As flowers turn towards the sun

Benjamin’s theses ‘On the Concept of History’, the final precipitate of the unfinished Arcades Project, was intended to strike at the fundamental pillars of a thought complicit in its times.1 On the seventieth anniversary of the Ribbentrop–Molotov pact, which prompted its drafting, it is tempting to question the attraction of this set of notes, not intended for publication for fear of ‘misinterpretation’.2 Faced with proliferating readings of its intricacies, the question nonetheless remains how to understand its ‘messianism’ given the post-religious attitude of its many advocates. This article examines once again the ‘Copernican Revolution in historiography’ announced by Benjamin, and its metaphysical commitments; here, in the light of its recruitment of a topology of historical time from Bergson’s Matter and Memory, as mediated via Proust.



1. Walter Benjamin, ‘Über den Begriff der Geschichte’, in Illuminationen, Surhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 1977, pp. 251–61; ‘On the Concept of History’, trans. Harry Zohn, in Selected Writings, Volume 4: 1938–1940, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, Belknap, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London, 2003, pp. 389–400. Hereafter citations are embedded in the main text with references to the numbered thesis.

2. ‘I don’t need to inform you that I have not the least intention of publishing these notes (and certainly not in the form in which they have been presented to you). They would open up the floodgates to enthusiastic misinterpretation.’ Walter Benjamin, Letter to Gretel Adorno (April 1940), cited in Esther Leslie, Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism, Pluto Press, London, 2000, p. 207.

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