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Walter Benjamin | proto-multimedia journo?

a radio feature produced by Michael Shirrefs
Walter Benjamin is a name that, for many, will be either familiar or mysterious … or both … often simultaneously.


One of the most important intellectual figures of the last century, Benjamin’s writings have given us a critical window onto the psyche of Europe in the early 20th Century, celebrating the birth of European modernism, while also describing the Continent’s descent into Fascism and war. He gave us a new character—the Flâneur—the symbol of a urbanity that had fully detached itself from a pre-modern, rural tradition.


People often feel intimidated by Walter Benjamin, not because of what he wrote, but because of the sheer scale of his portrayals. His writing isn’t particularly impenetrable. He often writes in small, accessible fragments. But, if you look at one of his most famous works, The Arcades Project, the scale is epic and the form is decidedly experimental—in fact, it’s been described as the world’s first hypertext, a pre-echo of the era of computer logic.

One of Paris’ most popular arcades—Passage Jouffroy in the 9th arrondissement (Image: Shirrefs 2010)

What’s less familiar to people though, is Walter Benjamin’s work for radio—a large body of programs for both adults and children, which covered subjects ranging from curiosities in and around Berlin, to major disasters like The Lisbon Earthquake and the Mississippi Flood of 1927. He even created radio plays—all this at a time when radio was still forming as a medium.


I’ve long been intrigued by Walter Benjamin, and am convinced that Benjamin’s style makes more sense today, than it did in his time. So, I invited Lecia Rosenthal, a scholar based in Los Angeles, who has edited a wonderful book called Radio Benjamin, and Justin Clemens, an Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne, who straddles literature, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and is the person I blame for my ongoing obsession with Benjamin.


We’re asking—Was Walter Benjamin the prototype for the modern multimedia journalist?

You can listen to the program here …

The Philosopher's ZoneWalter Benjamin: Multimedia prototype?

Lecia Rosenthal—Los Angeles-based scholar and editor of Radio Benjamin

Justin Clemens—Associate Professor in English and Theatre Studies, The University of Melbourne



Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (Harvard University Press, 2012)

Walter Benjamin [ed. Lecia Rosenthal] Radio Benjamin (Verso, 2014)



Producer—Michael Shirrefs

Series Producer—David Rutledge

Program Transcript

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