childhood and experience in walter benjamin: playing at being other


  • silvana vignale


infancia, experiencia, lenguaje, juego, “jugar a ser otro”


The Western construction of subjectivity, as Michel Foucault indicated in his hermeneutics of the subject, has been marked since what he called the “Cartesian moment” by its relation to truth. It is important, therefore, to uncover possible relations between subjectivity and experience that express alternative constructions of the two terms. Walter Benjamin´s work offers two principal figures that encourage us to allow us to rethink the subject. One is the flâneur, or frequenter of the streets of 19th century Paris, and the other is the child. Both of them are counterpoints to the modern subject. This paper presents images of childhood that are found in some of Benjamin’s texts—in particular “Experience and narration,” “About language in general and human language in particular,” “The mimetic faculty,” “Childhood in Berlin around 1900,” “One way street,” “Writings,” “Childhood literature,” “Children and youth.” On the one hand, these images make it possible to think childhood as a human condition both philosophically and anthropologically. On the other hand, childhood as a concept allows us to outline a form of subjectivity that is constituted by experience, thus displacing it from the modern conceptualization that understands subjectivity only in its relations to truth. This paper takes a philosophical stroll among a framework of concepts like childhood, experience, language and play. It identifies experience as the given capacity to perceive or the capacity to produce similarities and to recognize difference. It takes as examples language as an “immaterial similarity” and children’s games, then moves to the experience of “playing at being one other” that the mimetic faculty makes possible, and which allows us both to find the border crossing with the other, and to experience transformation as subjects. Finally, we wonder if classroom pedagogy is capable of responding to a subjectivity that is constituted, not just from a relation with knowledge, but with experience as well.



How to Cite

vignale, silvana. (2009). childhood and experience in walter benjamin: playing at being other. Childhood & Philosophy, 5(9), pp. 77–101. Retrieved from