“..A spectral figure now appears before him – the “genius of Tombs and Ruins” – and spirits him high, into the air, from which lofty vantage he sees the globe spotted with deserts, fires, and fugitive and desolate peoples. It is a law of nature Volney surmises, that all things must fall into ruin. But the apparation corrects him: the hideous earthly vision above which he floats at a sublime distance, is not natural at all. It is, precisely, human history.”
-A description of a passage from Comte de Volney’s Les Ruines, ou Meditation, sur les revolutions des empire, (1792) – Excerpted from Brian Dillon’s essay “Fragments From a History of Ruin”
“A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”
-Walter Benjamin, from “Thesis on the Philosophy of History”
The word monument derives from monere – to remind, warn. The monument as we think of it, the emblem which always points idealistically, emphatically towards utopia, a dream, is fatalistically anchored to a memory, that which has already been. Furthermore the monument is the memory of a dream, a failed utopia. As Svetlana Boym might say, the monument is the ruin of the future – the future that never happened.
I wonder if we can propose a re-reading of Benjamin’s proposition as follows: We are the angels of history. We look towards the ruin of past events formulating constellations (chains of events). We understand the future that is behind us through these constellations. The storm from Paradise which propels us towards the future is precisely the same as the storm which has destroyed our past. It is this contradiction which allows us to continue moving backwards as we imagine the future as the next ruin in our unfinished constellation. The ruin is the embodiment of the future – history. The Ruin is The Monument.
This issue of Shifter, Ruin|Monument will attempt to explore these questions – questions which are pressing as a city just built has been once again destroyed. The monument here? Religious dogma, Political power, Machismo. We the angels read our newspapers, the winds of paradise catching under our wings.
1) The fragmented | The unified
2) The fractured | The intact
3) The erased | The extant
4) The silence | The voice
5) The fleeting | The fallen