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[Xmca-l] Re: Garbage and Hope



Thanks, Rod and Mike. I think the angel's gaze isn't really shifty, but
strabismatic (that is, cross-eyed), something often seen in infants.
Nevertheless, he's not gazing fixedly. According to Benjamin, though, he's
facing the wind, with his back to the future--like a reporter in a
hurricane.

Benjamin gets a lot of things spectacularly wrong, especially things having
to do with hope and facing the wrong way (you remember that he committed
suicide just hours before the Spanish authorities opened the border to let
his companions through). One of the first things he ever wrote for
publication, upon arriving at the University of Berlin and being made
president of the Freie Studentenschaft, was this:

.“One of the most candidly mendacious pretexts for extracting science from
all of its obligations is to suppose that it should permit X or Y to find a
job. Now, a job follows so little from science that it (science—DK) might
even be said to exclude it (a job—DK). For the essence of science will not
suffer being separated from itself to the least degree: in one way or
another, it obliges every researcher to make a teacher of himself, but it
never imposes upon him the professional public forms of the doctor, the
jurist or the university professor."

So Benjamin thinks that science will make you a teacher, but not a
professional, or even an academic. Very well. But perhaps this will happen
anyway, when we make our schools into places of learning? Not so!

“One accomplishes nothing good in referring to institutes that permit one
to acquire titles, degrees, and opportunities in life and in work as places
for science. We are not refuting this statement in the least by objecting
that the State must today educate doctors and lawyers and teachers. We are
only underlining the crushing immensity of the task which consists in
substituting a community of knowing subjects for a corporation of
functionaries and diploma holders.”

So there’s a fundamental contradiction between producing a corporation of
diploma holders and producing a community of knowers. Why so? Perhaps the
problem is simply one of inner motivation: students who are motivated by
diplomas are very different from students motivated by knowledge? Not so!

“We are only underlining to what point, in the development of their
professional apparatus, by knowledges and skills, the actual sciences have
lost that unitary origin that they owed to the idea of knowledge, because
this origin has become for them a mystery if not a fiction.”

Aha! It has to do with the unitary origin of knowledge--something lost in
the strongly classified disciplines today. In Quebec City, Carrie and I sat
through a longish presentation by Mohammed Elhammoumi and two Brazilian
Colleagues on keeping the integrity of Vygotsky's work in a conservative
age (i.e. a strongly classified one). The Brazilian comrades were good (and
of course Mohammed himself was spot on, as usual) but everybody seemed to
think that the integrity of Vygotsky's work lies in its boundary-breaking
theory.

I think that's a professor's view rather than a practitioner's, and I worry
that it just substitutes stratification for classification. I remarked that
we need ways of getting our students to think critically about the music of
Taylor Swift and Britney Spears.  Carrie thought it shouldn't be too hard
to do this, but I think it's harder than it sounds, particularly for the
kinetic arts. The music/video composite is designed not to be prized apart
or thought about at all. In that sense it really is, like Benjamin, facing
the wrong way. Development, after all, is not so much about growth as about
differentiation.

David Kellogg

PS: Hi, Carrie--looking forward to reading from you!

dk




On Sat, Sep 16, 2017 at 4:37 AM, mike cole <mcole@ucsd.edu> wrote:

> As you know David, I love to think with Angelus Novus and the erudition you
> bring to us with your posts.
>
> There is a ton more to be said about Angelus Novus but here, too, the
> picture is important to accompany the words, so I attach one. I knew the
> text several years before I first saw the painting. I was really amazed at
> how hard I would have found it to read Benjamin's text from the picture had
> I not known about it before. I had a totally different mental image of the
> painting from having initially intuited aspects of the text. My imagined
> angel had more conventional wings stretched back to Eden and the wind
> beating fiercely at its back.
>
> I imagined the wind was blowing that way in the late 1930's. Kinda windy
> around here these days, now that I come to look up from my computer.
>
> I'll have to think about whether I interpret de Pisano's angel as sitting
> to stretching upward in yearning, but either way, its very interesting to
> have the different paintings
> and texts to think about how he was caught between garbage and hope.
>
> In any event, very appropriate ideas to be thinking about.
>
> mike
>
> On Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 6:21 AM, Rod Parker-Rees <
> R.Parker-Rees@plymouth.ac.uk> wrote:
>
> > 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,
> >
> > Rod
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > -----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:
> >
> > 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
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