Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History

A Klee drawing 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 that keeps piling ruin upon ruin 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.

— Walter Benjamin,

Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of HistoryPaul Klee Angelus Novus

 

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Civic Duty

I was recently selected for Jury Duty, which lead to some free time for reading.  I chose to pick up Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind” which touches on an important problem both in academia today and in the culture as a whole – closed mindedness.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about this issue, and Bloom’s book, although I just started it already has lead to some interesting rabbit trails.

In his chapter on “Music” Bloom indicated that Aristotle’s “Poetics” was really just a follow up and elucidation of his “Politics” (73).

I find that interesting, because in all my years of graduate study, and reading Aristotle’s “Poetics” several times, I never once heard that is was a part of his larger discussion on “Politics”. I have read the discussions of Art contained within Plato’s “Republic,” which  is clearly part of a larger discussion, but never saw Aristotle’s discussion in a similar light.

This would seem to be an important piece, but a hidden one.  Aristotle argues that Tragedy is superior to Comedy, that it is best because it leads to a purgation of emotions in its audience –  the famous catharsis.  This would seem to be important to be read against what Aristotle has to say about the polis and what is the GOOD to be advanced within it and why Tragedy with it’s catharsis might be useful for advancement of that GOOD and the polis as a whole.

I find it even more interesting when I think about how political art has become, and how vital artists would tell you they are to a their society. But it seems to me that the artists I am aware of are not trying to purge emotions (for the benefit of their society, and to allow for reason to prevail) but to inflame emotion and fear so that reason cannot find a seat in our social discourse.

But then, Aristotle was not a Marxist. I wonder if that is why we never read his “Politics” we read plenty of Marxism along the way.

It will be interesting to read Aristotle’s thoughts on the subject.