A Childish World, ‘Magie Moderne’ and Mimetic Language in Walter Benjamin’s ‘Berliner Kindheit um neunzehnhundert’
Pages 399 - 421
This essay analyzes the interrelation of the clusters of recalled childhood, contested moder nity and philosophy of language in Walter Benjamin’s collection of short prose pieces, ‘Berliner Kindheit um neunzehnhundert’. With reference to the change of perception and crisis of meaning common in the first decades of the twentieth century, as well as the author’s own consternation at the rise of Nazism, the essay argues that Benjamin, from the retrospective view of a child, articulates the magical character of language as experienced by the modern mind. The linguistic physiognomy constitutes a “geistiges Wesen,” which lies beyond literal meaning and testifies to an affective, mimetic union between child, object and language. The essay explores these modes of semantic transformation in ‘Die Mummerehlen’, ‘Markthalle’, and ‘Das bucklichte Männlein’.