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162. Paul Klee Angelus Novus - Past, Present and Future

By Giulio D'Ercole


Jungian synchronicity and Irène Némirovsky

I am always shocked by events' synchronicity. Yesterday I was in line at the supermarket. A very long line as I had expected before leaving the house, temporarily breaking the lockdown, to do my biweekly bulk food shopping. That's why before going out, I took one of the many books that usually sit on my bedside table. Le Bal, by Irène Némirovsky, had been there untouched and almost forgotten for quite a few weeks, but yesterday, it was like it suddenly called me (something that often happens to me with books).

I had been in line for about twenty minutes, when I took the little book out of my jumper pocket and with my arms resting now on the cart, I started reading the prologue... and I was literally dazzled!


Paul Klee's Angelus Novus

According to Walter Benjamin, whilst fleeing the Nazis in 1940: "... A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread...

"...This is how the angel of music must look. His face is turned to the past... he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling up wreckage upon wreckage... He would like to... make whole what has been smashed...

...A storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress..."


Our idea of past, present and future is changing because of Coronavirus

There have been events in the history of mankind that have transformed, redirected or completely hijacked its course. These events gave new routes to humanity, upsetting its rules, accelerating its evolution or generating new approaches to life: the ability to light fire, the invention of the wheel, of iron, the words of Jesus, those of Gandhi, Carl Marx, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, Einstein's formula E = mc2, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the discovery of penicillin, the landing on the moon and last but not least the invention of Internet.

All those events, inventions, revolutionary men have something in common: they defined epochs by establishing a tangible and profound difference in the before, during and after them. The future would have been radically different from the past, and the present would have never been the same again.

This is exactly what is happening today with the coronavirus pandemic.

In the past few months, all the securities that appeared to be solid and immutable have been shaken to their foundations. Much of what we took for granted, starting from the freedom to go out, to eat together, to stay close, to that of work and even of life itself have become uncertain, at risk.

The present we are experiencing is on the edge of a past whose habits, lifestyles, work and behavioral methods have been interrupted and suddenly we find ourselves facing an unknown future, with new rules, habits and behaviors, to be discovered, to be reinvented.

We don't really know yet how the new tomorrow will be in the long run. What we know is that we must adapt, learn and try our very best to take this life changing event as an opportunity to better our life and our existence on Earth.


So like a different Angelus Novus, let's open our wings today, and try as much as we can, not to be overwhelmed by the storm of events, but to gather the favorable winds to fly towards a more just and human future.




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All photographs by Giulio D'Ercole.

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