Thursday, October 07, 2004

Speaking of which

The excerpt from Walter Benjamin's Theses on the Philosophy of History at the end of this post suits is posted with reference to k-p on the destruction of the Mayan civilisation. Quoth k-punk:

A whole civilization went up in smoke. ...

When the Spaniards arrived, they found the Mayan
aristocrats lolling in hammocks. Well, time to show them what is what. Five
captured workers, bound and stripped, are castrated on a stump, the bleeding,
sobbing, screaming bodies thrown into a pile...

But at least they made 'aesthetically superior' things
out of that gold, folks, so don't sweat it...

And now, here's Walter:

To historians who wish to relive an era, Fustel de Coulanges recommends that they blot out everything they know about the later course of history. There is no better way of characterising the method with which historical materialism has broken. It is a process of empathy whose origin is the indolence of the heart, acedia, which despairs of grasping and holding the genuine historical image as it flares up briefly. Among medieval theologians it was regarded as the root cause of sadness. Flaubert, who was familiar with it, wrote: ‘Peu de gens devineront combien il a fallu être triste pour ressusciter Carthage.’ (Few will be able to guess how sad one had to be in order to resuscitate Carthage.) The nature of this sadness stands out more clearly if one asks with whom the adherents of historicism actually empathize. The answer is inevitable: with the victor. And all rulers are the heirs of those who conquered before them. Hence, empathy with the victor invariably benefits the rulers. Historical materialists know what that means. Whoever has emerged victorious participates to this day in the triumphal procession in which the present rulers step over those who are lying prostrate. According to traditional practice, the spoils are carried along in the procession. They are called cultural treasures, and a historical materialist views them with cautious detachment. For without exception the cultural treasures he surveys have an origin which he cannot contemplate without horror. They owe their existence not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries. There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another. A historical materialist therefore dissociates himself from it as far as possible. He regards it as his task to brush history against the grain.

(emphasis added)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great quote!!!

Mark k-p

10:07 pm  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home