A Note on Smallness, Memory & Comedy in Walter Benjamin’s “Berlin Childhood” and Stuart Ross’s “Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew”

At the outset of Berlin Childhood around 1900, Walter Benjamin suggests that something out of his past was calling to him and that he had decided to surrender himself to it.  His memory has a narcotic affect.  But it is teaching him something.  Peter Szondi argues that, for Benjamin, the “search for time past is […]

Witold Gombrowicz’s Affirmation of “Difficult Childhood”

Following the passages of Witold Gombrowicz’s diary entries on Simone Weil, which I commented on the other day, there is a fascinating entry labeled “Friday.” It’s first two words – at the top of the entry – are “Polish Catholicism.” In this passage, Gombrowicz expresses his past and present ambivalent attitude toward “childishness” by way […]

Wink, Wink! Walter Benjamin’s Childhood Secret and His Prophetic Calling to Schlemieldom

As a rule, careful writers are careful readers and vice versa.   A careful writer wants to be read carefully.  He cannot know what it means to be read carefully but by having done careful reading himself.  Reader precedes writer.  We read before we write.  We learn to write by reading.  –Leo Strauss, Persecution and the […]

Hide and Seek: Walter Benjamin’s Reading of Children and Childhood – Take 2

Yesterday’s blog ended with several questions which puzzled over why Walter Benjamin or Georges Bataille would be so interested in “returning to childhood” or describing the “true child.” Before going to sleep last night, I thought about these questions.  But instead of simply thinking about them, I thought about myself.  After all, I am as […]

To Which Childhood Shall We Return? Walter Benjamin’s Child versus Georges Bataille’s “True Child” (Take 1)

The schlemiel is a man-child.  The character presupposes a man who has not grown up or a child who has not matured to become a man.   The schlemiel lives in the world of people but is in his own world because he doesn’t know how to live in that world.  He lives in a […]

Damaged Childhood: Fools, Self-Destruction, and Reclaiming Youth

The destructive elements of the American schlemiel cannot be understood apart from the innocent aspects of this character – its childishness.   Likewise, one cannot understand the “destructive element” in Walter Benjamin without understanding its relationship to innocence, childhood, and youth.   Benjamin’s intense interest in childhood and in the daemonic from early on in his life […]

A Schlemiel in the Park

Yesterday I was taking a stroll in Central Park when – out of nowhere – a group of young French tourists came up to me and asked if they could take a photo with me.  I asked them why and they told me that I “looked like a New Yorker.”    What does a New […]