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Benjamin

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On The Concept of History

Benjamin�s "Theses on the Philosophy of History" details the collapse of time whereby the past is claimed through the act of remembering in the present. This text illustrates �the historian�s solidarity with revolutionary classes through the conscious re-collection of the fragmented and threatened past.� (Spencer) Benjamin wrote these meditations for those who would read them in the future/present. He wrote them when the world was on the bring of collapse and he knew his future and quite possibly the future of mankind was dire. Benjamin used Marx as a reference to historical materialism, "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness.� For Benjamin, history is therefore socially constructed and shared by the masses. However, the danger of this socially shared historical consciousness is its vulnerability to the ruling classes. �To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it �the way it really was� (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.� (255) But what happens when the memory is a recollection of a moment of danger? And to articulate the past is to imply a socially accepted and assumed reality of linear time? A temporal rupture occurs in a moment of danger and Benjamin argues that we must conjure the past to save ourselves. �Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment danger. The danger affects both the content of the tradition and its receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming a tool of the ruling classes.� (255)

The modern tool of the ruling classes is the multi-mediatic transmission of information. With the recent passing of the 5-year anniversary of the terrorist attack on September 11, we are faced again with the image of the past, a mediatic event that is shared in public memory. But what defines the event? How would Benjamin define this event and seizure of the moment of danger (as memory) by the ruling classes? �In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer, he comes as the subduer of the Antichrist.� For Benjamin, the Messiah is the future of mankind � �Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim.� (254) � if we, the masses, are the second-coming, then we must unite under our shared histories to redeem our identity and solidify the nowness of ourselves. Doesn�t this assume a temporal framework without questioning it�s social and cultural construction? If September 11 is a shared experience, an event, what defines it as so? Is it the mediatic event? Is it watching the burning towers on television, was it seeing it �in person.� How do we see the event? How do we remember the event?

On Crisis

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

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