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[Xmca-l] Re: Garbage and Hope

I  love the way you bring so many images into our discussions, David!

The examples you give here seem to me to illustrate the degree to which what we see is what we feel - these images of angels work like Rorschach blots, triggering or resurrecting Benjamin's own concerns and providing hooks to hang them on (or Velcro to stick them to!). It is so easy to forget that seeing is a subjective process and to go along with the exaltation of the emperor's new clothes but this also highlights the importance of 'fact-checkers' who take the trouble, as you have, to revisit what Benjamin was looking at and to ask whether what he saw is what others might be expected to see.

'Nothing is more true' hangs here in a delightful ambiguity - who is to say that the 'objective' truth of the baptistery doors is MORE true than the subjective truth of what Benjamin experienced when he looked at the angel? The fit (or not) between the image and the response reveals much more about Benjamin than either alone.

This is why we need the painstaking exegesis seen in so many posts in this group.

All the best,


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: 15 September 2017 07:32
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>
Subject: [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:


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

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