In 1922, Benjamin took the name Angelus Novus for a proposed journal, though it was seen by the publisher as commercially non-viable and never appeared. And he was forced a few years later to withdraw, or have failed, his Habilitationsschrift (the final doctoral thesis required in Germany for an academic career) which the examiners found incomprehensible (Gilloch, 2002: 15). Its subject was German seventeenth-century tragic drama (Trauerspiel), in which for Benjamin history is likened to a process of natural decay, represented in this genre as fragmentation, ruination and mortification (Gilloch, 2002: 15). This is close to elements of his (much later) theses on history, which Richard Wolin in Walter Benjamin: An Aesthetic of Redemption, singling out the passage on the angel, summarises as depicting ‘a vast heap of ruins that grows incessantly higher with the passage of time’ yet which is lit from the future by ‘a redemptive hope’ (Wolin, 1994: 61). Wolin adds that such an understanding can be communicated only in metaphorical terms. Esther Leslie, too, in Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism, sees the angel as standing on

in the sheer destructive capacity of technological progress’ (Leslie, 2000: 7). Benjamin’s doctoral study was eventually published in 1928 – now translated in English as The Origin of German Tragic Drama. In it he refutes criticism as (definitive) interpretation, which assumes a power relation, and instead proposes an immersion in the material on which reflection takes place, a heightening of consciousness in which the truth of the work speaks and the work itself is extended, again through the oblique medium of metaphor. Rendell, adapting categories used by Benjamin, describes her text as angelic in form, situated between subjectivity and objectivity, between critical and creative writing. Its form is, unlike any other essay in this book, that of a creative rather than simply discursive practice, structured as ten meditations on images of emptiness followed by a reiteration of the first heading as coda. Those images – for instances the photographs of Rut Blees Luxemburg and Catherine Yass, or Tacita Dean’s work on abandoned (because out-dated) technologies of surveillance – are in keeping with Benjamin’s understanding of history as ruin, but also as what we have.