This essay reads Walter Benjamin’s description of Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus through Theodor Adorno’s theorization of art’s contradictory sociality. In this analysis, the object that is illustrative of Benjamin’s imagined angel of history takes on the characteristics of that figure as the art object itself in Adorno’s analysis of art’s enforced distance from empirical reality. Just as the angel is forced to observe the wreckage of history from afar, the art object must remain framed within its own socially produced constraints, which protects it from what it observes but also ensures that it may take no action on behalf of the suffering that it expresses. This analysis is then used to consider the possible status of the angel in the moment of contemporaneity, as art embraces sociality and faces a weakened autonomy.

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