4. “On the Concept of History”: St. Augustine and Walter Benjamin

Critical Theory and Early Christianity - Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, and Judith Butler - Matthew G. Whitlock

Carl Levensen [+-]
Idaho State University
Carl Levenson is professor emeritus of philosophy at Idaho State University.  He is the author of Socrates among the Corybantes, a study of Plato’s Euthydemus in which Socrates tangles with sophists and mystical dancers, and he is currently writing a book on the prosecution and trial of Socrates in its prophetic, historical, and literary setting. Levenson has long been drawn to the writings of St. Augustine, especially the Confessions, and to comparative religion and European philosophy and literature. He has an evolving interest in Kabbalah and in the problem of time in physics.

Description

Levenson imagines a dialogue between St. Augustine and Walter Benjamin that mirrors the structure of Benjamin’s final testament, his essay “On the Concept of History.”  Three questions are in focus: (1) Where do patterns in life and history come from?  (2) Can a future Messiah redeem the present moment?  (3) Can we in the present redeem the sorrows of the past?  As the dialogue unfolds, images from Benjamin’s writing (e.g. the chess-machine, the little hunchback, the tragically ineffective “history angel,” the flaneur of Paris) interact with images from Augustine (e.g.  the Edenic garden, the wanderer, the Messiah tortured and triumphant, the mysterious unchanging inner light). Augustine’s theory of time and memory sheds light on Benjamin’s concept of a weak – but real – messianic power that reaches out to assist the past in the present; also pertinent are Kabbalistic doctrines taught by Gershom Scholem, Benjamin’s life-long friend.

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Citation

Levensen, Carl. 4. “On the Concept of History”: St. Augustine and Walter Benjamin. Critical Theory and Early Christianity - Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, and Judith Butler. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. May 2022. ISBN 9781781794135. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=30148. Date accessed: 02 Aug 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.30148. May 2022

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