Excerpt from Benjamin

February 9, 2010

posted by Caroline Picard

Written by Walter Benjamin

Translated by Hannah Arendt

excerpt from

ILLUMINATIONS

“One of the most remarkable characteristics of human nature,” writes Lotze, “is, alongside so much selfishness in specific instances, the freedom from envy which the present displays toward the future.” Reflection show us that our image of happiness is thoroughly colored by the time  which the course of our own has assigned us. The kind of happiness that could arouse envy in us exists only in the air we have breathed, among people we could have talked to, women who could have given themselves to us. In other words, our image of happiness is indissolubly bound up with the image of redemption. The same applies to our view of the past, which is the concern of history. The past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption. There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a powered to which the past has a claim. That claim cannot be settled cheaply. Historical materialists are aware of that.

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