Walter Benjamin’s Mix Tape

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A few weeks ago, I blogged about Walter Benjamin, the great German Jewish intellectual, whose writings have become canonical in contemporary cultural studies.

Benjamin’s writings are difficult and obscure, but because they’re theoretically so well-suited for analyzing pop culture, they often come up in more popular — and fun — contexts than, say, Heidegger.

Case in point: here’s a great bit from Rob Sheffield’s new memoir Love is a Mix Tape

Walter Benjamin, in his prescient 1923 essay “One Way Street,” said a book was an outdated means of communication between two boxes of index cards. One professor goes through books, looking for tasty bits he can copy onto index cards. Then he types his index cards up into a book, so other professors can go through it and copy tasty bits onto their own index cards. Benjamin’s joke was: Why not just sell the index cards? I guess that’s why we trade mix tapes. We music fans love our classic albums, our seamless masterpieces, our Blonde on Blonde and our Talking Books. But we love to pluck songs off those albums and mix them up with other songs, plunging them back into the rest of the manic slipstream of rock and roll.

Posted on February 22, 2007

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One thought on “Walter Benjamin’s Mix Tape

  1. rejewvenator

    One could say something similar about blogs, that simply re-mix various websites, videos and news websites.

    I guess there are lots of reasons to create mixes, but for me, what distinguishes a mix from a collection of songs is whether there is a message crafted with an audience in mind. There are lots of mixes that sound like a top-twenty “Now That’s What I Call Music” collection. But when you get a great mix, it is so much more than that. It has old favorites, obscure but memorable songs, and new tracks that you’ll never forget. They have a feel, a mood, a story, a dramatic arc to them, and listening to them is an experience. It’s a walk through the mind of a music-lover.

    The same can be said about academic works, and about blogs.

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