Childhood and the Interaction between Mankind and Nature in Walter Benjamin

In numerous essays by Walter Benjamin, a technology based on the interaction (Zusammenspiel) between mankind and nature appears as a recurring concept. In contrast to the ‘first technology’ understood as the mere domination and exploitation of nature by man, Benjamin defines the ‘second technology as the eventual domination and exploitation of man himself. The term ‘second technology’ is very insightful when trying to understand the reified and catastrophic state of modern technological mass society. Also, it helps in the search for political alternatives. This partially utopian conception of the relationship between mankind and nature is a central aspect of Benjamin’s anthropological materialism, an idea which he developed from the mid-1920s onwards.

By analyzing this creative period, the project identified a secular tendency in Benjamin’s thinking as he distanced himself from his earlier theological and metaphysical works while simultaneously approaching both the artistic avantgarde (Dadaism and surrealism) as well as historical materialism. The interaction between mankind and nature therefore results from tensions between various forms of fantasy (in dreams, in children, in love, in arts and poetry), the scandals and revolts of the Avantgarde, as well as the idea of a disciplined upheaval of society in the name of a traditional historical materialism. Instead of being understood as a mere technological progress which would intensify the exploitation of both man and nature, Benjamin’s non-orthodox materialism and its social transformation towards a freer mankind may be interpreted as a more radical transformation of technology and its underlying rationality. It therefore reaches a deeper anthropological and historical dimension in which the relationship between mankind and nature takes shape. Childhood is a privileged place in which these relationships are confronted and experimented with in playful and novel ways.

Scholarship of the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP) 2019
Head researcher(s): Francisco De Ambrosis Pinheiro Machado


Francisco De Ambrosis Pinheiro Machado


28 Jun 2019 · 11.45 am

Francisco Pinheiro Machado: Märchen und Mythos in Walter Benjamins »Berliner Kindheit um neunzehnhundert«

Universität Bern, Schanzeneckstr. 1, 3012 Bern (Switzerland), R. A-119

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