If you do not “cut corners on teaching” as one is supposed to do, you can learn from it and it will aid you in research. I am going to understand this essay by Walter Benjamin for class.

The political consequence of the temporal naturalism underlying the idea of ‘progress’ is conformism. For Benjamin, paradoxically, this applied in particular to the German Social Democrats’ understanding of communism as an ideal, in the neo-Kantian ethical sense of the object of an ‘endless task’:

Once the classless society had been defined as an infinite task, the empty homogeneous time was transformed into an anteroom, so to speak, in which one could wait for the emergence of the revolutionary situation with more or less equanimity. (SW 4, 402)

In other words, the concept of progress is demobilizing; and Marxism had become infected by the ideology of progress. However, rather than positing an existential alternative, in the manner of Heidegger’s ‘resolute decision’, Benjamin set out to construct novel conceptions of historical time and historical intelligibility based on the relationship, not between the past and the present, but between the ‘then’ and the ‘now’, as brought together in images of the past. Each historically specific ‘now’ was understood to correspond to (in a Baudelairean sense), or to render legible, a particular ‘then’.

It is not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, an image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words: image is dialectics at a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is purely temporal, the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialectical: not temporal in nature but figural [bildlich]. Only dialectical images are genuinely historical … (AP, [N3, 1], 463)

The experimental method of montage, borrowed from surrealism, was to be the means of production of historical intelligibility.

That was from SEP.


3 thoughts on “SEP-Benjamin

  1. So far we have Spinoza contra Descartes, and Benjamin contra Marx and I am guessing, Kant. Are they postmodern then, or are they proposing an alternative modernity?

  2. If you can get Benjamin across to your students, you will have done a great thing.

    I find it difficult, myself to relate him to other thinkers of his time, or 19th Century thinkers, in part because I am not a scholar but rather a person who understands through imagery. And Benjamin was a master of imagery.
    The past crumbles behind us as we face the future with fear.

  3. Yes, images. I will not get this essay across to the students, am trying to get it across to myself. If I become fluent in explaining historicism and historical materialism, even, it will be a good start.

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