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What in each case is given

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Perhaps, maybe, a follow-up to the previous post. From the Arcades Project:

“The concept of progress must be grounded in the
idea of catastrophe. That things are ‘status quo’ is the catastrophe. It is not an ever-present possibility but what
in each case is given.”

UPDATE (in response to Ft. Kant’s question in the comments):

It’s from the N convolute, "On the Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress." N9a,1. Page 473 in the Harvard ed.

Actually, the quote continues "Thus Strindberg (in To Damascus): hell is not something that awaits us, but this life here and now."

For a gloss on the second line, I’d consider the distinction between "homogeneous, empty time" and "jetzt-zeit" in the theses "On The Philosophy of History."

“The concept of the historical progress of mankind cannot be sundered from the concept of its progression through a homogeneous, empty time. A critique of the concept of such a progression must be the basis of any criticism of the concept of progress itself.” (Thesis XIII)

The social democratic concept of progress, to Benjamin’s mind, slides into an affirmation of the status quo. Jetzt-zeit depends on a different idea of change – qualitative rather than quantative, extra-temporal rather than temporal.

I also think this little snippet is a fantastic example of Benjamin’s "thetic" mode of writing – the sort of movement spread out a bit in the "Work of Art" essay  or the theses "On the Philosophy of History." Each step forward seems to cancel the previous one out – a writerly performance of the very temporality Benjamin seeks to describe here.

And finally, I tend to think all this is bound up with (or bindable with) the "creative destruction" characteristic of capitalism, whose "progress" requires continual "catastrophe," whose status-quo is the catastrophe, the collapse….

Written by adswithoutproducts

April 12, 2005 at 1:55 am

Posted in Culture

3 Responses

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  1. “Believing in progress does not mean believing that any progress has yet taken place.” Kafka

    Mark Kaplan

    April 13, 2005 at 5:07 pm

  2. Cult Rev,
    Help me locate this remark in The Arcades Project. I like the first sentence as a recasting of Benjamin’s famous angel of history passage. This remark more direct in establishing a logical relation between disaster and progress. Which aspect you see is sort of a duck-rabbit.
    The second sentence is more mysterious to me. Is the idea that maintaining the status quo, muddling through, treading water, or whatever, isn’t a neutral state of conservation or standstill? Rather, even the appearance of stasis requires the usual input of violence, predation, destruction.
    The third sentence seems to me to say: catastrophe isn’t elsewhere; it is the fuel and wake and negative space of our everyday actions, viewed in a certain way.
    Fort Kant


    April 15, 2005 at 9:54 pm

  3. Fort Kant,
    I’ve woven a response to yr question into the post itself as an update – thanks for the thoughtful question…


    April 16, 2005 at 12:29 am

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