Sunday, October 4, 2009

Walter Benjamin- On the Concept of History IX

My wing is poised to fly
I would like to turn back
Were I to stay forever
I still would not be fortunate.

- 'Greetings from the Angelus' by Gershon Scholem

There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. It portrays an angel who looks as if he were about to move away from something he is staring at. His eyes are wide, his mouth open and his wings are spread. The angel of history must look just like this. His countenance is turned to the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees one single catastrophe, which unremittingly piles wreck upon wreck and hurls it at his feet. He would like to linger, to awaken the dead and to make whole what has been shattered. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise which has caught his wings and is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives him inexorably into the future on which he has turned his back while the heap of debris in front of him piles up towards the sky. That, which we call progress, is this storm.

(Tr. Deborah Marshall)

Culture- A Fable

Culture began when someone tasted something sweeter, saltier, more pungent than usual and shared it with a friend. In song, movement, dress, awareness, people began cultivating certain qualities to discover, establish, strengthen, and inspire themselves as a group.

And this ensemble of what is considered to be knowledge, what are valid beliefs, ideals, what is held to be logic, norms, performances and material objects came to embody the accumulated experience, wisdom, values, fears and ideals received from the past and made manifest in the sense perceptions of the present. Thus everything we know through the senses of our social existence and continuity is our culture.

In our history, most, but certainly not all, cultural production was directed by the aspirations of autocrats, religious institutions, dynasties, feudal lords, or, most recently bureaucratic orders. These predominating institutions have sponsored (and manipulated) both the perceptible form of human continuity and the modes in which we share our current experience. Thus, whether they are benevolent or not, our experience is enmeshed with them. The fact of the matter is that we are born, live and die within them. Whatever culture we are born into is the matrix of our thinking and perceptions, our nightmares and our dreams. No human can avoid this.

The underlying point in rehashing all this here is simply to clarify the groundwork for theatrical performance. The performance space, the kinds of actions to be dramatized, the kind of stylization, the kinds or words, diction, gestures, costumes and so forth, even the idea of performance itself are all social/cultural artifacts. All have their own histories and carry with them their own specific resonance. All have evolved in a context of suffering and embody a deep relationship to human longing.