The dorky academic story behind this blog’s name…
Among the first cultural theorists to think or write about popular culture in the twentieth century, Walter Benjamin contemplated meaning in everything from postcards to the mysteries of furniture to the Parisian Arcades that pre-figure our contemporary shopping malls.
In Natalie’s favourite book by him, Berlin Childhood Around 1900, Benjamin attempts to reconstruct a childhood autobiography through things, objects, spaces and places rather than people and events. The text pulses with the magic of the everyday seen through the eyes of a child and remembered – without the mawkish taint of nostalgia – by an adult.
In one entry, “Butterfly Hunt,” Benjamin recalls summer adventures spent chasing butterflies and moths for his collection. The entry teems with the desire to hunt down the beauties enclosed in the world around him. It brings together reflections on mystery and the mystical, the beautiful and sublime, the simple and the aesthetically complex, as well as violence, intrigue, desire, hope, humanity and inquiry…many of the same reflections the two of us wish to make on and through the ever-flittering, ever-fluttering lightness of things so silly and so simple as the tv shows, films, songs, and pop-books that bring pleasure to our days.
In order to fall in love with Benjamin, though, you must hear his words, not our words about him. And so we leave you with a short excerpt from Benjamin’s “Butterfly Hunt” from which we borrow our name, “The Moth Chase” –
Cabbage butterflies with ruffled edging, brimstone butterflies with superbright wings, vividly brought back the ardors of the hunt, which so often had lured me away from well-kept garden paths into a wilderness, where I stood powerless before the conspiring elements – wind and scents, foliage and sun – that were bound to govern the flight of the butterflies…When in this way a vanessa or sphinx moth (which I should have been able to overtake easily) made a fool of me through its hesitations, vacillations, and delays, I would gladly have been dissolved into light and air, merely in order to approach my prey unnoticed and be able to subdue it. And so close to fulfillment was this desire of mine, that every quiver or palpitation of the wings I burned for grazed me with its puff or ripple. Between us, now, the old law of the hunt took hold: the more I strove to conform, in all the fibers of my being, to the animal – the more butterfly-like I became in my heart and soul – the more this butterfly itself, in everything it did, took on the color of human volition; and in the end, it was as if its capture was the price I had to pay to regain my human existence.