As I ponder Benjamin’s captivating concept, in which he draws a parallel between the Revolution and ancient Rome in a fashion reminiscent of an ancient dress, my cognitive faculties begin to untangle the intricate complexities inherent in this claim. Within the intricate web of my musings, I am engaged in a profound reflection on the nature of fashion and its remarkable capacity to capture the essence of the present moment, while simultaneously drawing from the profound depths of history.
Evidently, fashion possesses an uncanny intuition, comparable to a finely tuned olfactory organ that can detect the aromas of the contemporary environment. It navigates the ever-changing currents of our society with dexterity, ensuring that its designs and trends remain firmly rooted in the zeitgeist of the time. Yet, according to Benjamin, this search for the present takes place within the “thickness” of a bygone era. In other words, fashion is not merely a superficial reflection of the present, but rather a tapestry in which strands of the past intertwine with those of the present.
This concept evokes Benjamin’s concept of the Jeztzeit, which describes the present as a moment of illumination. In this conceptual framework, the present is not an ephemeral instant, but rather a phase of transformation in which the past and future converge in harmony. At this perplexing juncture, fragments of a messianic presence intertwine with the promise of a better tomorrow and the echoes of history.
Benjamin argues, by analogy between the Revolution and ancient Rome, that revolutions, like fashion, have the inherent capacity to recall and draw inspiration from bygone eras. In the same way that fashion designers draw inspiration from historical attire, revolutions frequently employ the symbols, ideas, and structures of the past to further their transformative goals. This assimilation of antiquity is not merely an imitation, but a deliberate effort to invoke the power and legacy of those who came before.
In the context of the Revolution, the reference to ancient Rome parallels the fashion industry’s reference to an ancient garment. Both endeavors acknowledge the significance and vitality of the past, recognizing that the present cannot exist apart from the annals of history. They recognize that the richness and depth of the human experience are intricately woven throughout time, and that to comprehend the essence of the present, one must delve into the complex tapestry of the past.
Nonetheless, it is necessary to emphasize that Benjamin’s use of the term “thickness” to describe the relationship between fashion and the past implies more than a simple, superficial appropriation of aesthetic elements. Rather, it implies a profound engagement with history, which entails a meticulous investigation of the complexities, contradictions, and conflicts inherent to bygone eras. This engagement with the past serves not only as a source of inspiration, but also as a lens through which to comprehend and, at times, reimagine the present.
Thus, fragments of a messianic presence become intertwined with the present. The messianic, in Benjamin’s view, is not limited to religious or prophetic connotations; rather, it represents the potential for transformative change. The fragments, echoes, and shards of this transformative force manifest in the present, interweaving with the social, cultural, and political fabric. Through this intricate interweaving, new possibilities emerge, and the present transforms into a revealing tableau.
Benjamin’s description of Jeztzeit compels us to reevaluate our understanding of time and history. It compels us to recognize that the present is a dynamic realm where the past and future converge, where the echoes of ancient Rome harmonize with the avant-garde visions of modern fashion. It urges us to investigate the complexities of the present, to accept the tangle of fragments, and to discover the transformative potential therein.
According to Benjamin’s conceptual framework, Jeztzeit represents a break in the linear progression of time. It challenges the conventional notion of the past, present, and future as distinct entities by condensing them into a single instant of intensity and potential. This moment of insight is not an isolated occurrence; rather, it is the culmination of historical forces, ideas, and struggles that have been accumulating over time.
By recognizing that fragments of a messianic presence are woven into the present, we come to recognize that the potential for transformation lies not in some distant future, but in the very fabric of our present reality. This understanding compels us to engage with the past critically, perceiving it not as a static entity but as a living continuum that shapes and informs our current actions. When we recognize its complexities and historical resonances, the present becomes a site of enlightenment.
With its inherent capacity to reflect and respond to contemporary trends, the concept of fashion aligns perfectly with Benjamin’s conception of Jeztzeit. Comparable to the Revolution, fashion draws inspiration from the past while simultaneously capturing the spirit of the present. This symbiotic relationship between tradition and innovation allows the fashion industry to evolve and remain relevant.
When fashion references a garment from the past, it does not simply replicate or imitate the past. Rather, it revitalizes ancient forms by reinterpreting and reimagining them in light of contemporary sensibilities. This process of citation exemplifies a cultural memory act in which the past is resurrected and reinterpreted to make it relevant to the present’s concerns and aspirations.
Thus, fashion serves as a vehicle for the manifestation of fragments of a messianic presence. It embodies the tensions between continuity and change, tradition and development. By engaging with the aesthetics and symbols of the past, fashion taps into a collective memory that transcends individual experiences and resonates with a broader cultural consciousness.
Moreover, fashion’s reliance on the past does not indicate a longing for bygone eras. Rather, it refers to a method of analyzing history critically and questioning the power dynamics and narratives that have shaped it. We can challenge prevailing narratives and reimagine alternative possibilities through fashion. It becomes a potent instrument for social and cultural critique, providing new perspectives and avenues for change.
In the context of revolutions, Benjamin’s concept of Jeztzeit compels us to reevaluate the complex relationship between past struggles and present aspirations. Similar to fashion, revolutions frequently draw inspiration from historical precedents by employing the symbols and philosophies of earlier movements. This deliberate reference to the past serves as a powerful reminder of the transformative potential inherent in collective action.
Similar to fashion designers navigating the richness and depth of historical garments, revolutionaries navigate the complexities of past conflicts by learning from their predecessors’ successes and failures. By referencing the past, revolutions forge a connection to the traditions of resistance, embodying the spirit of those who have previously fought for change.
However, it is crucial to approach the concept of revolution with discernment and analysis. The invocation of the past may provide inspiration and a sense of continuity, but it is essential to recognize that each revolution has its own distinct historical context. Revolutions are not merely replicas or repetitions of previous events; rather, they are dynamic phenomena that arise in response to particular social, political, and economic conditions. We gain a deeper understanding of the underlying dynamics and aspirations that drive revolutionary movements through a sincere engagement with the complexities of history.
As artists, it is our responsibility to perpetually investigate and question these ideas, examining their implications for our research, teaching, and community involvement with great care. The ideas of Walter Benjamin compel us to engage in interdisciplinary conversations that span the fields of history, philosophy, sociology, and cultural studies.
Let us enthusiastically embrace the transformative potential of the present moment, as Benjamin’s Jeztzeit concept elucidates. By enhancing our comprehension of the interplay between fashion, revolution, and historical consciousness, we contribute to a more nuanced and thorough understanding of our complex world.
Walter Benjamin, “The Arcades Project” (Germany)
Gilles Lipovetsky, “The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy” (France)
Terry Eagleton, “Walter Benjamin: Or, Towards a Revolutionary Criticism” (United Kingdom)
Roland Barthes, “The Fashion System” (France)
Michel Foucault, “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison” (France)
Susan Buck-Morss, “The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project” (United States)
David Harvey, “Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution” (United Kingdom)
Paul Ricoeur, “Memory, History, Forgetting” (France)
Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (United States)
Giorgio Agamben, “The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans” (Italy)