Childhood and the Interaction between Mankind and Nature in Walter Benjamin
The idea of a technique based on the interaction (Zusammenspiel) between mankind and nature can be found in several essays of Walter Benjamin. In contrast to the “first technique” that mankind developed, which could be conceived as domination and exploitation of nature by men, the “second technique” as defined by Benjamin eventually results in domination and exploitation of men themselves. This utopian notion of technique and the mankind/nature relationship is one of the central points of Benjamin’s anthropological materialism that he developed since the mid-1920s. During this period, we can identify a tendency of secularization in his way of thinking, as he distanced himself from the theological and metaphysical works of his youth and instead approached artistic vanguards (Dadaism and surrealism) as well as historical materialism. This notion of the second technique therefore arises from tensions between experiments with different forms of fantasy (oneiric, childish, lovely, artistic), scandals and revolts of vanguards and social critics, as well as the desire for social transformations in light of historical materialism. According to Benjamin, a society’s transformation towards greater liberty cannot be intended as mere technological progress through enhanced means of production that would lead to further exploitation of the nature and of men, but as a qualitative transformation of the technique and its underlying rationality. It reaches therefore a deeper anthropological and historical dimension where the relationship between mankind and nature is renegotiated. Childhood represents a privileged place where these relationships are confronted and experimented in a playful yet productive way. This is one of the reasons, according to the hypothesis of this project, of Benjamin’s permanent interest in childhood.
Francisco Pinheiro Machado: Märchen und Mythos in Walter Benjamins »Berliner Kindheit um neunzehnhundert«
Universität Bern, Schanzeneckstr. 1, 3012 Bern (Switzerland), R. A-119