when they are beyond the means of those workers. It recognizes only the progress in mastering nature, not the retrogression of society; it already displays the technocratic features that later emerge in fascism. Among these is a conception of nature which differs ominously from the one advocated by socialist utopias prior to the Revolution of 1848. The new conception of labor is tantamount to the exploitation of nature, which, with naive complacency, is contrasted with the exploitation of the proletariat. Compared to this positivistic view, Fourier’s fantasies, which have so often been ridiculed, prove surprisingly sound. According to Fourier, cooperative labor would increase efficiency to such an extent that four moons would illuminate the sky at night, the polar ice caps would recede, seawater would no longer taste salty, and beasts of prey would do man’s bidding. All this illustrates a kind of labor which, far from exploiting nature, would help her give birth to the creations that now lie dormant in her womb. The sort of nature that (as Dietzgen puts it) “exists gratis,” is a complement to the corrupted conception of labor.

(1) Moving with the current

The content of this thesis presents a striking change of direction with respect to the theses that preceded it. In the place of the dialectics of culture and barbarism, accompanied by a general condemnation of civilisation as the accumulation of ruins and mass graves, now appears a far more technical dispute with the social democrats over their misplaced conceptions of labour, technology, and nature. Commenting on the polemical shift that marks the halfway point of the theses, Fredric Jameson suggests that the argument of Thesis XI represents a solution to the pessimistic impasse of Theses IX and X. In those passages, Jameson writes, “we are placed before a new contradiction: if everything is tainted by complicity, then is not the attempt to remain politically pure like a withdrawal into a monastery? […] The practical answer represents a narrowing of Benjamin’s polemical sights and a return to his denunciation of the social-democratic belief in progress and the ideological vision of ‘historicism’ that underpins it.”[1] That is, we must move from the denunciation of a general complicity toward a criticism of the specific forms that this complicity takes within purportedly leftist thought.

Benjamin’s critique of the social democrats is not entirely without precedent within the theses, as it hinges on a restatement of Thesis X’s notion of a faith in progress: “Nothing has so corrupted the German working class as the notion that it was moving with the current.” Seen from our own position nearly a century later, the social democratic faith in the unstoppable march of progress must appear laughably inadequate. This is not only because of the disaster of fascism that would overcome the European continent but the fact of Europe’s lack of significant political, economic, or technological progress in the years between the French and Russian revolutions in all but a few exceptional urban centres.

I am thinking here of what Arno Mayer has called the ‘persistence of the old regime,’ that is, the survival of reactionary forces in positions of political and economic power well into the middle of the twentieth century. [2] Mayer notes that despite the apparent modernity of Europe before the Second World War, the majority of European nations retained the aristocracies and monarchies that had led them through the nineteenth century, and that in the handful of countries where a bourgeois class was on the rise it was admitted into power only on the condition of cultural assimilation into the bloodlines of the old regime. Despite the emerging technological modernity of European cities, set against the background of class warfare between industrialists and the urban proletariat, the majority of the population of Europe in the first decades of the twentieth century remained under conditions that were economically feudal and technologically preindustrial. As Mayer notes, the monarchies of Europe would only give way to republics under pressure from Roosevelt and the post-war American economic order, while the last of the great feudal estates of Prussia would only be dissolved with the arrival of the Soviet Red Army in 1945. This is all to say that the prevailing currents of European history in the century-and-a-half following the Restoration of 1815 were by no means ‘progressive,’ and that the entry of Europe into modernity was largely steered by the countervailing currents of reactionary politics and archaic economic structures that dominated the continent well into the twentieth century. To move faithfully with this current was to invite disaster.

(2) Gotha critique

As in the previous thesis, the faith in the movement of history involves a spurious belief in ‘the masses’ as the guarantor of historical progress—a progress which, tautologically, the masses are themselves supposed to follow. Such a faith in the masses is in Benjamin’s terms a resurrection of the “old Protestant work ethic” in a secularised form, which on the one hand fetishises labour as the source of all wealth while on the other subordinates that labour to a technical apparatus the expansion of which is seen as a natural good: “the illusion that the factory work ostensibly furthering technological progress constitute[s] a political achievement.” On both counts this faith is fallacious, and we need not take Benjamin’s word for it. Citing Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Program,” Benjamin notes that social democrats who valourise the worker as a worker only replicate the bourgeois position that a worker is to be valued only for their labour power. What follows from this is of course the grim conclusion that whoever possesses nothing but their labour power must become the possessions of others who can purchase it.[3] In Marx’s full phrase:

“There is every good reason for the bourgeoisie to ascribe supernatural creative power to labour, for when a man has no property other than his labour power it is precisely labour’s dependence on nature that forces him, in all social and cultural conditions, to be the slave of other men who have taken the objective conditions of labour into their own possession. He needs their permission to work, and hence their permission to live.”[4]

We can add that the faith in labour not only justifies the exploitation of labour by capital, but serves to incapacitate the workers’ movement by attaching its success to an idealised figure of the ‘worker’ as a supernatural creative force.[5] This magical worker is never truly disempowered, never truly exploited, because it is free to exercise the divine powers of labour that constitute its very existence. Treated alongside a faith in the technical advancement of industrial capitalism, the mythic figure of the worker becomes identical with the machine, as one more component of the system which must expand, must accumulate, and must progress according to the preordained laws of history. In this, the workerist adulation of labour and machine is the mirror image of a tendency that Marx diagnosed among bourgeois economists, for whom the “exploitation of the worker by the machine is [identical] with exploitation of the machine by the worker.”[6] While the capitalist dreams of liberating his precious machinery from the irritants who keep it in motion, the social democrats dream of liberating the workers from the machine—only so that the workers may themselves become more like the bourgeois’ machines: magical creatures that bring wealth into being from nothing.

(3) Marx on nature

On the contrary, and here we may follow Marx again, neither labour nor machines are the sources of all wealth—nature is. Against Josef Dietzgen’s position that “the savior of modern times is called work [and the perfecting] of the labor process constitutes the wealth which can now do what no redeemer has ever been able to accomplish,” we can turn to another of Marx’s pithy responses in the “Critique of the Gotha Program,” where he writes:

“Labour is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use-values (and surely these are what make up material wealth) as labour. Labour is itself only the manifestation of a force of nature, human labour power.”[7]

That is, despite common complaints that communism possesses a workerist, anti-ecological politics, which privileges human industry over the natural environment, Marx is adamant that human labour power is an entire natural affair; it is a process embedded in nature as one natural force among many, which never rises beyond the ensemble of forces that make up its environment. That labour can be conceived in a promethean light, as the seizure of raw materials from the natural realm and as the creator of all wealth, is one more phantasm of bourgeois thought, which sets the domain of human action apart from its natural basis, as lord and master of an earth that does not contain it.

Benjamin’s comments in this thesis concerning our so-called “progress in mastering nature” recall the terms of a short 1928 essay titled “To the Planetarium.” In this work, Benjamin draws a distinction between two forms of technological mastery, the first of which is humanity’s means of mastering nature and the second a mastery of the relation between humanity and nature.[8] The first form of mastery is, in Benjamin’s words, the teaching of the imperialists, who see nature as an object to be acted upon, to be claimed and controlled. Such is the conception of nature that brings humanity to its modern crisis of planetary destruction, when the relation between humanity and nature is made unsustainably one-sided and the technical apparatuses of humanity begin to eat away at the very conditions of human life. To master not nature but the relation between humanity and nature is to bring an end to this ecological rift, by recognising human labour as a conduit between the general nature of earth and the particular nature of humanity.[9] It also means acknowledging that the spheres of human activity and the natural environment are coterminous, because this human activity can only occur within the bounds of a suitable environment.

(4) Liberation of nature

What would a fully developed mastery of the relation between humanity and nature look like? Evidently, it would entail a more ecologically sound form of society, which no longer exploits the foundations of its own existence, devouring its future like Chronos and his infant children. Benjamin’s vision of ecologically conscious society goes beyond a merely sustainable form of life, and points toward the most elaborate prophecies of the utopian socialists. He turns to the account of Charles Fourier, who outlines the course of human development across tens of thousands of years in a vast future history, in which artificial moons would be raised in the sky to bring permanent daylight to the earth, the seas would be engineered to taste of lemonade, and the process of domestication would encompass the entire animal kingdom, raising even the wildest beasts to participate in the social sphere. Is this not a fantasy of the total control of nature by humanity? Not exactly—as we have seen, such a position cannot admit any absolute division between humanity and nature, such that the one can dominate the other as an object for its whims. In Fourier’s vision, nature is not destroyed to make way for a built human environment, but rather the natural and human realms collapse into one another, as they are each liberated from their former opposition to the other. The natural powers of labour no longer seek to dominate an external, earthly nature, but are themselves mastered to bring about greater and greater miracles of human creation. These miracles, far from being alien to the natural realm, are the actualisation of potentialities that presently lie dormant within nature, the possible forms of which are practically infinite and wait only to be realised in new configurations of the planet’s ecological systems.


As an aside, and to bring some of these utopian speculations back to earth, we can see in Benjamin’s insistence upon the reciprocal relation between humanity and nature a parallel with the recent work of ecological Marxists such as John Bellamy Foster and Kohei Saito, who describe this relation as a metabolic one. A metabolism in this sense is an exchange of materials and energy at certain speeds and certain scales, which can operate in accord with the available resources of its ecological context, or—in the case of capitalist production—it can be massively one-sided, extracting all that it needs and returning nothing to sustain its future existence. The project of Marx’s socialism is somewhat more restrained than that of Fourier, but it also “demands the rehabilitation of the humans-nature relationship through the restriction and finally the transcendence of the alien force of reification.”[10] The separation of humanity and nature—their metabolic rift—must be repaired, if we wish to see our collective existence preserved, let alone seas of lemonade and additional moons in the sky.[11]

Thesis XII:

We need history, but our need for it differs from that of the jaded idlers in the garden of knowledge.
—Nietzsche, On the Advantages and Disadvantages of History for Life

The subject of historical knowledge is the struggling, oppressed class itself. Marx presents it as the last enslaved class—the avenger that completes the task of liberation in the name of generations of the downtrodden. This conviction, which had a brief resurgence in the Spartacus League, has always been objectionable to Social Democrats. Within three decades they managed to erase the name of Blanqui almost entirely, though at the sound of that name the preceding century had quaked. The Social Democrats preferred to cast the working class in the role of a redeemer of future generations, in this way cutting the sinews of its greatest strength. This indoctrination made the working class forget both its hatred and its spirit of sacrifice, for both are nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than by the ideal of liberated grandchildren.

(1) Class avengers

Three names preside over this thesis—Friedrich Nietzsche, the Spartacus League, and Louis Auguste Blanqui—each of which illuminates a different aspect of Benjamin’s manner of writing and engaging with his influences. The quotation from Nietzsche that opens this thesis is indicative of Benjamin’s practice of quotation, which enables him to select fragments from disparate sources and, by placing them in novel contexts, make them speak contrary to their authors’ intent. We have already seen in Thesis IV how Benjamin is able to marshal the transcendental idealism of Hegel for the cause of historical materialism, and here we find a great philosopher of aristocratic and anti-modern reaction speaking on behalf of a proletarian politics. Just as there are already the seeds of a historical materialist outlook in Hegel’s philosophy, which Benjamin is able to extract in only a sentence, so too do we find lessons for the socialist movement in this fragment of Nietzsche. “History […] must not be a luxury, a casual stroll or a matter of archaeological curiosity, but must be of use in the present: ‘We need history for life and action.’”[12] What goes unsaid in Benjamin’s plucking of this pithy Nietzscheanism is exactly who this ‘we’ may be for Nietzsche himself—although for us, in putting Nietzsche to practical use, there is no question who is in the most need of history and its unevenly divided luxuries.

In the other two figures that populate this thesis—the Spartacus League and Blanqui—we find the proper names for the movement of the oppressed that always threatens in Benjamin’s writing to become opaque. The first of these was fresh in living memory throughout Benjamin’s years of intellectual productivity and growing interest in the communist movement. The League, founded by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, played a pivotal role in the German Revolution of 1918-19 before it was brutally crushed by proto-fascist paramilitaries employed by the young Weimar Republic’s Social Democrat government. The name Spartacus is not incidental for Benjamin’s argument, as it represents the identity of cause that exists between the ancient Roman slave revolt and the proletarian revolutionaries of capitalist modernity. The proletariat is to be “the last enslaved class,” the class that redeems and completes the crushed revolutions of all prior history. As Michael Löwy notes, this is a view shared with Blanqui, the great revolutionary leader of nineteenth-century France, who considered the proletarians as “modern slaves”—meaning not only that modern capitalism and Roman slave economies may have more in common that most would admit, but that the struggle against class society, any and all class society, is essentially one.[13]

(2) Class, Angel, Spirit

In drawing this connection between the most ancient of class struggles and the most modern, we must reiterate some of what has already been said about Thesis IV. That is, in Benjamin’s conception of class struggle there is properly speaking only one struggle: between the oppressed whose labours fill the coffers of all purported civilisations, and the rulers who are the inheritors of a legacy that stretches back to the earliest forms of class society. But here, belatedly in Theses XI and XII, we are given a name for the figure that stands at the end of this sequence of struggles: the radical working class, the proletariat. This figure embodies much of what Benjamin has already sketched in abstract in respect to historical knowledge. Just as in the formulation of happiness outlined in Thesis II, in which our most deeply held desires depend not on a future wish but on the content of our past experiences, the spirit of the working class is motivated by the weight of dead generations that yearn for liberation in the present—as Benjamin puts it, the proletarian movement is “nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than by the ideal of liberated grandchildren.”

In this historical dimension of working-class consciousness, we may also see the proletariat as akin to the figures of the Angel and absolute Spirit that we discussed in relation to Thesis IX. Against Spirit’s mythic transcendence and the Angel’s mythic resignation stands this third figure, who is capable of consciously knowing itself within the totality of history and acting upon its position as the subject-object of that process. The proletariat is in Benjamin’s terms not only “the struggling, oppressed class itself,” but “the subject of historical knowledge” which “completes the task of liberation in the name of generations of the downtrodden.” This class realises the idealistic hopes of Hegel’s Spirit as the subject-object of history because, in Lukács’s terms, “it is itself nothing but the contradictions of history that have become conscious.”[14] “This image of a frozen reality that nevertheless is caught up in an unremitting, ghostly movement at once becomes meaningful when this reality is dissolved into the process of which [humanity] is the driving force.”[15] Just as Hegel’s Phenomenology narrates the growing consciousness of Spirit as the ideal subject-object of history, so too is the task of the proletariat that of becoming conscious of itself and thereby awakening history from the mythic slumber in which it has hitherto resided.

(3) Dream and myth

For Benjamin, the self-conscious activity of the collective worker arrives in history like the shock that awakens the sleeper from their dream, which in the final moments of sleep is interposed into the dreamworld and heralds the dissolution of that dream. No doubt Benjamin’s use of the dream metaphor brings with it a debt to that other branch of unorthodox, visionary Marxism—namely, the surrealism of Breton, Bataille, and Aragon—which would be a point of contention in his collaborations with Adorno and Horkheimer.[16] Likewise, the miraculous appearance of the proletariat as a salvific figure reveals the problematics of theology and messianism that underpin the Marxism of both Benjamin and Lukács.[17] Nevertheless, the dreaming collective and the awakening from myth were the central themes that would define the early stages of Benjamin’s Arcades Project, his entry into Marxism, and his attempt to follow thinkers such as Lukács out of the dreamworld of bourgeois philosophy. While the Angel remains bereft in myth, the proletariat resides in the background of its dreamworld, waiting to awaken the dead and make whole a history as yet unmourned. What Benjamin hoped to supply in his late fragments on the philosophy of history and in the cultural inquiries of his Arcades Project was a new method for interrogating this dream at the moment of its dissipation. His work seeks a kind of ‘dream interpretation’ for the social sphere, by which the radical working class may extract itself from the illusions of capitalist society and become truly conscious of itself as the cornerstone of that society. The moment of awakening would mean not only the abolition of the dream-world but the realisation of the utopian elements that lie dormant within it, which appear to us only by acts of imagination, lacking the real energy to bring them to reality.[18]

(4) Dream and technology

But what would this dream interpretation of capitalist society look like? One of the places where the unrealised possibilities of our era become visible is in the realm of technology. As is clearly apparent in Benjamin’s essay on the “Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility,” he showed a strong fascination with the new media technologies that came to prominence in his lifetime, such as the cinema, radio, and photography, and the new modes of perception that they made possible. As evidenced by the notes that make up his Arcades Project, Benjamin was also interested in the technical objects and methods that preceded these new technologies, such as the lithograph, daguerreotype, stereoscope, panorama, and phantasmagoria, which attempted with inadequate means to render the aesthetic revolutions of cinema and photography that would only be completed in the twentieth century.


It is in this context that that we must place some of the matters discussed in respect to Thesis XI, namely Fourier’s utopianism and Benjamin’s notion of technology as the mastery of the relation between humanity and nature. It also has much to do with the concept of the ‘wish image’ that was introduced in respect to Thesis V, which communicates to the present an unfulfilled desire of a past epoch. It is not that any of these technologies are liberatory in themselves, but that they express some new way of seeing that has not yet become possible, or else realise a mode of perception that had only been dimly glimpsed in some prior technology. When Benjamin looks at the technical curiosities of the nineteenth century, such as the Fantascope and its moving images, he sees a desire for the truly new power of the cinematic image. Conversely, when he looks to the cinematic productions of the twentieth century, he sees a retrospective movement, a fulfillment of what the nineteenth century could only dream. Even in the realm of technology, the present is intended in the past.

But let’s be perfectly clear on this point: Benjamin’s fascination with technology did not indicate any kind of technological optimism. As much as the novelty of technology marks the separation of our modernity from the eras that preceded it, the uses to which those technologies are put remind us of how little social progress has been made. In fact, every facet of our lives stands as evidence that social progress has not kept pace with technical progress, that we now live in an age when the human species has the capacity to exterminate all life on the planet, but not the ability to judge rightly on the use of its newfound technical powers.[19] In the “Work of Art” essay, Benjamin notes that our present use of technology is one that reduces the value of human life to a minimum and culminates, as he prophetically put it nearly a century ago, “in the remote-controlled aircraft which needs no human crew.”[20] In the decade following Benjamin’s death, which would see the climax of the second world war and the beginning of the cold war, the pilotless missile would become a reality, and inspire Adorno to write these lines of acute technological pessimism:

“Had Hegel’s philosophy of history encompassed this epoch, then Hitler’s robot-bombs would have taken their place, next to the death-scene of Alexander and similar images, among the empirically selected facts in which the symbolic state of the world-spirit is immediately expressed. Like Fascism itself, the robots are self-steering and yet utterly subjectless. Just like the former, they combine the utmost technical perfection with complete blindness. Just like the former, they sow the deadliest panic and are completely futile.—‘I have seen the world-spirit,’ not on horseback but on wings and headless, and this at once refutes Hegel’s philosophy of history.”[21]

But this pessimism is no closer to Benjamin’s position than that of the technological optimists. The massive powers of technical destruction that are presently at our disposal do speak to a real progress in humanity’s ability to shape itself and its world, but this expansion of technological prowess cannot be separated from the social form that these technologies take.

To conclude, and to give you a clearer idea of where we may locate ourselves beyond both optimism and pessimism, I would like to direct you to The Wind Rises, a 2013 film directed by Hayao Miyazaki that examines the life of aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi.[22] Like many of Miyazaki’s films, The Wind Rises evinces an enchantment with the powers of flight, and many of the film’s most beautiful moments are those that depict the miraculous lightness of being in the air, the subtle hums and vibrations of the aircraft as it sails on the breeze, and the sublime wonder of rising into the wide, open expanse of the sky. There is a lot is this film that speaks to the dream of technology that so obsessed Benjamin; the ability of the human being to liberate itself from a world it thought it knew. But there is also a darkness in Miyazaki’s exploration of this dream: Horikoshi was one of the chief designers of fighter planes for the Imperial Japanese Navy, and the price of his ingenuity in realising the dream of flight was a complicity in the perversion of that dream. As we see in the film, for every masterpiece he creates, and every improvement he devises to hasten the miracle of flight, he must also calculate the weight of guns and ammunition, and sacrifice the magic of that miracle to make its realisation possible at all. Counter to Adorno, it is not that fascism is inbuilt into the machine, but that the fascist occupation of social life makes any other use for the machine impossible. Like Horikoshi, we dream of flying machines while producing the seeds of our own destruction—but, nevertheless, the dream remains, and demands its realisation when a new, liberated, and self-conscious humanity is brought into being.



[1] Fredric Jameson, The Benjamin Files (London: Verso, 2020), 236.

[2] See: Arno J. Mayer, Persistence of the Old Regime (London: Verso, 2010).

[3] Karl Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy, trans. Fred Halliday (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970), 169: “As he [Marx] never tires of saying, the Lassalleans do not have communist society as their final aim, but only a dreary middle position. It is true that the latter will have overcome private ownership of the means of production and related ‘inequalities’ and ‘injustices’ in the distribution of goods. But in every other respect—economically, ethically and spiritually—it will still bear the stamp of the old capitalist society of today. Specifically, bourgeois Law and the bourgeois State will not have been totally superseded as the forgotten ideas of a barbarous prehistory.”

[4] Karl Marx, The Political Writings (London: Verso, 2019), 1025.

[5] See: “A History of Separation” in Endnotes 4 (2015), 98: “At the heart of the workerist vision lay a mythic figure: the collective worker […] But, to a large extent, the collective worker did not exist outside of the movement’s attempts to construct it. The theorists of the labour movement could never have admitted that this was the case.”

[6] Karl Marx, Capital Volume One, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1976), 569.

[7] Marx, Political Writings, 1025.

[8] Walter Benjamin, Selected Works, vol. 1, eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 486-7: “The mastery of nature (so the imperialists teach) is the purpose of all technology. But who would trust a cane wielder who proclaimed the mastery of children by adults to be the purpose of education? Is not education, above all, the indispensable ordering of the relationship between generations and therefore mastery (if we are to use this term) of that relationship and not of children? And likewise technology is the mastery of not nature but of the relation between nature and man.”

[9] Working in the other direction, Benjamin quotes in the Arcades Passage a paragraph from Korasch, who describes ‘nature’ as an already social construction: “If in Hegel … ‘physical nature likewise encroaches on world history,’ then Marx conceives nature from the beginning in social categories. Physical nature does not enter directly into world history; rather, it enters indirectly, as a process of material production that goes on, from the earliest moment, not only between man and nature but also between man and man. Or, to use language that will be clear to philosophers as well: in Marx’s rigorously social science, that pure nature presupposed by all human activity (the economic natura naturans) is replaced everywhere by nature as material production (the economic natura naturata)—that is, by a social ‘matter’ mediated and transformed through human social activity, and thus at the same time capable of further change and modification in the present and the future” See: Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), N16,4; passage quoted from Karl Korsch, Karl Marx (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017), 139.

[10] Kohei Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018), 133.

[11] On Benjamin’s concept of natural history, see: Susan Buck-Morss, The Origin of Negative Dialectics (New York: Free Press, 1977), 43-62. See also my article on Benjamin’s importance for ecological Marxism, “Metabolic Monstrosities: Vampire Capital in the Anthropocene” (2019).

[12] Michael Löwy, Fire Alarm, trans. Chris Turner (London: Verso, 2005), 78.

[13] Löwy, Fire Alarm, 82.

[14] Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Merlin Press, 1971), 178.

[15] Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 181.

[16] See the exchange between Adorno and Benjamin collected in Aesthetics and Politics (London: Verso, 2007), 110-134. On Benjamin’s surrealist influences, see Margaret Cohen, Profane Illumination: Walter Benjamin and the Paris of Surrealist Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

[17] On Lukács’s recourse to praxis as a lapse into the mythic thinking for which he criticised Hegel, see Daniel Andrés López, Lukács: Praxis and the Absolute (Chicago: Haymarket, 2020), 550. More broadly, on the empirical failure of an identical subject-object to materialise, see “An Identical Abject-Subject?” in Endnotes 4 (2015), 276-301.

[18] Alison Ross, Revolution and History in Walter Benjamin (New York: Routledge, 2019), 135: “The truth content of the ‘dream formations’ of the century thus becomes apparent. A new historical object requires a ‘new method,’ in this case, ‘dream interpretation.’ In the ‘dream’ of the nineteenth century the promise of technology for a ‘new humanity’ manifests itself—‘a dream that shows us in its realized form the simple but magnificent existence for which the energy is lacking in reality.’” Embedded quotes from Walter Benjamin, Selected Works, vol. 2, eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 734.

[19] Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989), 64: “Extreme optimism concerning the promise of the ‘new’ nature of technology, and total pessimism concerning the course of history, which without proletarian revolution would never leave the stage of prehistory—this orientation characterizes all stages of the Arcades project.”

[20] Walter Benjamin, Selected Works, vol. 3, eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 107.

[21] Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, trans. E.F.N. Jephcott (London: Verso, 2005), §33.

[22] The Wind Rises, directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli, 2013).

3 thoughts on “Labour, Nature, and Dream (Reading Benjamin’s Theses XI & XII)”

Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s