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
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.