In an unpublished fragment from the late 1930s, Walter Benjamin famously calls for a recasting of the idea of catastrophe and its relation to the progression of history. Catastrophe, Benjamin contends, is not to be understood as an exception to the regular course of history; rather than being conceived as a singular event marking the end of the world in its given form, catastrophe is to be located in its persistent continuity—the simple fact that “things ‘go on like this.’” This article traces the origins of this thesis to an earlier text: a 1923 manuscript that Benjamin wrote during a journey through Germany at the peak of the hyperinflation. Examining this text in relation to a treatise that was of particular significance to Benjamin—Erich Unger’s 1921 Politics and Metaphysics—this article offers a reconstruction of the image of catastrophic history presented here as well as its significance for Benjamin’s emerging political thought of the early 1920s. Through a commentary on both texts, the article seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the sources and meaning of the “continuity as catastrophe” thesis, sketching out how Benjamin’s singular vantage point could inform contemporary debates on catastrophe, apocalypse, and the politics of interruption.

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