Podcast for Social Research, Episode 77: Revolution and Counterrevolution — Klee’s Angelus Novus and Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History

In episode 77 of the Podcast for Social Research, recorded live at Goethe-Institut Chicago, BISR faculty and Chicago Coordinator Audrey Nicolaïdes sat down with special guest, art historian Annie Bourneuf, to discuss revolution and counterrevolution, in text and dialectical image. Annie begins with a reexamination of Walter Benjamin’s aesthetic and philosophical project in light of a surprising discovery: Paul Klee’s famous Angelus Novus—a print in Benjamin’s own collection—is in fact a piece of collage; Klee’s image is glued atop a sixteenth-century engraving of a portrait of Martin Luther. What did such an image mean to Klee, in the context of counterrevolutionary Munich in the 1920s? And how does this citation bear on Benjamin’s attachment to the image and the inspiration he drew from it? Then, Audrey walks us through the schisms that put socialist movements in pre- and interwar Europe on their back foot—and the world-historical consequences these schisms entailed. What were the fundamental assumptions—fundamentally in error—about the progressive nature of historical processes that Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” is an attempt to redress? Along the way, the two touch on the centrality of concepts like ephemerality and contemporaneity in Benjamin’s work, parody and citation, the revolutionary potential of “hatred for the oppressor,” and more.

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This episode of the Podcast for Social Research was produced by Ryan Lentini. If you like what you’ve heard, consider subscribing to Brooklyn Institute’s Patreon page, where you can enjoy access to all past and future episodes of this podcast, as well as (Pop) Cultural Marxism, Practical Criticism, Faculty Spotlight, and other BISR podcast productions.

Podcast for Social Research, Episode 77: Revolution and Counterrevolution — Klee's Angelus Novus and Benjamin's Theses on the Philosophy of History

Notations

Annie Bourneuf, Behind the Angel of History: The “Angelus Novus” and Its Interleaf (University of Chicago Press)

Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940)

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