The Angel of History (after Lovecraft, after Benjamin)

Angel of History 1

The Angel of History (after Lovecraft, After Benjamin) | 2014 | Polymer Clay and Oil Paint

Walter Benjamin had an obsession with a print by Paul Klee called Angelus Novus. He owned the print for years where it took a grip on his consciousness. He wrote of it in his On the Concept 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.

Paul Klee's Angelus Novus

Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus

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 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 in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a 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.

I had this image in my head of the Angel of History having an almost Lovecraftian sway over Benjamin, History personified and pulling him deeper and deeper into its eldritch clutches.

The philosopher Graham Harman writes how Lovecraft’s descriptions of his God-Monster in the short story The Call of Cthulhu are simultaneously literal and allusive to something indescribable. Lovecraft accentuates this by continuously using reliable narrators (scientists, academics), who find the rational power of descriptiveness eludes them. Harman says, “No other author is so perplexed by the gap between objects and the power of language to describe them, or between objects and the qualities they possess.”

The-Angel-of-History (1)

The Angel of History (after Lovecraft, After Benjamin) | 2014 |Lambda print

 

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