Yet solidarity with her brothers demands that she must resist the temptations of commodity fetishism even as Benjamin makes clear that the utopian images stored up in the abundance of toys are not to be puritanically dismissed, but instead released from the spell of capital.
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To which Benjamin responds:. Those of you who listened to the end … must now explain this to your parents. At the same time the play self-reflexively comments on the nature of radio throughout. The piece reveals the fundamental principles of artistic production that Benjamin believed in.
He and Speyer discuss how collaborative work in cultural production was central to the modern production apparatus. It should develop in this harsh reality amid the objections of the critic, the dramaturge, etc.
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In this volume, Benjamin is frequently seen comically unveiling the mechanics of how things work, letting the audience in on the secrets of life. When they come to the apes, the children want to know what the big baboon is saying to the younger apes. He is, apparently, recommending them to act silly and pretend they are dumb when humans are around.
At the end of his radio conversation with Speyer, they conclude that the latter is using the genre of comedy to make some pretty barbed comments on the middle class audience for the play. This fine volume is full of gems like this that add further dimensions to our understanding of that most multi-faceted of intellectuals. I presented a one hour radio documentary about these broadcasts.
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Benjamin turns and returns to the 19th century above all. As in Berlin Childhood Around , images from his own childhood blend with a wider history.
He alludes repeatedly to his teachers, his favorite books, his young adventures in the city. But the personal is not private. His childhood consciousness is invoked so its experience can resonate with other alert young minds, both in the 19th century and among his radio listeners. This complex communion is at its most crafted in talks devoted to toys.
But the talks go strangely and beautifully astray, passing through a brief history of artisanal craftsmanship, then morphing into a reflection — a self-reflection — on the relation of passion, knowledge, and possession. He concludes in the simplest of voices:.
Those of you who listened to the end […] must now explain this to your parents. Its modernism has little resemblance to the ideas of the early radio avant-garde, be it F. Benjamin, in other words, takes an unashamedly pedagogical approach, but one quite unlike the state paternalism that funneled a diluted high culture to a mass audience, in hopes they would quiet down and learn their place.
My Walter Benjamin radio diary - Radio Survivor
It was meant, after all, for children and adolescents. There is a startling lack of snobbery to the man, in content, tone, and technique. How game he is. Imagine Adorno or Heidegger writing a quiz, or telling little stories about dogs. Technique aligns with subject matter. These talks amount to a portrait — a composite, occasional, and partial portrait — of the people.
Hear Walter Benjamin's Radio Broadcasts for Children
Unless we join hands with the people and come to an understanding with them, no freedom is possible. They are the embodiment, in tales recounted and lives lived, of a popular countertradition of wisdom, courage, and stubborn autonomy. All of this, it is clear, Benjamin felt it important to impart to the young. Why did he dismiss these popular pedagogical pieces and deny the effort he put into them?
But it is also important to understand the ultimate trajectory of his radio career, which becomes clear in a collected volume. Reading the full series of radio talks, you get a sense of great energies gradually sapping away. The care and finesse of the early talks goes missing; the final broadcasts are hurried and slapdash, segues are awkward or broken, the choice of subjects increasingly arbitrary and unformed.
Clearly — and ironically, given his attention to high spirits and the transmission of resolve — Benjamin lost heart and lost interest.
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Maybe the work took an emotional toll he was no longer willing to pay. To bring pedagogical tenderness to bear is not easy at the best of times. Without recordings to play back, without a clear place — or a job — at the station, without any coherent channel for feedback, Benjamin must sometimes have felt as if he were speaking into a void.
But more direct political factors also played a role. A first jolt of authoritarianism centralized German radio in , dragging it toward the nationalist right. Reactionaries scoured the stations, enforcing a stricter alignment with the state.
After that, there was no more radio for him. Goebbels — a different kind of radio artist — took over. He lives in California. By Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft. Peaking Behind the Curtains of Adieux.