The cover of this book sports a funky riff on Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus, which has been reimagined as a colourful line drawing of an adult holding hands with a child. The figure in Klee’s painting is notorious as the ‘angel of history’ invoked by the German thinker Walter Benjamin, its face ‘turned towards the past’, where it sees ‘one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage’ at its feet. Blown backwards by the storm we call ‘progress’, the angel is unable to stop and reassemble the debris.
The cover version is an apt emblem of the philosopher Tom Whyman’s delightfully dissonant attempt to integrate his ‘intellectual goth phase’ – an allegiance to the social criticism of the Frankfurt School of which Benjamin was a part – with his new identity as a doting father-to-be. The book begins with an ecstatic address to the ultrasound of an unborn child and ends with a difficult birth. In between we get a rich introduction to the philosophy of hope and to the ideas of critical theorists like Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse. Benjamin pops up along the way, as do Hannah Arendt and Simone de Beauvoir.
Having a child is an expression of hope, if only for a world in which that child might be glad to live. Whyman’s question is whether that hope is justified now in the face of political uncertainty and the gathering storm of climate change. Whyman’s heroes Adorno and Benjamin are