Discussion: Walter Benjamin’s Thesis on the Philosophy of History

Benjamin seems to suggest that the happiness we know or feel comes from our past experiences. (I might be wrong ;-))

“Our image of happiness is indissolubly bound up with the image of redemption.”

He also writes, that the power we have now doesn’t really belong to us, it belongs to the past, or to the past generations. This brings me back to Foucault’s theory that knowledge is power. The knowledge we have has been learnt from past events (history); therefore our power belongs to the past.

Benjamin moves on to say that: “only a redeemed mankind receives the fullness of its past-which is to say, only for a redeemed mankind has its past become citable in all its moments.”

Whatever we do has been chronicled, from eons before, and as Benjamin suggests, every moment we have lived will be cited on ‘Judgment Day’

When Benjamin describes Klee’s painting ‘Angelus Novus’, what he is trying to convey is that the past/history is something that is tied to us, like “a chain of events”. The past keeps us from moving forward, but a storm pushes us into the future, “This storm is what we call progress.” History is there so that we can learn from it and keep from repeating it.

Reflect on the discussion of the Arab uprisings and analyse the role of the media in the process of making and archiving history.

What happened in Libya and other Arab countries was a historical moment in time. If it weren’t for the media, we wouldn’t have known about it. The media brought the Western attention to this defining moment for Arabs. Did it directly affect us? No, but the media “made” it seem like we were apart of it, the media made us feel as if we were a part of “making” history.

In Benjamin’s text he writes:

“To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it really was’ (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.”

Maybe, what we saw on the news was what the media wanted us to see, or rather how the media wanted us to see it. Maybe it wasn’t “the way it really was”. The media “seized” the spectacle that took place in Libya and archived it, so that history can be made, so that what happened will be a part of our memory.

“Not man or men but the struggling, oppressed class itself is the depository of historical knowledge” (Benjamin…)

The Arabs who decided to fight against their own leaders were obviously oppressed. They longed for freedom. Taking Benjamin’s theory into consideration, they were the ones who benefited from history. History has proved that the oppressed almost always win (eg: the apartheid, Black slavery in America), they act against their oppression; learning from history the Libyans decided to act against their oppression and to some extent they won. The media played the part in making their actions known to the world, again, making and archiving history.

It is safe to say that people make history, but the media play a big part in it.

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