MAY’S MINIATURES – S.01 E.06: Walter Benjamin – ‘In a Big Old City’ [fragment] (c.1906-12)

Imagine yourself back in Vienna in the early years of the twentieth century. This is a city with historical Celtic migration and which suffered a plague in 1679 which wiped out a third of its population. It has been known for its composers – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. The BBC has reported that in 1913, Adolf Hitler, Leon Trotsky, Josip Broz Tito, Sigmund Freud and Joseph Stalin all lived within a few miles of each other in central Vienna, some of them becoming regulars at the same coffeehouses.

Walter Benjamin is best known for his philosophical history writing which is favoured by intellectual left-wingers. No syllabus seriously aiming to analyse culture is complete without his essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. This German Jewish writer committed suicide in 1940 while on the French-Spanish border and trying to escape the advancing Wehrmacht. The rooting of this short fragment in Vienna cannot be random. This was both “Red Vienna” known for its socialist agitation and also the home of the “Austrian School” of liberal capitalist economists, the most famous of whom was Friedrich August von Hayek. They saw economics, jobs and money, being governed by the motivations and actions of individuals and they saw a regulatory state as oppressive. This story consists of two individuals. How do they choose to spend their time? Are they part of a society?

Broadcast on YouTube on Tuesday 14 July 2020 here:

More detailed analysis and thoughts on this story will appear here later.

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