THOUGHTS ON “ON THE CONCEPT OF HISTORY”

The “soothsayers” to which the author Walter Benjamin refers in “On the Concept of History” acknowledges those who claim a share of knowledge in the future—or rather, end—of the universe. In Benjamin’s words, he asserts that such soothsayers “did not experience [time] as either homogenous or empty,” but instead that they lived in remembrance of the past.

My interpretation of Benjamin’s concept is that “time”—as the general population considers it being segmented into the three categories of “past,” “present,” and future”—is in reality simply a paradigm of “now-time.” Rather than time being a rectilinear continuum of events delineated by those three sections, time is actually existence in itself; rather, the existence of the past nor what is to exist in the future is no less relevant or extant to the universe’s function than the present. In this way, the soothsayers recognize and remember past events in all their consequence, and that consequence is what the present is and what the future will be—in time, all is one.

Therefore, even the Jews who were prohibited from forecasting polar afterlives of heaven or hell, yet were encouraged to delve into remembrance of the past, were still in sync with what was to come. In this way, when Benjamin emphasizes that for Jews “every second was the small gateway in time through which the Messiah might enter,” he emphasizes the prevalence of the concept of “now-time” in Judaism, despite the religion’s highlighting of the past and aversion to the prediction of the future, because for Jews, the currency of time was paradoxically ultimate.

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