The Angel of History

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Broken Angel, Musée Réatu, Arles, France

When I saw this figure I was reminded of Walter Benjamin’s Angel 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. 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.

Thought-images: A re-reading of the ‘angel of history’

Yet this angel has no face to look with, and his broken wings are unable to spread. May be it was shattered by the progress?

Progress is an interesting phenomenon. The assumption of a positive development is inherent in the word (pro-forward + gradi to walk), yet we all understand it’s a mixed bag. Tourism comes with both positive and negative potential. Often the focus is on the shiny object of monetary returns, without full appreciation of the negative consequences that need to be compensated for in some way.


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