Walter Benjamin for Children: An Essay on His Radio Years

Jeffrey Mehlman, Author University of Chicago Press $30 (126p) ISBN 978-0-226-51865-7
Between 1929 and 1933 Benjamin, the German literary and cultural critic, wrote and broadcast a series of radio scripts for children, consisting of deceptively simple stories and fireside chats. He narrated tales about catastrophes--the destruction of Pompeii, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, a Scottish railway disaster--as well as parables about fraud, including tales of philatelic forgeries and of mountebanks like Count Cagliostro, the 18th-century mystic who was revered as a saint. In a rigorous, dense scholarly study, Mehlman, professor of foreign languages at Boston University, persuasively argues that Benjamin's radio scripts for children--some 30 of which survive--reveal his preoccupation with the theme of a ``false messiah,'' a prescient concern validated by the rise of Hitler. Establishing links between the radio scripts and Benjamin's mature essays, Mehlman explores the commonality in the tragic suicides of ``two exemplary Jewish writers''--Benjamin (who died fleeing the Nazis in 1940) and Primo Levi. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 05/17/1993
Release date: 05/01/1993
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