On the Concept of History. By Walter Benjamin.

Benjamin W(1974) On the concept of History: Gesammelten Schriften I:2. Suhrkamp Verlag. Frankfurt am Main, 1974 [viewed online] https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/benjamin/1940/history.htm [accessed 23rd September 2017]

Derrida, J(1967)The exorbitant: question of method & The engraving and the ambiguities of formalism In:Art in theory 1900-2000, Harrison, C. Wood, P. Oxford: Art in theory 1900-2000. pp. 944-949

I Tale of a fake puppet that is controlled by a human to explain that the illusion is the inevitable culmination of society and its history

II Our requirements for happiness are linked to the time we are in, the people we interact with and therefore the history shaping it, over looking to the future. Again, this is inevitable

III A chronicle of events would have to detail all of the events, notable or not on top of an account of previous events to be accurate, the person recording would have to not distinguish between facts (this is kind of the point Derrida tried to make, in deconstruction, although he was mostly talking to the reader).

IV Marxists always bring it back to a class struggle ie acquisition of things that allow for spiritual effect. I think this is about the recording of all history, ie whist William the conquerer won the battle, Joe from Salisbury lost his family in the battle and that is as important as Harold getting it in the eye (not that current thinking says he did).

V We don’t record the ‘whole’ of history so actually we haven’t got an accurate picture of it. We don’t account for all of it when historians look however philosophers do because they make the allowance for the rest of history that makes up the moment being studied.

VI This one is tougher. I think its about taking a specific point in history and forgetting the bit that came after it so you are only dealing with the thoughts and emotions of that moment, not the sure knowledge they all die in the end with hopes unfulfilled.

VII Yes, this is about remembering only in the moment and the difficulty of not automatically siding with the winner when you view history because thats who won. and how depressing it is to actually go back and side with the losers. This is a good argument for the return of cultural artefacts from previous parts of history (although I’ve always wondered at what year you say stop).

VIII Again, another paragraph I’m feeling my way around. Emergency situation is I think  events that emerge over a catastrophe, and that we cannot plan for a future without understanding that our history is open for debate.

IX This uses an analogy of an Angel watching a point of history unable to stop the future events, which is the point of the paragraph, that because of history, the future is already written, only we can’t see it (the angel has its back turned to history so it can only see the past).

X Rules written by monks in their own way are not much changed over the centuries. Politicians fail  to grow beyond these rules so don’t realise that history is holding us back as we don’t rewrite the rules based on today.

XI we are ruled because we want stuff. In basic terms. Unless we do as we are told, we won’t be socially acceptable which means we will earn less. The basic worker who owns nothing but the hands to make money will never earn enough to gain the trappings he wants. Example is the rise of the german workforce accepting the political views they were offered because it was on the back of progress in technology which meant future and jobs and trappings… Another example siting Fourier(pre 1848) progress as occurring at the exploitation of nature” – and the worker. that a balanced and fair spread of labour throughout the land has the same chance of happening as pigs flying (its much more eloquent and just as unlikely).

XII Historical cognition- actual understanding of our history. owned by the revolted masses, looks to its past to see its future instead of saying we want the opposite for our children lets make that happen!

XIII This paragraph centres on our understanding of social progress and how it isn’t based on progression of thought and understanding but a never-ending continuation to human perfection. without end. Criticising this concept has to also become a criticism of the basis for recognising social progress.

XIV History is always viewed from a point in time which twists what is seen as important and reported on (Robespierre, Roman antiquity).

XV History is owned by those using it, revolutionaries compare themselves to history with none of the facts and then create history

XVI You cannot look at history from a specific point of time without recognising that there is a future beyond where you are

XVII A historian has to view a point in history as a thing experienced in its entirety a distance apart from its future, the recording of this brings history alive for others.

XVIII The downplaying of human existence as the last few minutes on a clock that includes everything down to the creation of our orbiting planet. Which I don’t think Benjamin is too keen on.


Whilst you can be aware of these points, I’m not sure you can view all art with the herculean strength of mind to take it into account. Also we are only aware of certain points in history anyway so as humans and artists we can’t possibly know all sides and lead ups to the point you are looking at. Looking at the accumulated objects that make up the research aspect to Pt 2 of PoP 1 UPM, the work of Fred Wilson stands out in the re-curation of the museum, a re-evaluation of history giving the objects another emotion for the audience that they haven’t had since they were held by their original owners.




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