The burning archive

The Burning Archive is the title of my work in progress collection of poetry.

It is inspired by Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, a painting of 1920, a world in which political, cultural and social orders were in collapse. The painting was inscribed by Walter Benjamin into Gerhard Scholem’s apocalyptic visions, and became the most enduring of his Theses on the philosophy of history.

IX

Mein Flügel ist zum Scwung bereit,

ich kehrte gern zurück,

denn blieb ich auch lebendige Zeit,

ich hätte wenig Glück.

      – Gerard Scholem, Gruss vom Angelus.

[My wing is ready for flight,

I would like to turn back.

If I stayed timeless time,

I would have little luck.]

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 towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon 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 from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such 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.

Illuminations, pp.259-260

The storm of progress now threatens to burn the remaining archives of human memory. In an infinite set of information, no tradition holds fast. Where then does the Orphean writer look, if not like this angel towards the past, while being blown irresistibly forward by a fire storm?

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