To test the power and processes of memory, Benjamin recollects splinters of his childhood and time as a young, pre-First World War revolutionary.
But space, the depopulated Berlin cityscape, dominates over the temporal, making this less a ‘chronicle’ than a map of significant places (‘the decisive benches in the Tiergarten’). Philosophically fascinated by thresholds, Benjamin writes about crossing the red light district’s borders, and those of class. Paris taught him to lose himself in ‘flaneries’ – urban rambling mirrored by the essay’s loose form – while a conservative German schoolroom taught him rebellion. Hannah Arendt called Benjamin an essayist who ‘thought poetically’.
Related recommendation: Joan Didion’s ‘On Keeping a Notebook’ (1966); Spectator No.454 by Steele (1712)
Themes: Modernity and Self-consciousness, Nature or Architecture/ Material Environment
Genres: Autobiographical, Feuilleton, Lyrical or Poetic