[NB] Questions of Fate

So, if I am talking about destiny, it seems like I should give fate its due. For this, we’ll depart France and cross over into Germany, for a visit with our dearly departed Walter Benjamin. Benjamin’s discussion of fate provides a counterpoint to Deleuze’s conception of destiny.

The laws of fate–misfortune and guilt–are elevated by law to measures of the person…all legal guilt is nothing other than misfortune. Mistakenly, through confusing itself with the realm of justice, the order of law, which is only a residue of the demonic stage of human existence when legal statutes determined not only man’s relationships but their relation to the gods….in tragedy demonic fate is breached….not by having the endless pagan chain of guilt and atonement superseded by the purity of man who has expiated and is with the pure god. Rather, in tragedy pagan man becomes aware that he is better than his god, but the realization robs him of speech….[the tragic hero] wishes to raise himself by shaking that tormented world.” (307)

Again, the axial age rears its head, with the dramatic transformation in human self-understanding, here emerging through tragedy rather than religion or philosophy. Compare this entanglement with that of spiritualism and art in our own era…

Fate is the guilt context of the living….It is never man but only the life in him that it [fate] strikes–the part involved in natural guilt and misfortune by virtue of illusion….she [the clairvoyant] discovers in signs something about a natural life in man that she seeks to substitute for the head of genius…the man who visits her gives way to the guilty life within himself. (308)

Contrary to our pop psychology, Benjamin makes guilt proper to fate and law rather than religion (though, surely, for the era to which he refers, the three were not entirely distinct; note Plato’s Socrates cuts precisely at this entanglement and thus threatens the entire edifice).

The fortuneteller who uses cards and the palmist teach us at least that this time [of fate] can at every moment be made simultaneous with another (not present). It is not an autonomous time, but is parasitically dependent on the time of a higher, less natural life. (308)

What catches my eye with this material is its emphasis on fate as a limiting factor, a function of our material or ‘animal’ existence, that it tends to limit.

It makes for a nice contrast case with Deleuze’s destiny. Unlike destiny, Benjamin’s fate tends to strip away a horizon of possibility.

I would be moderately curious to know how gendered this is in the original German, but it is, ahem, noteworthy to observe the skew here.


5 thoughts on “[NB] Questions of Fate

  1. Pingback: [NB] Two Kinds of Sovereign Power | Disrupt & Repair

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  4. Pingback: Wading into the Depths | Disrupt & Repair

  5. Pingback: [NB] We don’t need another hero | Disrupt & Repair

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