What the Angel Novus can not see, but we can.
Throughout this essay that now ends, I have thought many times about the angel Novus, whom Walter Benjamin described with these words:
“There is a picture of Klee called Angelus Novus. It depicts an angel who seems to get away from something that has him paralyzed and to which he is staring. His eyes look exorbitant., he has an open mouth and wings spread. Well, that’s how you imagine the angel of history. He has turned his face to the past. Where a string of data appears before us, he sees a single catastrophe that tirelessly piles up ruin and throws it at his feet. Well he’d like to stop, wake the dead and rebuild the broken. But, blowing from Paradise, a hurricane is entangled in its wings, and is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. The storm pushes him unstoppably into the future, to which he turns his back while the rubble rises before him to the sky. That hurricane is just what we call progress” (1).
Now, in the epilogue, I firmly believe that the spirit of this angel is not the human spirit. We are not angels, but mortals; and when we look to the future, it is for imagine it and engage with it.
With our left hand we touch the present in which the past has become; and we feel in a nebula (2) the experiences that have given meaning to our live. A few tenths of a second later, with the right hand we bet to determine (3) the possibilities of a future that we may get to see and experience.
That is the human spirit, nothing angelic, of which I am proud. Our species will have a future only if the animals and vegetables that accompany us in Noah’s ark, which is our planet, survive, along with the air and water necessary for life to continue in it.
Our future is not predetermined. Our collective intelligence and determination are decisive both for that future to exist and for it to cease to exist.
Now it is time to resume the authentic journey to the future that we humans share: “-Engage!” (4)
See Chapter index
Current chapter NOTES
(1) The Angelus Novus was drawn by Paul Klee in 1920 and bought by Walter Benjamin in 1921. For Benjamin it represented the meaninglessness of the story. He committed suicide in 1940, at age 48, on the border between France and Spain to avoid being handed over to the Nazis.
Benjamin’s text belongs to: “On the concept of history”, Works, book I, Vol. 2 (2008) p. 310)
(2) See: Pragnanz in the left hand
(3) See: Determination on the right hand
(4) “Engage!” (Start the engines!!), Is Captain Pickard’s favorite phrase from the starship Enterprise, committing himself to his crew at the start of each new star voyage. In the attached animation, he seems to be throwing something forward: but it is he who throws himself with others into the future. (Star Trek. The new generation, 1988).