The translators and editors of the recently published collection of Walter Benjamin’s fictional and related writings, The Storyteller (Verso, 2016), held the last of their special events last Thursday. I was asked to be a respondent to papers by Sara Salih and Howard Caygill, following introductions by Esther Leslie and Sebastian Truskolaski, and you can listen to the whole event by following this link to the Backdoor Broadcasting Company.
As you can see from these scribbled notes, in responding I attempted to pick up on Esther’s description, in her introduction, of the book’s organization – structured around thematic sections on Dreams, Travel and Play – in terms of a desire to “rescue what needed rescuing” in Benjamin’s writings. In their papers both Sara and Howard picked up on the methodological and philosophical underpinnings of this impulse and the way this connected with the narratological dimensions of Benjamin’s thought (and, more specifically, what both discussed in terms of orality). I was interested in tracing the connections between Sara’s image of Benjamin as a “subterranean gnome” (and how this connected to the mimetic faculty of children) and Howard’s insights into educative function of both Benjamin’s and the editors’ use of Paul Klee’s images. I wondered if one way of connecting these aspects was through Benjamin’s early discussion of the deforming power of Phantasie, which “plays a game of dissolution with its forms” (Selected Writings, Vol. 1). In this way, I wanted to use the idea of Phantasie to connect the event’s thematic focus – Fiction and Form – with the discussion of play and pedagogy in the final section of the book, and through this to make a claim for what “needed rescuing” in Benjamin’s writings, both methodologically (in terms of Benjamin’s interest in the “teaching value” of stories and images) and historically (in terms of the disciplinary interests that have themselves deformed the Anglo-American reception of his writings to omit or bury their pedagogical concerns).