On Thinking and Living Otherwise

February 2nd, 2017

From bookseller Conor:

I've had a ton of people ask what we recommend for this time. One I go back to personally a lot is Walter Benjamin's "Theses on the Philosophy of History" as a way of stopping to collect my thoughts and recognize the necessity of thinking (and reading) critically, especially when it seems like all recent events appear as "one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage" (Thesis IX). Given the historical circumstances under which this text was written, fleeing fascist governments across Europe in 1940 with a briefcase full of what would be his final notes before taking his own life, Benjamin's essay is remarkably clairvoyant: 

"Thinking involves not only the movement of thoughts, but their arrest as well. Where thinking suddenly comes to a stop in a constellation saturated with tensions, it gives that constellation a shock, by which thinking is crystallized as a monad. The historical materialist approaches a historical object only where it confronts him as a monad.In this structure he recognizes the sign of a messianic arrest of happening, or (to put it differently) a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past. He takes cognizance of it in order to blast a specific era out of the homogeneous course of history; thus he blasts a specific life out of the era, a specific work out of the life work." (Thesis XVII in "Theses on the Philosophy of History," published in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings V4, 1938-1940)

I find reading the essay has been essential in provoking this arrest of thought, even as the world seems like its hurtling toward disaster. In this arrest I find the hope for thinking and living otherwise.