Angels of Modernism: Religion, Culture, Aesthetics 1910–1960 by Suzanne Hobson (auth.)

By Suzanne Hobson (auth.)

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Both factions agree there is much to be enjoyed in some of the more incredulous and outlandish stories about the angels. For Woolf, the problem is less with the angel as a residuum of a religious than a patriarchal age and her whimsical solution is to figuratively ‘kill’ the figure beloved of nineteenth-century poets and novelists – the Angel in the House. Benjamin’s example has an altogether more serious and even tragic demeanour. In Theses on the Philosophy of History, the angel is wrenched out of his divine element to bear witness to the ongoing catastrophe of modern history.

5 Views are divided as to the consequences of the entry into history both for individual subjects and for the age as a whole. 6 On the other, to follow Hegel, modernity is a radically ungrounded moment. 7 In this 36 Angels of Modernism second version, the shift from divine to historical time appears both as release and burden: it sets us free to critique the past and to shape our own future and it cuts us adrift from narratives of beginnings and endings leaving us with nothing to contemplate except, melancholically, our own sense of loss.

Supposedly sighted during the retreat of the British Expeditionary Force from the battle of Mons in August 1914, the Angels of Mons rapidly became a popular myth combining elements of biblical eschatology with a consolatory form of religion and a folkish brand of nationalism. There are many variations on this story, but all of them describe how, heavily outnumbered and in retreat, the English soldiers witnessed an apparition in the sky. Shortly afterwards the German forces, though superior in number and holding the better position, turned and abandoned the field – a deliverance that for commentators on this event was Historical Angels and Angels of History 39 nothing short of miraculous.

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