To the Planetarium, 1923-1926, published 1928.
In this short fragment, Benjamin puts on his post-war Marxist hat, citing technology as a fetish of the ruling class which leads to violence (here Benjamin uses technology as a thingified item, alluding to Marxist reification). What’s beautiful here is the melding of Marxist theory with an understanding of man’s quest for meaning in the cosmos. The quest for understanding the outside world has led to the creation of technology, and when put in the wrong hands, leads to violence and destruction. Benjamin doesn’t, however, showcase what happens after the violence—which as we can see by the date is the First World War, the Great War or the Great Patriotic War. What happens once the violence has hit us? Are there plans to change the course of human history?
There is no existential study about the meaning of mankind after violence. Classic Benjamin and Messianic Violence!
If anyone ever questions Benjamin as a Marxist, show them this piece.
Flâneur III: Benjamin’s Shadow
Danish director Torben Skjødt Jensen and writer Urf Peter Hallberg
“For play and nothing else is the mother of every habit. Eating, sleeping, getting dressed, washing have to be instilled into the struggling little brat in a playful way, following the rhythm of nursery rhymes. Habit enters life as a game, and in habit, even in its most sclerotic forms, an element of play survives to the end. Habits are the forms of our first happiness and our first horror that have congealed and become deformed to the point of being unrecognizable.”
Benjamin, “Toys and Play,” Selected Writings, 1927-1930. Image: Walter Benjamin’s Archive, Verso, 2006. The caption reads: “Old wooden horsey from the governorate of Vladimir.”
This is how one pictures the unicorn of history. Its face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, it sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of its hooves. The unicorn would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in its wings with such violence that the unicorn can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels it into the future to which its back is turned, while the pile of debris before it grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.