Tag Archives: Walter Benjamin

This is how science moves

This is how science moves, through layers of history, through what phenomenologists call the “lifeworld.” The great scientist Benno Müller-Hill famously described the “two faces” of molecular biology. “In the textbooks, almost everything is solved and clear,” he wrote. “Most claims are so self-evident that no proofs are given. Old, classical experiments disappear.” In a sense, the first face is taken as a given. “The other face of molecular biology is seen at scientific conferences or read in recent issues or NatureScience or Cell,” at the cutting edge of the field, where knowledge struggles with ignorance. Robert Pogue Harrison has suggested the metaphor of “two angels,” drawing on Paul Klee’s painting — made famous in Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” — that depicts an “angel of history is borne upward through the air on outspread wings, facing backward.” In Benjamin’s vision, all the angel sees are “the accumulated ruins of the has-been.” Harrison goes on to suggest that

science flies on the wing of another kind of angel — the angel of neoteny — who weaves in and out of enfolded spaces, forever turning a corner or rounding a bend, entering or exiting a crease of the cosmos, such that his expectant, forward-looking gaze sees anew a world it has been seen countless times before, always as if for the first time.

–Jim Kozubek, On Writing a History of Crispr-Cas9


Geniuses and storytellers

“The problem for geniuses writing conceptually-driven fiction (however timely it may be) is that concepts, and the connections between them, are platonically timeless. Human connections, on the other hand, are made of nothing else but time—memory, reflection, the slow accumulation of time shared. Maybe what we need are fewer novels by geniuses, and more stories by storytellers.”

–Jessi Stevens, “Against Realism

Aesthetic pleasure of the first order

“Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic.”

—Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Couldn’t help but think of the perennially-relevant Benjamin when I read Todd VanDerWerff’s analysis of Donald Trump’s mastery of reality TV and what it might mean for his candidacy.