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Walter Benjamin's Lichtenberg GerbardSchulte IN 1925, WHEN Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) started planning Habilitation ,his qualifying thesis to become a university professor, he also toyed with the idea to write for radio. In Frankfurt, many faculty members had already embraced the new medium and a friend of Benjamin's, Ernst Schoen, held an influential management position at Southwest German Radio , one of the biggest state-run broadcasting stations at the time. During the following years, Benjamin wrote and presented various radio lectures but did not embark on the genre "radio play" until 1929. Instead of the conventional form of the literary radio play, his friend Schoen was pushing non-literary features with distinct topics and subject matters. These radio plays were to present dialectical sequences of examples and counterexamples of negotiation techniques-practical help for life in a changing society. Instead of Hdrspiele ("listening plays"), Benjamin called his works Hormodelle ("listening models") to accentuate their exemplary, dialectical nature. The first one of these Hormodelle was a collaboration with Wolf Zucker, called Gebaltserhbhung?! Wo denken Sie bin! ("A raise?! Whatever gave you that idea!"). Along with two other works, Derjunge sagteinem kein wabres Wort ("The boy is always telling lies") and Kannst du mir bis Donnerstagausbelfen? ("Can you help me out 'til Thursday?"), the play was broadcast in 1931/32 by radio stations in Frankfurt and Berlin.' In his program notes, Benjamin explains: The basic tendency of these models is didactic. The subject matter of the instruction deals with typical situations from everyday life. The method of instruction consists of the confrontation of example and counter-example. The speaker appears three times 33 in each Hormodell: in the beginning, he introduces the listeners to the subject, then he introduces to the audience the two dialogue partners appearing in the first part of the piece. This first part presents the counter-example: this is not the way to do it. The speaker returns after the ends of the first part. He points out the mistakes that were made. Afterwards, he introduces a new character to the listeners, who will appear in the second part and show how to cope with the same situation. In the end, the speaker compares the false method to the correct one and presents the conclusion. Thus, no Hrmodell has more than four main roles: 1. the speaker, 2. the model figure, who is the same in the first and second parts, 3. the clumsy partner in the first part, 4. the smart partner in the second part. While these first efforts in the genre display more than a fleeting similarity with Brecht's Lehrstucke, Benjamin was soon more at ease with the medium and wrote a number of radio plays in the more traditional sense. Although the didactic strain was still present, the tedium of a purely antithetical presentation of arguments was lifted and replaced with spirited , often funny second glances at historical situations from a modern perspective. In 1932, Benjamin wrote a satirical collage about a treasured period in German literary history called Was die Deutschen lasen, wdhrend ihre Klassiker schrieben 3 ("What the Germans were reading, when their classical authors were writing"), in which the Voices of Enlightenment , Romanticism, and the 19th century quarrel about the taste of the audience in their respective eras, and compare the output of the great classical authors with the popular, trivial literature of the day. For the broadcasting landscape of the early thirties in Germany, the approach to popularize sophisticated topics by making them palatable for mass audiences had been as successful as it had been shallow. Benjamin tried to tackle the task of popularization in a different way by aiming for the transmission of real knowledge as opposed to a lively but abstract, simplified presentation of scientific facts. Following Brecht's demand for the transformation of radio from a medium for distribution to a medium for communication, Benjamin opted against the usual collages of primary texts read by actors representing authors like Goethe or Kleist and, instead, attempted to address questions of literary research directly: Neither do the great German minds themselves make an appearance , nor did we try to present as many works as possible in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 33-36
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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