From "Theses on the Philosophy of History" by Walter Benjamin: " 'In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it...only that historian will have the gift of fanning some sparks of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And the enemy has not ceased to be victorious."

(...i suspect what he meant here was that the power of history, and the threat of history making, is that it frequently falls into irresponsible, immoral or outright evil hands : and that the dead are then, for political, ideological or economic reasons, woefully abused...)

Benjamin also later wrote (in reference to the outlook he shared with his friend, Berthold Brecht, "Do not build on the good old days, but the bad news ones." As a deeply analytical and critical thinker, he was intensely interested in the way thoughts inter-relate and re-combine. His unfinished 'masterpiece', the Arcades Project was described by Georges Bataille as a 'magic encyclopedia constructed entirely of lost quotations', and which was only barely survived after he committed suicide while fleeing the Gestapo (sound Borgesian to anyone?). The English translation was released only last year, nearly 1100p. of thoughts, scraps, paragraphs, lists, quotes, passages and aphorisms collected from his time in pre/post WWI Switzerland, Berlin and Paris.

other readings:

  • Atrocity and amnesia : the political novel since 1945. Robert Boyers. --( New York : Oxford, 1985.)
  • Selected writings. Walter Benjamin (Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press, 1996-)
  • Unholy alliance : religion and atrocity in our time. Marc H. Ellis. (Minneapolis, MN : Fortress Press, c1997)

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