What is return anyway? Don’t we hit return on our keyboard to start a new paragraph?
Benjamin did not conceive revolution as an act to secure future, as redeemer of future generations, but as retribution – it avenges in the name of the downtrodden generations. The revolutionary class is “nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than that of liberated grandchildren.”
In fact as Calvino points out future is actually a return – “forgetting the future” is “to forget the return” – forgetting “his home, his return voyage, the whole point of his journey.”
Calvino notes that folk tales are of two types. One is of the riches-rags-riches type and the other is the rags-to-riches type. In the first type “the idea of poverty” is connected to “the idea of rights that have been trampled on, of an injustice that must be avenged”. On the other hand, the second one reflects “a consolatory miracle or dream.” It is this that constitutes the “social conscience of the modern age” – the common sense that preserves the status quo. For Benjamin the social democratic historicist myth-making is of the second type – it makes “the working class forget both its hatred and its spirit of sacrifice.”
It is the first type that characterises revolutionary consciousness in capitalism, which is simply never to forget the primitivity of accumulation, the original fall. It is this that makes the struggle against capitalist accumulation revolutionary, or else it will be mere adherence to the historicist reformist conception of progress – the rags-to-riches type. It is not insignificant that every time capitalist accumulation takes a new turn and expands itself, the conception of primitivity of accumulation is enriched – the (hi)story of transition and primitive accumulation is retold. That is why there are many odysseys in the Odyssey.
Returning is reconquering. “In the collective unconscious the prince in pauper’s clothing is the proof that every pauper is in reality a prince whose throne has been usurped and who has to reconquer his kingdom.” Calvino further asserts,
“The return must be sought out and thought of and remembered: the danger is that it can be forgotten before it even happens.”