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Walter Benjamin was fascinated by the impact of new technology on culture, an interest that extended beyond his renowned critical essays. From 1927 to ’33, he wrote and presented something in the region of eighty broadcasts using the new medium of radio. Radio Benjamin gathers the surviving transcripts, which appear here for the first time in English. This eclectic collection demonstrates the range of Benjamin’s thinking and his enthusiasm for popular sensibilities. His celebrated “Enlightenment for Children” youth programs, his plays, readings, book reviews, and fiction reveal Benjamin in a creative, rather than critical, mode. They flesh out ideas elucidated in his essays, some of which are also represented here, where they cover topics as varied as getting a raise and the history of natural disasters, subjects chosen for broad appeal and examined with passion and acuity.
Delightful and incisive, this is Walter Benjamin channeling his sophisticated thinking to a wide audience, allowing us to benefit from a new voice for one of the twentieth century’s most respected thinkers.
“Radio Benjamin could hardly be bettered... There really is no parallel for what Benjamin did in these talks. Imagine a particularly engaging episode of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time narrated by Alan Bennett – if Bennett were more profoundly steeped in Marx and politically engaged by the revolutionary potential of the medium of radio – and you have something of their allure.”
“This collection shows a lighter – though entirely characteristic – side to this most influential of 20th-century thinkers.”
“Like the best of children’s writers, he never condescends to his audience, and he communicates his encyclopaedic passion for the teeming immensity of the modern metropolis in vivid, engaging prose...He takes the standard villains of the children’s tale – the witch, the Gypsy, the robber – and shows that they were men and women who were often the victims of cruel prejudice.”
“Walter Benjamin, one of the first theorists to ponder the social impact of mass media [...] was equally entranced by the way thin air mysteriously transmits radio waves. In 1927, five years before he exiled himself from Germany in advance of the Nazi putsch, Benjamin began a series of experimental broadcasts on this new medium.”
“[An] ebullient compendium...In both their tone and mesmerizing array of subject matter, the broadcasts avoid the treacly condescension of contemporary children’s programming.”
“There has been no more original, no more serious critic and reader in our time.”
“Everything which fell under the scrutiny of his words was transformed, as though it had become radioactive.”
“A complex and brilliant writer.”
“Benjamin was one of the unclassifiable ones ... whose work neither fits the existing order nor introduces a new genre.”
“Benjamin buckled himself to the task of revolutionary transformation … his life and work speak challengingly to us all.”