Photo by Lefteris Margaritis, 2017
Time is conceived of as representing hope, opportunities and vision – all of which are acutely challenged by the notion of crisis. Time is inextricably bound up with notions of progress, growth and development. By contrast, in a state of crisis, defined as a temporary, critical turning point, the past is experienced through a sense of nostalgia, the present is experienced as loss, and the future is precarious. At the old port of Lesvos a street art piece depicting 3 children playing underneath the tag ‘We are an image from the future, No Borders, No Nations, No Governments’ makes a strong comment on a shared vision of future that is not yet here, but about to happen. This shared vision of a future brings to mind Benjamin’s fifth thesis on the philosophy of history (1968), in which he states that:
[t]he 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 recognised and is never seen again. ‘The truth will not run away from us’ – this remark by Gottfried Keller denotes the exact point where historical materialism breaks through historicism’s picture of history. For every image of the past that is not recognised by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably (1968: 255).
In other words, the fragments of truth of the past are only visible as a contingent image, always under the threat of slipping away. This image becomes decisive in the continuity between past and present struggles. Benjamin argues against historicism and the claim that it depicts the eternal image of the past, and instead he puts forward an image of history as a constellation of self-standing experiences. The most valuable aspect of his theses on the philosophy of history is that they provide a non-linear conception of time, or to put it differently, a conceptualisation of time that breaks the hegemonic contract of time.
Benjamin, Walter (1968) Illuminations, trans by Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books.
Tsilimpounidi, Myrto (2017) Sociology of Crisis: Visualising Urban Austerity. London: Routledge.