The way forward is backward. The Angel of History looks backward, mouth and eyes agape at the rubble-heap of the past, wishing to pause “to awaken the dead and piece together what has been smashed.” But Benjamin’s angel, facing what approached France from the east in 1940, could not pause, propelled irresistibly into the future on the storm-clouds of “progress.”
Can our angel still not pause a moment? In America, three generations later, he no longer even faces backward. We dare not look in the direction of our buried and broken, nor trace the path of the world-storm washing a deluge of exploitation from paradise to oblivion. And so we see no glimmer of sunlight in the east. We race always westward in desperate hope for a new day, imagining that Silicon Valley will build the rocket that blasts us at last from the shadows of history.
Were we to rest but a moment, were we to pause and consider how we got here, we might sift through the rubble and find the pieces worth salvaging, those that will float amidst our rising sea levels, those that will reflect a ray of sunshine. History might be our salvation.