Distribution Automatique

Friday, October 22

The Angel of History

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.
Stephen Daedalus (James Joyce)

We learn from history that we do not learn from history.

There's no such thing as legacies. At least, there is a legacy,
but I'll never see it.
George W. Bush, to Catholic leaders at the White House, Jan. 31, 2001

from "Theses on the Philosophy of History":

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. This 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.
Walter Benjamin

Humanity, taken hostage on the Ship of State, faces one vast storm after another.
Like exhausted sailors, who, from time to time are afforded a quiet moment of solitude
on the deck, they are permitted to imagine they can see beyond the whitecaps and the
angry clouds. If a bird is sighted, a lonely sailor shouts for joy from the topmast
to the crew below.

Longing and hoping beyond hope to dock this
creaking ship, again and again the passengers, the captain and the crew
are deluded that they have sighted a speck of land. A few have even
visualized and described this place, now felt to be by many,
if not most, to be a myth, a dream,
a fool's utopia at best.
The weary and cynical captain feeds these hollow hopes.

More and more the members of the crew, and not a few passengers, in secret at first,
and now more and more openly discuss mutiny. The captain again and again
placates all and each in repeated speeches from the helm, that God assures him
that he knows the way to solid ground. Now openly among
themselves, a few who still hold to hopes of sanctuary
and survival, remembering the remaining,
scant images from times long past of happiness and prosperity, speak of the
captain as mad and crazed.

But many, terrorized by the listing, turning and creaking
of the aging ship, by the enormous waves and
awful storms, hold anxiously to their faith in
the captain, who himself holds fearfully
to his vaunted faith in a white-haired, bearded deity above
who, he says, whispers wise thoughts to him
in desperate prayers and hapless dreams.

One among them comes forth who openly
decries the captain and counsels mutiny
and offers to take the helm. The passengers
and crew are evenly divided; the grumbling
continues. The storms and fears rage on and on.
With no land in sight,
where is courage and counsel to be discovered but in
history, where numberless insane
leaders have have so often
been shamefully exiled and
exposed for what they were?
Michael Maschka Das Narrenschiff {click here}
via Phaneronoemikon (Lanny Quarles) {click here}
Paul Klee Angelus Novus {click here}