Sunday, January 2, 2011

Junk Shot

Angelus Novus (1920) by Paul Klee
Theorist and critic Walter Benjamin owned this watercolor for many years. In his essay, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," he wrote this about Klee's painting:

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 upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to say, 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.

If you have followed my blog the past three years, you couldn't fail but notice that beginning in May I stopped posting regularly. I didn't stop out of a lack of interest in blogging, that is, feeling I had nothing to say. The main reason I stopped had to do with what Walter Benjamin describes in the passage above, the catastrophe which has the disorienting effect of propelling us backwards into a future to which our back is turned, while the wreckage in front of us continues to grow higher. That ever-growing pile of wreckage is what we know as history. Beginning in early May, I found that I was increasingly preoccupied by the Gulf oil disaster and its ecological consequences, which so consumed my thoughts that I was simply unable to concentrate on anything significant for any length of time. Since by dint of personality I find it impossible to write about disaster - it is rather like a form of paralysis - I simply wrote nothing at all. And I think, for quite a awhile, longer than I realized, I didn't think about blogging at all. One might say that the theoretical implication concerns the disappearance of selfhood as the defining experience of identity in the postmodern world.

The fact is, as Slavoj Zizek has observed, no private, profit-oriented company, no matter how rich or how powerful, is capable of handling a major ecological catastrophe such as the Gulf oil spill: it doesn't have the reach to both contain the disaster and clean up the mess at the same time, which is why it was so ludicrous when the executives of the companies involved in the Gulf oil disaster - BP, Transocean and Halliburton - started pointing fingers at each other during their testimony before the U. S. Senate. The greater problem, though, is that all the pseudo-scientific statistical blather about "sustainable risks" only promises, as Zizek observes, more catastrophes, that is, an ever-increasing pile of debris.

Speaking of testifying . . . (for the ambiguous etymology of the word testify, go here), the answer to the riddle I posted on New Year's Eve is below.

The fifth man has only one testicle.

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