What If the Angel of History Were a Dog?

Deborah Rose


My title question comes from Walter Benjamin’s ninth thesis on the philosophy of history. The answer I explore is that she is howling. I engage with some of the implications of the howling of living beings in a time of death. My concern is with death, and I must distinguish between two contexts of death. The first is the fact of death that inheres in life. Life, with the exception of some bacteria, involves death both for individuals and, it now seems, in much longer time frames, for most species. Death, as a corollary to life, happens to all of us complex creatures. In this context of death I will be working with the idea that living things are bound into ecological communities of life and death, and further that these communities are fields of matter within which life is making and unmaking itself in time and place. The second context I discuss differs from the first in being a uniquely human invention: the context that we now call man-made mass death. I am concerned with the desire for destruction that is perhaps best termed the will-to-destruction.


death; Walter Benjamin; art; philosophy; history; destruction

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/csr.v12i1.3414