Sunday, May 12, 2002
: . Angelus Novus:
I've pored through Walter Benjamin's Theses on the Philosophy of History countless times but only this morning have I seen the Paul Klee painting that inspired it (them?). I've always imagined a grand baroque painting of ruins and an angel with painstakingly detailed wings although I knew that the whimsical, modernist Paul Klee would never have painted anything that way. Seeing Klee's Angelus Novus for the first time, I realize how much more evocative it is than the painting in my imagination but also how much it falls short of Benjamin's words. Here is how Benjamin describes Klee's work:
- 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 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.
Benjamin's words are infinitely more beautiful.