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Tradition, Translation, TraumaThe Classic and the Modern$
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Jan Parker and Timothy Mathews

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199554591

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199554591.001.0001

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The Price of the Modern

The Price of the Modern

Walter Benjamin and Counterfactuals

(p.143) 7 The Price of the Modern
Tradition, Translation, Trauma

Christopher Prendergast

Oxford University Press

This chapter presents a reading of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’. It highlights two aspects, both relating to the more general topic of the price of the modern, and which turn on two of the central images of Benjamin’s text, the Angel of History (its back facing a future which is absolutely not providentially pre-written), and the Heliotropic (in which the past may burst utopically like a flashpoint into the present). The first of these, based on the Klee painting, Angelus Novus, reflects Benjamin’s rejection of the historical progress-narrative and its relation to the projection of a future based on teleological accounts of the past. The second image is the link between the emphasis on the past as debris and ruins and the motif of the Heliotropic — a turning to the sun that rises over an extinguished past, the buried aspirations of history’s losers, history from the point of view of the historian ‘who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins’.

Keywords:   Walter Bejamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History, counterfactuals, Angel of History, Angelus Novus, Heliotropic

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