The Angel of History: Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Scholem

Good review in Notre Dame Philosophic Review. It shows how we currently read these thinkers and the importance of Rosenzweig for that generation. The book focuses on how they all reject the linear approach to progress-redemption.
It is interesting to note how Benjamin calls all human acts for redemption as “theurgy” I always wondered where Moshe Idel got the phrase since his was not a big Iamblichus reader. And important for the literature of Scholem, Idel and onto Halbertal, Benjamin calls the chain of interpretation “a weak messianic force.”
Here are selections from the review.
Stéphane Mosès, The Angel of History: Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Scholem, Barbara Harshav (tr.), Stanford UP, 2009, Reviewed by Eric Jacobson, Roehampton University

Stéphane Mosès’s The Angel of History is a classic in modern Jewish philosophy

The Angel of History is one of the few studies in twentieth century Jewish thought and philosophy to draw out a common tradition and render the comparative notions of temporality and causation accessible. This comparison is achieved by coalescing all three thinkers around a bifurcated notion of history: one that makes its appearance in worldly affairs, guided by the hand of the conquerors, and another based on an indelible thread that links this generation to a history to come. All three partook of this view to varying degrees and its final resolution in a Messianic redemption.

Since the first publication of this pioneering study in 1992, it is surprising to note how much has changed in the scholarship on Franz Rosenzweig, Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem. For one, it is no longer common to place Benjamin under the lens of Marxism. Equally, Rosenzweig is more commonly viewed in the light of Levinas , Expressionism and Heidegger today than in the shadow of Martin Buber. But perhaps even more, our picture of Scholem has considerably changed with the ongoing scholarship of the Kabbalah.

An exchange of letters from 1921 establishes the influence of The Star of Redemption on Benjamin and Scholem. There is evidence to suggest that Benjamin shapes his early Messianism in relation to The Star. Scholem’s debt to Rosenzweig is evident in many places, not least in a 1930 lecture delivered in Rosenzweig’s memory.

A common approach to history, which Mosès understands as a revolt against the idea of progress, a history leading to greater forms of reason that finds an epiphany in Hegel. As he remarks: “Past suffering is not abolished even by a triumphant future, which claims to give them meaning, and more than thwarted hopes are refuted by the failures that seem to sanction them” (11).

Mosès speaks of a model in Benjamin’s thought which is anti-sequential, exemplified by the conclusions to the Origins of German Tragic Drama that “a work of art can never be deduced from those that precede it”. There is no history that follows unwaveringly from one advancing moment to the next, and no experience that is reducible to mere sequence, generalization, even totalization. Rather than a progression, history lies below layers of stratification (85). Redemption at any moment meant for Benjamin the search for a historical site between the incessant return of the unremarkable and an infinitely new that anticipates a complete and final end. Redemption was on no absolute course, symbolized by the last line of his On the Concept of History, which understands the immediacy of redemption as the door through which the Messiah may enter at any time.

In the early years, he was indeed attracted to the systematic nature of The Star of Redemption, yet he would ultimately follow a course that was intrinsically methodical. He sought to avoid any theurgical impulse, favoring notions such as the “unintentional” of human acts which advances redemption without active causation. In the later years, the tightrope is spanned across the interpretation of history, where each generation participates in a “weak messianic force” through the act of interpretation
Full Review Here

2 responses to “The Angel of History: Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Scholem

  1. The tragedy that is currently being played out in Jewish life is that the largest group moves along with modernity, and a second group much smaller but growing very rapidly has regressed to a premodern world. A third group has a foot in both camps and finds the experience confusing and a strain.

    In Hegel’s philosophy of history as we move from one type of consciousness to another, two things change, the ontology and the rules of inference. And indeed this is what we find in our little Jewish shtetl. Charedim have pre- modern rules of inference. They believe in rabbis and halachic reasoning to establish reality. And to them that seems obvious. To those who live in the modern world these ways of determining reality seems absurd.

    How would the big three handle this issue?

  2. Think of the angel causing widespread upheaval and change and then without our ability to see where we are being flung finding ourselves in a new reality. There can be no intentionality on our part, no consciousness, and no foreknowledge. Our hopes will not yield anything. Nor can we hasten the redemption.
    But the angel will reveal a new origin, a new beginning to start the process again.

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