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Monday, January 05, 2015

Book Review: Radio Benjamin by Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin was a famous Marxist scholar AND did a radio show for children in Germany between World War I and the rise of the Nazis.

Book Review:
Radio Benjamin
by Walter Benjamin
Verso Press
Published October 28th, 2014

  Walter Benjamin was a founding member of the "Frankfurt School" a group of left-leaning intellectuals who are best known for their development of "cultural marxism" a brand of socialist sought that took into account recent developments in mass media.  Although their body of thought has had a huge influence on the field of "cultural studies" and inspired several generations of critics, their acceptance has been hampered by an almost comical pessimism about the negative influence of popular culture.  The irony that the group of intellectuals who have done the  most for defining and investigating "popular culture" themselves largely HATED popular culture has not been lost on those who would seek to dismiss the Frankfurt School into the dustbin of history.

  Alone (I think) amongst the major Frankfurt School scholars(Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer are the other two of the the "big three.") Walter Benjamin had a lot of positive things to say popular culture.  He is best known for his unfinished "Arcades Project" which (I think)  largely celebrates the joys of the culture of the (small) market.   Radio Benjamin is an important contribution to Benjamin's legacy, even though he famously thought that his radio work was beneath notice.

 Perhaps because of Benjamins objection to the material, the radio talks he gave mostly on a program for Children, which is the bulk of Radio Benjamin, have not been translated into English until the issuance of this book.  The essays are about a variety of subjects, but they touch on reoccurring themes in his work, most notably when he delves into the old-timey culture of Germany.  The benefit of these essays being radio broadcasts intended for children is apparent, with a level of complexity that opens up Benjamin to a non-specialist who may have only heard of Benjamin (that was me, even though I've read other members of the Frankfurt School and secondary material about Benjamin.

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