Speaking at Walter Benjamin Now, an event at Whitechapel Gallery marking the 75th anniversary of Benjamin's death, Esther Leslie thinks through Benjamin's concepts, in particular the ‘microcosm’, to reflect on the contemporary migrant crisis at the borders of Fortress Europe. These ‘millions of nameless movers’ give Benjamin’s own death a contemporary resonance, as well as endowing his memorial with new meaning in ‘the Now’.
Esther Leslie is a translator of Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Storyteller’ and author of ‘Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory and the Avant-Garde’.
McKenzie Wark assesses the uses of Walter Benjamin today.
"Benjamin practiced his own version of what I call low theory, in that the production of knowledge was not contemplative and was disinterested in the existing language games of the disciplines. Knowledge has to be communicated in an effective manner. 'The task of real, effective presentation is just this: to liberate knowledge from the bounds of compartmentalized discipline and make it practical.'
"Benjamin has a genius for using the energies of the obsolete. But one has to ask if the somewhat cult-like status Benjamin now enjoys is something of a betrayal of the critical leverage Benjamin thought the obsolete materials of the past could play in the present."
In honour of the publication of Radio Benjamin, we bring you Esther Leslie's presentation from the event Radio Benjamin: Live Now held at Tate Modern on 5th November with Esther Leslie, Gareth Evans and Mark Aerial Waller.
Walter Benjamin involved himself, from the mid-1920s, in the practical business of making radio shows, usually lectures, radio-plays or experimental ‘listening models’, some of which were directed at children, others at the general radio-listening public. The themes were diverse, with topics such as liquor bootleggers, Berlin dialects, the petrification of Pompeii, counterfeit stamps, slum housing, manufacture, the legend of Caspar Hauser, the history of the Bastille prison, witch trials and the history of toys. Benjamin spoke about the history and curiosities of Berlin, about figures from the shadow side of life and about catastrophes. He also made radio plays and puzzle shows.