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[Xmca-l] Garbage and Hope



Mike wrote earlier about Benjamin's exegesis of Klee's Angelus Novus.
Benjamin wrote:

"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. 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."

You notice that Benjamin calls it a painting (it's actually a monoprint,
that is, a drawing in oils on glass which is then used to produce a single
copy, because the original is destroyed in the process). While Klee gives
the work a somewhat shifty gaze and calls it "new angel", Benjamin insists
that it is staring fixedly and calls it the "angel of history". Benjamin
apparently conceives of progress more or less the way that Ulvi thinks of
Stalin: an irresistible omelette rather than a heap of smashed eggshells.

Or does he? In "One Way Street", Walter  Benjamin writes:

"Florence, Baptistery. On the portal, the Spes [Hope], by Andrea de Pisano.
Sitting, she helplessly extends her arms toward a fruit that remains beyond
her reach. And yet she is winged. Nothing is more true." (2016, Harvard
Bellknap, pp. 68-69).

Before you read on, have a look here:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baptisterium_San_Giovanni_(Florenz)_01.jpg


So nothing could be less true. First of all, Benjamin has the name wrong:
it's Andrea Pisano, sometimes called da Pontedera  Secondly, it's a crown
and not a piece of fruit. Thirdly, the angel is in the process of standing
rather than sitting and even if she were not, the crown is within easy
reach.

Benjamin's friend Bertholt Brecht complained that the Greeks had only one
theory about tragedy, and it was wrong at every point: Aristotle thought
that tragedy happened to the mighty and not the lowly, that it was about a
flaw which was unique to the protagonist, and it was absolutely inevitable.
It has taken us only two thousand years to create a tragedy that was true
to life: i.e. ordinary, common to everybody, and above all avoidable.

Maybe Benjamin's exegesis of Spes (and Angelus Novus) is supposed to work
the same way; it's hard to believe that Benjamin could have gotten
everything so wrong by accident.

David Kellogg