angelus novus1920

Paul Klee’s 1920 watercolor, Angelus Novus (once owned by Walter Benjamin and now part of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem collection).


[by Walter Benjamin:] Written 18 December [1927]. 3:30 a.m.

Translated by Scott J. Thompson

1. Apparitions hover (vignette-like) over my right shoulder. Chill in this shoulder. In this context: “I have the feeling that there are 4 in the room apart from myself.” (Avoidance of the necessity to include myself.)

2. Elucidation of the Potemkin anecdote[1] by the explanation, be it suggestion: to present to a person the mask of their own face (i.e., of the bearer’s own face).

3. Odd remarks about aetheric mask [Äthermaske], which would (obviously) have mouth, nose, etc.

4. The co-ordinates through the apartment: cellar-floor/ horizontal line. Spacious horizontal expanse of the apartment. Music is coming from a suite of rooms. But perhaps the corridor [is] terrifying, too.

5. Unlimited goodwill. Suspension of the compulsive anxiety complex. The beautiful “character” unfolds. All of those present become comically iridescent. At the same time one is pervaded by their aura.

6. The comical is not only drawn out of faces but also out of situations. One searches out occasions for laughter. Perhaps it is for that reason that so much of what one sees presents itself as “arranged”, as “test”: so that one can laugh about it.

7. Poetic evidence in the phonetic: for a while at one point, no sooner had I made an assertion than I’d have used the very word in answer to a question merely by the perception ( so to speak) of the length of time in the duration of sound in either of the words. I sense that as poetic evidence.

8. Connection; distinction. Feeling of little wings growing in one’s smile. Smiling and flapping as related. One has among other things the feeling of being distinguished because one fancies oneself in such a way that one really doesn’t become too deeply involved in anything: however deeply one delves, one always moves on a threshold. Type of toe dance of reason.

9. It is often striking how long the sentences one speaks are. This, too, connected with horizontal expansion and (to be sure) with laughter. The arcade phenomenon is also the long horizontal extension, perhaps combined with the line vanishing into the distant, fleeting, infinitesimal perspective. In such minuteness there would seem to be something linking the representation of the arcade with the laughter. (Compare Trauerspiel book: miniaturizing power of reflection). [2]

10. In a moment of being lost in thought something quite ephemeral arises, like a kind of inclination to stylize [a few words here illegible] one’s body by oneself.

11. Aversion to information. Rudiments of a state of transport. Considerable sensitivity towards open doors, loud talk, music.

12. Feeling of understanding Poe much better now. The entrance gates to a world of grotesques seem to open up. I simply prefer not to enter.

13. Heating-oven becomes cat. Mention of the word ‘ginger’ in setting up the writing table and suddenly there is a fruitstand there, which I immediately recognize as the writing table. I recalled the 1001 Nights.

14. Thought follows thought reluctantly and ponderously.

15. The position which one occupies in the room is not held as firmly as usual. Thus it can suddenly happen –to me it transpired quite fleetingly –that the entire room appears to be full of people.

16. The people with whom one is involved (particularly Joël and Fränkel) are very inclined to become somewhat transformed: I wouldn’t say that they become alien nor do they remain familiar, but rather resemble something like foreigners.

17. It seemed to me: pronounced aversion to discuss matters of practical life, future, dates, politics. The intellectual sphere is as spellbinding as is the sexual at times to persons possessed, who are absorbed in it.

18. Afterwards with Hessel in the cafe. Departure from the spirit-world. Wave farewell.

19. The mistrust towards food. A special and very accentuated instance of the feeling which a great many things occasion: “Surely you don’t really mean to look that way!”

20. When he spoke of ‘ginger’, H[essel]’s writing table was transformed for a second into a fruitstand.

21. I associate the laughter with the extraordinary fluctuations of opinion. More precisely stated, it is, among other things, connected with the considerable sense of detachment. Furthermore, this insecurity which possibly increases to the point of affectation is to a certain extent an outward projection of the inner feeling of ticklishness.

22. It is striking that the inhibiting factors which lie in superstition, etc.,and which are not easy to designate, are freely expressed rather impulsively without strong resistance.

23. In an elegy of Schiller’s it is called “The Butterfly’s Doubting Wings” [“Des Schmetterlings zweifelnder Flügel”].[3] This in the connection of being exhilarated with the feeling of doubt.

24. One traverses the same paths of thought as before. Only they seem strewn with roses.

–Translated by Scott J. Thompson


[1] The Potemkin anecdote from Alexander Pushkin’s Anecdotes was used twice by Benjamin: at the beginning of the essay “Franz Kafka” (Schriften II, p. 196f.) [Trans.: see “Franz Kafka” in Illuminations, by H. Zohn, Schocken Press, NY, 1969, pp. 111-112] and in the story “Die Unterschrift” [“The Signature”] in Prager Tagblatt 5. Aug. 1934 and Frankfurter Zeitung 5. Sept. 1934. It can also be found under the title “Potemkins Unterschrift” [“Potemkin’s Signature”] in Ernst Bloch’s Spuren.

[2] Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, hrsg. von Rolf Tiedemann, 1969, S. 78 [See Origins of German Tragic Drama, trans. by J. Osborne, London: New Left Books, 1977, p. 83 ].

[3] Compare “Der Spaziergang” [“The Stroll”]: “Mit zweifelndem Flügel/ Wiegt der Schmetterling sich über dem rötlichen Klee.” [“With doubting wing/ The butterfly sways above the red clover”].

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  1. Martin Walker says:

    In the notes you give the exact Schiller reference, which confirms that he wrote of the butterfly’s wing (singular masculine dative) – so why make it plural in the text at 23, where it is singular masculine nominative (zweifelnder Flügel)?

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