Walter Benjamin’s understanding of history is as a constellation of events rather than a linear progress through unidirectional, homeostatic time.
“If “progress” can be likened to a straight line, that straight line may have to be replaced by a different image. Here Benjamin devises the arresting image of the constellation. This motif makes a number of key appearances in The Arcades Project, as symbol of the relationship which emerges when the historian places a number of apparently unrelated historical events in significant conjuncture. The constellation links past events among themselves, or else links past to present; its formation stimulates a flash of recognition, a quantum leap in historical understanding.”
I am exploring this idea of constellation as a means of understanding history on my new website dedicated to ruination; here is the address:
The ruins I am focusing on are not simply ancient piles of stone; I am also interested in the ruins of systems, cities, nature; the fragmentary; the decayed; and dream worlds.
“There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. An angel is depicted there who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair [verweilen: a reference to Goethe’s Faust], to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.”
From Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History