Sunday, May 07, 2006
There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel who seems about to move away from something he stares at. His eyes are wide, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look. His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees on single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at 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 and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm.
--from Walter Benjamin 1940 work, "On the Concept of History," Gesammelte Schriften I, 691-704. SuhrkampVerlag. Frankfurt am Main, 1974. Translation: Harry Zohn, from Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Vol. 4: 1938-1940 (Cambridge: Harvard University Pres, 2003), 392-93. Sholem's poem on the Klee painting was written for Benjamin's twenty-ninth birthday --