Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic, Berlin

Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic, Berlin
Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic," Berlin

Saturday, May 9, 2015

5/9 Walter Benjamin "Theses on the Philosophy of History"

The final reading for the course, "Theses on the Philosophy of History" (1940) also by Walter Benjamin like the previous reading is also a challenging read, and like the other essay is less of a traditional essay format, than a series of fragmented writings loosely connected to the central theme: a philosophy of history or an attempt to make sense of history and question whether or not there is some meaning to history. 

Written four years after the previous essay, this essay was written perhaps during the darkest days of World War II. By 1940 Hitler had already occupied most of Europe even "Great Powers" like France surrendered to the Nazis.  A "puppet" government was set up in Southern France, the Vichy government.  Benjamin was detained briefly in a detention camp by this government in 1940.

The US had not entered the war, not until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941, almost three years into the war.  Germany and the Soviet Union were allies at this point (Germany later betrayed the Soviets and invaded June 1941), and Germany was about to attack Great Britain, the last remaining European power in 1940.
Nazi Germany and Occupied Territories, 1940-1942

 His last work was found incomplete, among his possessions after he died. It was never intended for publication.

Many of the passages begin with quotations and these serve a specific and important function in Benjamin's thinking. As it relates to history, Benjamin argues that wisdom as it is passed through history as tradition is properly preserved in the form of quotations, so quoting is an act of preserving tradition. In this regard, Benjamin's intent is quite conservative, however, as Arendt has argued, Benjamin's sense of preservation becomes destructive once the meaning of these traditions become recognizable as a judgement against the present because the traditions speak to a form of life that has been lost forever. As it relates to nihilism then, Benjamin's position is quite unique from the other thinkers we have discussed. Rather than beginning from the point of a radical break from the past in the present as nihilist thinking has done up to Nietzsche, and animated all the work of all the people we have looked at from Dada to Jünger, Benjamin's intent is to break from the present by using the past. In other words to quote is a way of reflecting upon tradition in order to judge its value in the present, at the same time, to also judge the present by relating it to the past–specifically and above all else by looking at the claims for freedom justice and equality that have gone unrecognized throughout history.

James Joyce writes in Ulysses, "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake." The American playwright Eugene O'Neill writes in a similar vein, "there is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now." These quotes suggest the enormous burden of the past on the present and the enormous force which past events still have in the present. Joyce speaks through the character Stephen Daedalus. Daedalus is the name of the architect in Greek mythology who builds the labyrinth, a vast underground maze at the center of which is the minotaur. Some argue that Joyce is suggesting that history is a labyrinth, a vast maze in which we are all trapped in. In mythology the hero Theseus, enters the labyrinth and slays the minotaur, but is able to retrace his steps and find his way out of the maze. Perhaps then through learning history one is able to retrace the steps the past generations have made to be able to escape the labyrinth, or to wake up from the nightmare of history. Benjamin's writings would suggest this interpretation.

Obviously Benjamin's literary background helps explain the development of an approach such as this, but this also relates to his "philosophy of language" which I outlined in the last lecture especially the idea that there is a "natural language" underlying human language to which human language is a flawed derivative. Quotes will reveal certain patterns and common concerns in human history because the language itself derives from a common structure. Traces of this underlying structure which perhaps could be the Proto-Indo European language mentioned at the beginning of class can be revealed through quotes, or more accurately through the proper presentation of quotations. However, Benjamin tended to rely on a more theological theory in which natural language itself derives from the divine language of God (something which Benjamin believes is revealed symbolically in the Book of Genesis where God gives Adam the power to name the objects in nature; Benjamin was also early associated with the Kabbala the recently fashionable school of Jewish mysticism practiced by many celebrities). The idea of naming something, similar to quoting places the highest emphasis on language as a creative force in human life. In many regards Benjamin's position can be summed up by the idea of calling things by their proper names (implying that most things are falsely named). Although Arendt claims that Benjamin later abandoned this early theological framework, his frequent references to the messiah or messianism in his final writings cast some doubt on this.

This leads to the second major aspect of Benjamin's method. Once the emphasis on quotation has been established as a way of accessing traditions buried in the past, the next aspect is how precisely to use quotes to accomplish this, or the presentation of language. Here Benjamin seems influenced by the Dadaists who pioneered the use of photo montage in their work, and montage was the technique used by Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein as well. In both cases, montage refers to the seeming random placement of images, which paradoxically reveal a deeper meaning through the placement of unrelated, or meaningless objects. To this extent, and also through the surrealists in Paris, Benjamin is influenced in this regard to create a kind of montage effect through the use of quotes. The most radical expression of this work was Benjamin's planned project to construct a whole book out of quotations with only minimal text written by himself, never completed.

Two other influences derive from Benjamin's own life but which also became important ideas in his thinking are the professional collector and the flâneur. Benjamin was a book collector and appreciated the unsystematic approach that collectors bring to their passion as opposed to say a more systematic way of categorizing things. The flâneur is a French word borrowed from Baudelaire, referring to someone who wanders aimlessly through the cities, again as opposed to say to the hurried businessman going to a meeting, the flâneur is unsystematic and undirected, free to take in the varied experiences of the city. Before criticizing it is worth noting that these categories  correspond to the categories of time and space also discussed last lecture. The collector who appropriates the past makes his way through time, the flâneur  through space–both emphasizing however again the free and unsystematic nature of both. However their are problems with this as well. For one the idea of the flâneur refers to Paris which has a wholly different urban structure than cities like New York especially in the present. The idea of wandering aimlessly through the city free and unobstructed seems to be itself related to a bygone era, perhaps even worse the construction of suitable public spaces for walking has been confined to special designated areas created by public authorities,  a far cry from Benjamins idea of unrestricted movement through a changing and shifting urban landscape and who did write several travel journals of his experiences in cities like Berlin, Moscow, Naples, Paris, and Marseilles. Similarly the idea of the collector which besides suggesting a somewhat solitary existence has also been transformed into a highly profitable business. However in understanding Benjamin's curious approach to history it is important to draw out these influences in order to explain this approach especially the emphasis on being unsystematic or defying conventional categories of classifying. It should be said, that although I consider these aspects of Benjamin's thought to be the most obsolete today, the idea of collecting seems to be more popular than ever judging by the endless supply of reality television shows about various types of collectors. Even the idea of the flâneur, perhaps somewhat artificially, is re-emerging in New York with the tendency to create  more pedestrian and bike paths, and even creating boat-ways out of once polluted industrial canals, like the Gowanus canal in Brooklyn, although the costs and benefits of this are still uncertain to say the least.

Benjamin himself spoke of his method as "drilling" as in the ancient method of drilling through the earth to get to water. The process of compiling quotes, of sifting through history as tradition in the form of endless documents, relates to the process of drilling when finding some quote reveals something in the present is like the act of drilling through rock to the water–by reaching some vital connection between past and present revealed through a quote. Benjamin says quoting is like drilling for water, not a kind of archaeological excavation which again presumes a more systematic character, but drilling instead proceeds through the act of recognition, of some connection to the present, rather than the archaeologist who often does not know the object until classifying it. This method is sometimes refereed to as hermeneutics and roughly it can be translated as the act of translation. Arendt compares Benjamin to a deep sea diver who goes down into the depths of the ocean to retrieve corals and pearl laying in the depths. The pearls and coral in this case refer to the quotes, but again they only attain value by their connection to the present, by the way in which  they relate present struggles to past ones. Arendt takes the analogy even further by introducing the idea of "sea change" from Shakespeare's Tempest: valueless objects submerged in the ocean over time go through sea change or transform into valuable objects through a process of "encrustation" that happens to objects over time. In other words, once valueless quotes, or random expressions by obscure people acquire value over time as they relate themselves to the present, this relates also to the idea that critic, completes the piece in a sense. The montage effect is preserved through the seeming randomness of quotes that acquire destructive force only in their relationship to their each other. Before moving on it is important to note also the prevalence of the water symbolism. In both analogies water is used to symbolize the totality of existence, similar to the way in which the river symbolizes existence in Siddhartha.  

Benjamin's radical approach to the past and present is obviously antagonistic to the prevalent liberal idea of progress (one that is currently in a state of crisis which it cannot free itself from as seen in the work of Jünger). The idea of progress is central to this work. The myth of European history for at least 200 years prior was the idea that "things were getting better". Although many problems still existed, humanity was making steady progress in solving the problems of human life. Until the 18th century, the Enlightenment, humanity (meaning people in a collective sense) had not developed a historical consciousness of itself. The notion of linear time, as opposed to time-cycles, or even no concept of time at all, is an invention more or less of this period of time. In other words a radically different experience of time. Once this awareness has developed people begin to see themselves as part of a larger continuity that stretches back for thousands of years. Out of this humanity begins to realize it has greater control over its own destiny than previously believed. This opens up new areas of emancipation, and new areas of activity, but it also increases the awareness of the importance of controlling things, including the larger social environment that people share. Paradoxically as people become more self-aware they seem to change less and become more rigid in their character, believing that their values are either natural and eternal or the end result of a long process of development. As new activities are undertaken, people begin to become more aware of the differences in technological development between different peoples at different points in time. The state of technological development then becomes one of the primary, if not the primary, means by which progress and development are measured. 

Benjamin (and this idea is shared somewhat by Nietzsche as well) strongly questioned this idea: maybe life is not getting better, maybe its getting worse, maybe its always been bad. This fear drives almost every major intellectual and artistic work of the 20th century. In these series of fragments he argues for a different consciousness of history and even radically different experiences of time and space. Similar to the essay on mass culture, Benjamin's concern is with the changing conditions of how people experience reality.

Benjamin is concerned with time and how we perceive it, as discussed in the previous lecture on the Kantian "transcendental" that organizes sense-experience into the dimensions of time and space. When he refers to the "eternal now" or "messianic time" he has in mind a conception of time that does not operate in terms of past, present, or future, but more like one present moment that stretches on into forever–until the "messiah" or saviour comes.
The first thesis is an allegorical piece that lays out Benjamin's approach to studying history by combining historical materialism with theology. Historical materialism is the name that Karl Marx gave to his own approach to studying history: an unceasing struggle between competing economic classes that go through various stages of productive development and decline culminating in capitalism in the present, with the belief that the true end of historical development will be completed with the creation of a socialist society in the future. Marxism to this extent is also a part of Enlightenment thinking because it is also driven by, at the time, a new sense of historical awareness.

The "materialism" part of historical materialism suggests that historical analysis should be directed towards the material aspects of society (the economy), not its ideal or cultural aspects. One of Marx's most famous statements on the relation of material life with historical change is the following from "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte" (1852): 
Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; the do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living (Marx p. 595).
In other words "history" is the result of previous struggles by previous classes which impacts people in the present. The driving force of these struggles are competition over the economic means of life. As these circumstances change, continuous tension is produced by values and ways of life that are increasingly in greater conflict with a changing environment.

The scientific method is the proper means of studying the material (or physical) aspects of society, and so Marxism always identified itself as a scientific theory. However, science by itself can only understand material life, what remains is the ideal or cultural part of life which historical materialism dismisses as unimportant. What Benjamin is saying in short, that the scientific theory of historical materialism must be united with theology or religion in order to have a true grasp of human life and retain the human concern with emancipation. In other words, Benjamin is trying to see if there is a way to reconcile science with religion which seems to be a distinctly modern problem that people are still dealing with today. However, this view is at odds with Marx's thought who rejected religion and theism as "opiates for the masses."
The second, third and fourth theses outline what should be the focus of history. Benjamin argues in the second that redemption is fundamentally tied to our idea of happiness and that the concern with the past shows a concern with redemption. Redemption meaning the ability to fix or correct past injustices. History should then bring out and make people aware of the long history of injustices inflicted upon people. Becoming aware of this will help motivate people to want to put an end to injustice or as he says, "like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim. That claim cannot be settled cheaply". It cannot be settled cheaply because it is a claim made not only by the present generation, but by all the previous generations that have come before.

As this relates to Benjamin's concept of the "eternal now" all conflicts are placed on an equal level. Ancient struggles against oppression are in a sense no different than conflicts today, because the forces at work and the motives in play are more or less the same–even if technology itself has changed the forms in which these conflicts play out.
The third thesis reflects this concern arguing that historians should not distinguish between major and minor events. Injustice is revealed by looking at the minor events of people who you have never heard of. This also suggests that awareness of these things are obscured or concealed by something else, the major events: the official histories of kingdoms and nations.
The fourth thesis suggests some of the the things which may be lost: courage, humor, cunning, and fortitude i.e. the qualities displayed by the oppressed classes in their struggle against oppression. These qualities develop under conditions of adversity and is important not to lose sight of how they important they are or forget the people who have shown them.

All of these theses suggest that prior histories have tended to overlook or suppress the histories of the oppressed classes. The next several deal with the failures of the bourgeois classes to create accurate and reliable historical works, and how this serves a political function.

The fifth, sixth and seventh theses make up Benjamin's attack on official historians or what he refers to as "historicism". The fifth argues that since it is impossible to ever truly grasp the past in its completeness or as he says "it flits by", the historicists attempt to create objective histories are doomed to failure. In the sixth he echoes this sentiment but also introduces the idea that this is not merely a flaw in scholarship but a part of the process of how the ruling classes justify and legitimate their rule by creating distorted accounts of history that conceal the history of oppression but still present themselves as objective, scientific history. When he says even the dead are not safe he is referring to how great figures of the past are twisted in order to suit the purposes of the powerful in the present–just think of all the bad things that have been done in the name of religious figures. This is kind of a spin on the saying "history is written by the winners". Instead history should be used a way of drawing inspiration from the past to confront the dangers of the present.
The seventh thesis also reflects and expands upon this thinking and really tries to force a confrontation between the present and the history of injustice and oppression in the past or as he says:
Whoever has emerged victorious participates to this day in the triumphal procession in which the present rulers step over those lying prostrate. According to traditional practice, the spoils are carried along in the procession. They are called cultural treasures, and a historical materialist views them with cautious detachment. For without exception the cultural treasures he surveys have an origin which he cannot contemplate without horror. They owe their existence not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries. There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.

A good example to use here would be the Great Pyramid in Egypt. Although it is a great cultural achievement and world monument, it was built by slave labor. So on the one hand you have the pyramids as representing the cultural values and ingenuity of the Egyptians, a historical materialist would focus on the actual material forces which built the pyramids (slave labor), or as he says a document of civilization and barbarism. This relates to what Benjamin spoke of in the previous essay about the ritualistic function of art; although many beautiful artistic pieces have been created in the past, primarily, they were used for the purposes of ritual ceremonies that played a role in legitimating forms of domination.
The eighth, ninth, and tenth theses are not so much about Fascism as they are Benjamin's critique of liberals who failed to deal with Fascism. This builds on what Benjamin argues in the previous theses. The failings of historicism (the bourgeois discipline) is not just an academic critique but has political importance as well. Liberals were unable to understand Fascism at first because they rested on these sanitized, cleaned up versions of history to form their world view, or because they were unwilling to confront the barbarism in their own culture they were unable to see it in Fascism.
The ninth thesis is the most well-known and is another allegory summing Benjamin's idea of progress (or lack thereof), as he says "wreckage piling upon wreckage." 
Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, 1920, Israel Museum

The angel of history is the myth of progress that is facing backwards. In other words history is blind and does not know where it is going. To assume that we are moving in the direction of progress is just a way of dulling your mind to the obvious disaster and catastrophe that is the modern world.

Benjamin's fragments on history would eventually be synthesized by the Frankfurt School's Adorno and Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944). As the title suggests, the central argument of the book attempts to unearth how the originally emancipatory ideas of the enlightenment, reverse themselves, and becomes a force of domination. By integrating psychoanalysis into their own studies they develop a theory that explains the reaction to the dehumanizing tendencies of modern scientific rationality as one of the prime stimulants of fascism which is rooted in a rejection of the "sensitivities" and scientific rationality of liberalism as explained by Jünger, even while fascists incorporate the technological forms of organization into their own structure. A controversial aspect of this argument, is that they go on to argue that modern mass culture which produces commodities that exploit mythical ideas and tends towards conformity is rooted in the same kind of rejection of enlightenment scientific rationality as fascism. The dialectical aspect of this also implies that this development is not a result of external forces, but the internal process in which the principles of the Enlightenment are taken to their logical conclusion. This undermines the entire basis of Enlightenment including the concepts of liberty and equality which developed in the context of the Enlightenment.

The core out of which these later arguments developed came from Benjamin's original theses.
The tenth thesis again echoes the critique of liberals who rely on their faith in progress, their "mass basis" or liberal democracy, and the "uncontrollable apparatus" or the capitalist world market.

The next few theses deal with the similar failures of the social-democrats and communists to understand history.
The eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth theses are Benjamin's critique of socialism or the social democratic parties in Germany and elsewhere. Marxism or socialism also falls back upon both a flawed notion of progress supported by a flawed notion of science which loses the human aspect that has to be maintained to bring about true freedom. As he says, "this vulgar-Marxist conception of the nature of labor bypasses the question of how its products might benefit the workers while still not being at their disposal. It recognizes only the progress in the mastery of nature, not the retrogression of society; it already displays the technocratic features later encountered in Fascism". 
The twelfth thesis, Benjamin argues that social democrats have lost touch with past, and also gives some significance to the Spartacist group. They fought not only for the oppressed of their times but also for the "generations of the downtrodden" who like Spartacus tried but failed in the past.

The thirteenth thesis also argues that the social democrats rely too much on a flawed idea of progress.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth theses Benjamin draws on some lessons from the French Revolution. In the fourteenth Benjamin talks how Robespierre (one of the leaders of the revolution) evoked the ancient Romans but used them in a way as if the Romans really had come back to life again in the French Revolution. He contrasts this with the superficial way in which people appropriate fashions without really getting to the real significance and meaning of what they appropriate.

In the fifteenth, Benjamin examines one curious aspect of the French Revolution and perhaps maybe its most revolutionary aspect besides "Dechristianization"–the revolutionary calendar. Basically, after the French deposed their king in 1792, they created a new calendar and started from the year one! 1792 became 1 in their calendar in other words. What is the significance of this? An example of Jetztzeit, a radical perception of time. Again relating to the idea of the "eternal" quality of conflict. 

He recounts an event from the second French revolution in 1848 where people shot at the clock-towers to stop them from moving: to freeze time in the revolutionary moment. Revolutionary moments he argues necessarily break with the ordinary flow and progression of time, they pierce the everyday rhythms of life and disrupt the order of things. This relates to Benjamin's concern with "cultic" behavior (from the last essay) which is defined by repetitive behavior in the form of rituals legitimated by myths: the opposite of the explosive, disruptive behavior that is he speaking of. Ritualistic behavior also tends to assume the person is not fully aware and is acting out the rituals mostly out of habit; a revolutionary consciousness would require a full awareness of the historical moment. 
The sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth theses deal with the experience of time and are the most metaphysical of theses. In the sixteenth Benjamin argues that our experience is flawed, the past isn't really past because time itself never really changes, we only experience it as such. That's why he talks about the whore called "once upon a time", what he means is that phrase gives the impression of past events which are so remote and detached from our present lives that they no longer have any impact upon us–he is arguing for the opposite. Instead he is arguing that we take the promise of happiness in stories literally.
The seventeenth is probably the most complicated of all the theses. Since past and present do not follow a linear path (move in a straight line) the proper approach to history is to take historical fragments of people and events that are connected in some way in order to draw some connection to the present or provide some inspiration to present people in moments of danger (like fleeing from Nazis). This sounds very crude almost, but since the possibility of creating true objective history is an illusion anyway, the only thing left to do is to pick out the pieces of history that serve the goal of freeing the oppressed: the constellation, a series of points connected together which combined reveal a new object.
In the eighteenth thesis Benjamin argues that our concept of time is relative, that from another perspective the whole history of humankind can look very brief. Seen in this compressed way makes it easier to think of history as one long present moment and makes it easier to select out pieces of history for this.
Finally, in the epilogue parts A and B Benjamin argues about causality and the future. In A he argues again that historicists create a false awareness of history by proposing simplified cause and effect relationships in their historical work. Since the reality of history is so complex he doubts that one can create an accurate linear model of history, or history seen as moving in a straight line. 

Instead, he gives his metaphor for connecting different fragments of the past–the constellation. Instead of a straight line, a constellation is composed of many points that do not seem to follow any kind of linear order but are instead of a sequence of points and connections that intersect each other in a way that it is hard to tell which point is first and which is last. However despite the lack of order, the wholeness of the constellation creates a definite shape and image. This is his idea for historical studies, you unearth different fragments and assemble them in a way so that different fragments become something complete and give some kind of definite direction or idea (or a monad as he calls it in the 17th thesis).
In B, Benajmin who has talked mainly about the past and the present says a little about the future. Although he is distrustful of an idea of progress that always points to the future when things might get better instead of fixing the present now, he does not want to dismiss the future. The future is as important as the past. The future is the realm of anticipation and waiting, it is not empty time as he says, but where one waits for the moment to come when a new order is created (the Messiah returns).
So in many ways, Benjamin's text is the most nihilistic of all the texts that we have looked at. History is one big disaster, full of suffering and misery, dominated by the strong who have imposed one conception, their conception, of "justice" and the "good life" one after another till another more powerful group comes around. Yet, the only way to overcome this is to immerse oneself in history completely, rather than to run away from it. Remember if we have talked about nihilism as a rejection of traditional morals and values, then Benjamin's philosophy of history reflects this idea perfectly. As he says "wreckage upon wreckage" is his view of the past, so why would anyone want to preserve wreckage (traditions and conventions)? This goes back to what I said earlier about quoting. The only way in which anything from the past can be persevered anymore, Benjamin says, is through a quote which is by definition fragmented and torn out of its context.
At the same time, his knowledge of the past and his embrace of religion (albeit in his own unconventional way) suggests a more complicated relationship with traditions. At the very least, one must know the past before they can reject it as a history of oppression. But his own peculiar way of approaching history, through the metaphor of the constellation, suggests that it is not the past in and of itself that is wrong, but how we have interpreted and made sense of the past that is flawed:"history is written by the winners."
 Contrary, to critics who dismiss nihilism as "the belief in nothing," nihilism forces one to confront and investigate traditional meanings and values in order to create new values.  Nihilism is critical of how morals and truth have been passed down to us, acknowledging the power and influence of tradition. But nihilism itself is not something positive, it represents emptiness, meaninglessness, and intense longing. Nihilism is the breeding ground of Nazism and all other forms of totalitarianism

Just as bad is the pathetic attempt to deny nihilism, to try to recreate a way of life that no longer has any connection with the actual conditions of life. The challenge of nihilism then, is to create new values to replace those traditional systems that have been destroyed. It is a two step process: 1) recognition of nihilism; 2) the will to overcome it. Benjamin critiques liberals for denying nihilism and he critiques fascists who celebrate "nothingness" as a way to justify their brutality. The relation between the two may be even closer than Benjamin realizes, as Adorno argues in Dialectic of Enlightenment it is the failings of liberalism, because of its inner tendency to control, which in its way pushes people towards authoritarianism. This can be explained in part by the denial of nihilism and the censorship of all who speak of it.

As it relates to experience, these shallow one-dimensional interpretation of history and of people in history impoverishes people's ability to experience, what he called Erharfung or integrated experiences. A higher level of experience is opened by understanding things in their historical context, at the same time, true objective views of history are more or less impossible. Integrated experience is persevered through this idea of the constellation (a structure of quotations similar to the structure of astrological constellations), that literally allows one to "cherry-pick" aspects of history in order to form a meaningful experience of the history of a thing. All prior history are really just different constellations of ideas and patterns that historians found meaningful.

This idea is inseparable from Benjamin's overall view that modern life is experienced in a fragmentary, discontinuous way. More modern commentators have picked up on this idea, suggesting that the best way for emancipation is not to impose order and uniformity upon an increasingly complicated modern world but to "adapt" to it in a sense:
To be modern, I said, is to experience personal and social life as a maelstrom, to find one's world and oneself in perpetual disintegration and renewal, trouble and anguish, ambiguity and contradiction: to be part of a universe in which all that is solid melts into air. To be a modernist is to make oneself somehow at home in the maelstrom, to make its rhythms one's own, to move within its currents in search of the forms of reality, of beauty, of freedom, of justice, that its fervid and perilous flow allows (Berman 1982 pp. 345-346).
We must also remember the social climate that produces this kind of thinking. The period of time in German history we are looking at was a period of time when almost all of the traditional ways of life were destroyed in the carnage of World War I. Those who still held on to their beliefs had to live in a world where revolution was a constant threat, people were prey to an erratic capitalist world market, and new radical forms of extremism were seizing power. On the other hand, new modes of perception and experience were being created leading to new forms of sexuality, traditional gender roles were beginning to be challenged and although the loss of traditions can lead to uncertainty and anxiety it also creates the possibility for liberation once oppressive traditions which hold people back have been thrown away.
Technology both destroys old values but also creates new forms of communication that can help articulate new values. It expands the power of the state, but it also gives people power to resist the state. Technology can be both liberating and oppressive, although this view is controversial. However in the context of modern American life, often only the positive aspects of technology are mentioned, the negative side is often concealed.  These tools have opened up new areas of human understanding and allowed us to see things and think about things that people were not able to do prior to this. And of course the development of technology contributed to the nihilistic mood. Psychoanalysis challenges traditional notions of sexuality, communication (and community), and identity. Photography and film change our perception of our bodies and allow us to study the human body in ways we never could before. This also makes it easier to control people but also gives us greater insight into ourselves and others.

Next class we will wrap things up and brings thing up to the present.

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