December’s Reading: “Theses on the Philosophy of History” from Illuminations by Walter Benjamin
Thursday December 16 2010
VIVO Media Arts [1965 Main Street], Vancouver BC
7pm Salon Free
Facilitated by Alex Muir
To mark the end times of another year, we hope to convene with some of you to pour over one of Walter Benjamin’s final pieces of writing. “Theses on the Philosophy of History” was written during the spring of 1940. Benjamin was fresh from a period of internment in a French worker’s camp in Nevers–and only months away from his attempted flight to America, which ended in suicide in a Spanish port town. The work finds Benjamin at once facing the amassing socio-political catastrophe of the time and yet also seemingly aloof–at least superficially, given how intertwined these circumstances were with his own personal fate. Herein, we find Benjamin the mystic, peering through the present and into the yawning expanse of history via aphorism and parable. We find the translator of Proust and one of Kafka’s keenest readers attempting to induce a rather curious, and perhaps daft wedding of revolutionary Marxist thought with a historical model of time which has come to be known as Messianic. Benjamin develops what he calls a “materialist” approach to history as against historicism; opposing the constellation of scattered events to a causal line. It’s clear how such a model has worked its way (via Benjamin, and others) into media practices of the last 50 odd years, but do they have anything to say back to this text? Can this wandering loner speak to the throng of contemporary art practices steeped in quotation and historical pearl diving? The piece is short but dense–perhaps even begging to be read aloud and made sense of collectively. Let’s get together and drink hot festive beverages and indulge in pie-eyed cosmic speculation.
Please note that this reading will fall on Thursday, as opposed to it’s usual Wednesday slot–out of respect for Mr. Hank Bull, whose farewell evening we have no wish to compete with.
If you are interested in previewing this text, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a digital copy.
Co-Presented with Cineworks Independent Filmmakers Society