Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dancing around the black hole

The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.
Walter Benjamin, Thesis on the Philosophy of History, 1940

There was once a Lutheran who was arrested by the Nazis and put into a holding cell with a bunch of Jews headed for Auschwitz. The man protested that he was not a Jew, he hated Jews, in fact. He was a Lutheran. He was born a Lutheran. The Nazis replied that his mother was a Jew and so he was a Jew. No, he replied with passion, my mother converted to Christianity long before I was born and she married a Lutheran and she raised me a Lutheran and she was a Lutheran. No, the Nazis replied, she was a Jew. And so the man found himself in the gas chamber with a chamber load of Jews as the gas was being dropped into the chamber. As he drew his last breath it finally dawned on him, "oh, my God, I'm a Jew!"

All his life he thought that he knew who he was. He was a German and a Lutheran and he hated Jews. At the very last moment of his life he discovers that he is a Jew. He realizes that on some level this fact was fundamental to who he was and what his destiny was to be. He cannot now go back and live his life over and he has no future, so what benefit is his final insight?
Binyamin Mehler, Meditation on Benjamin, (2009)

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