Benjamin – The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)

Then came film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the
tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris,
we calmly and adventurously go traveling (236)

The possibility of multiple copies–an indistinguishable hoard of
duplicates–is central among concerns covered in Benjamin’s time-worn essay on
art and mechanical reproduction.  The essay reads almost episodically; it
is broken into a preface, fifteen chunks and an epilogue.  I first read
this essay ten or twelve years ago, again (if skimmingly)
sixteen months
, and most recently, today.  As explicitly concerned as Benjamin is
with shift in mass consciousness with the advent of the camera (for photography
or for film), he’s also tacitly concerned with the propaganda-subjected mass
consciousness that would foment under the conditions of so easily produced and
circulated materials.  In this sense, reproducibility qua image/art and
photo/film is but one symptom of more general massification (234), spectacle
(232), the blend and fade of author/public distinctions (232), changing "modes
of participation" (239), the degradation of human aura (presence-force) (229),
and distraction’s weakening of concentration on the art object (240). 

But are we yet in an age of mechanical reproduction?  How have
digital productions–the internet’s hearty copycopia–slanted and refigured
Benjamin’s predictive insights?

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction...

Benjamin makes a few claims dependent on the distinction between cult value
and exhibition value.  As I re-read today, the cult value persistently
struck a chord with me as the art object’s situatedness in a kind of local,
inertial aesthetic–originality, tradition, religiosity and the magical. 
In the cult value (223), a "ritual function."  But in the age of mechanical
reproduction, the art object is freed from these constraints; it enjoys a
release to multiplicity (twenty-four screens; Technorati, etc.). Bust out of the
museum case, Art; go out and play (although everyone’s not comfortable with

Finally, returnables (5cME):
(-1-) This notion of aura (presence) (229) tends toward essentialism?
(-2-) Atget’s photos of the barren Paris streets in 1900 (226); the photo as
evidence; people, no people?  Barthes (where, in RB?) says that
must be present for him to feel the sting…yes?
(-3-) On the "pioneering" Dadaists (237): How far-reaching or well established
is Benjamin’s contempt for them?


Comments are closed.