Benjamin’s “Reproducibility”

Walter Benjamin
“The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility”
Area: Rhetorical and Critical Theory
• The aura is gone—it’s historic
• The notion of the original is gone—there isn’t one anymore
o Authenticity is only necessary when there are reproductions
• No radical specificity anymore
• Already in advance we anticipate a reproduction
• Control of context and meaning
o Distance: can’t claim it (nature)—you’re in its context, not the other way around—you have to do and see it
• Your mode of perception is changed
• Terms that respond to a different historical perception
o We need a new set of terms
o Where does authority lie in these terms?
• A work of art is related to a sense of divinity
o It’s more powerful than you
o You go to it—how you relate to it
• What does Benjamin mean by politics?
o The meaning of artwork has become contestable
• The masses have all the agency but we don’t take advantage of this power
o We can frame the context in which the art is apprehended
• A case for reappropriation
• Production of the passive viewer
• Authenticity wasn’t debatable, no contestation
• We don’t realize it’s possible to change this because we’re so passive to begin with
• Optical tests: experts test the shots and determine which ones are satisfactory
• Acknowledging the change, not lamenting it
• Magician/surgeon:
o Equipment and free aspect—a different type of artifice
o Painting/theater: it’s right there
• A lack of respect for reality
o It, too, can be played with
• You are identifying with a point of view of a particular space
Critical moments in the text
252: “Theses defining the developmental tendencies of art can therefore contribute to the political struggle in ways that it would be a mistake to underestimate. They neutralize a number of traditional concepts—such as creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery—which, used in an uncontrolled way (and controlling them is difficult today), allow factual material to be manipulated in the interests of fascism”
254: “It might be sated as a general formula that the technology of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of tradition. By replicating the work many times over, it substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to reach the recipient in his or her own situation, it actualizes that which is reproduced.”
263: “Magician is to surgeon as painter is to cinematographer. The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, whereas the cinematographer penetrates deeply into its tissue. The images obtained by each differ enormously.”


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August 2008
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