19 marzo, 2012

Benjamin: Past and Present / History and Politics

In On the Concept of History,* Walter Benjamin (1940) elaborates on the relationship between past and present and, at the same time, reveals the relationship between history and politics.

The political nature of the articulation of these two moments of the past and the present is clearly showed in thesis VI: “Articulating the past historically [...] means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger.” This danger, writes Benjamin, “threatens both the content of the tradition and those who inherit it.” [thesis VI] Benjamin understands by “those who inherit it,” the vanquished of history, those that are suddenly aware — through a historical consciousness-raising shock — of their “tradition,” the meaning of their hope, which is in danger of being forgotten. Here the awareness of danger has an ambiguous meaning: either “the spark of hope” is about to become extinguished or “the awareness that they are about to make the continuum of history explode.” [thesis XV] However, the consciousness-raising shock is linked to political praxis by virtue of which the subject of tradition recognizes the sign of “a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past.” [thesis XVII] This means that there is a chance to introduce a revolutionary change into the present.

*In Selected Writings, Vol. 4, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.

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