My copy of Benjamin's essay is cut-and-pasted from the Internet, so page numbers do not correspond with the published version. That being said, it’s all about the Benjamin.
Creativity, genius, eternal value, mystery – these concepts lead to fascism. WB’s concepts, by contrast, are useful for the “formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art” (2)
Reproduction of art has advanced since ancient times, and has had profound consequences for our relationship with art.
- Handmade reproductions have always been dependent upon (and inferior to) originals
- Technical reproductions, by contrast, are more independent of, and can be superior to, originals
Reproducibility destroys cultural heritage, strips unique works of their “aura”
Notion of “art for art’s sake” was a reaction against the impending crisis catalyzed by photography and socialism. Negated functional and social aspects of art, undermined representational value. Yes, but didn’t this start earlier, with Kant?
“cult value” (fixed, hidden) vs. “exhibition value” (portable, displayed) of art. Shift from CV to EV creates new functions for art >> enabling film.
Aesthetic change always precedes – and demands – technical change, an improvement in materials (hence, dada preceded and demanded film effects through a relentless destruction of aura) bears on bernard-donals’ formulation of art’s journey from margins to mainstream
Fascism = introduction of aesthetics into political life >> war. War as art is the culmination of art for art’s sake.
Communism responds by politicizing art. Although I buy much of his argument re: fascism, I just can’t get with his stated cure. I guess it depends what he means by “politicizing art.” In practice, the soviet union and red china have politicized art by censoring it, and using it as a mode of propaganda. This doesn’t really do much to reclaim art’s organic role vis-à-vis society. However, if politicizing art could also mean sensitivity to the politics of art, thereby countering censorship and dull utilitarian appropriation of aesthetics, then, hey, I’m all for it.
Theses about “the developmental tendencies of art under present conditions of production” have value “as a weapon” (2)
“even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be” (3)
technical reproduction “enables the original to meet the beholder halfway, be it in the form of a photograph or a phonograph record” (3)
“that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art” (4)
on film: “its social significance . . . is inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic aspect, that is, the liquidation of the traditional value of the cultural heritage” (4) the same could be said for recorded music
“the unique value of the ‘authentic’ work of art has its basis in ritual, the location of its original use value” (5)
“for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual . . . Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics.” (5-6) antithesis of Frankfurt critique of mass culture
“the cult of the movie star, fostered by the money of the film industry, preserves not the unique aura of the person but the ‘spell of the personality,’ the phony spell of a commodity” (9)
“the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional; it may vary from case to case.” (10) very prescient (also very Marxist)
“the greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public” (11) yes but causality is unclear. It could be a > b, b > a, or x > a & b “thus the same public which responds in a progressive manner toward a grotesque film is bound to respond in a reactionary manner to surrealism” (12)
“As compared with painting, filmed behavior lends itself more readily to analysis because of its incomparably more precise statements of the situation” (12-13) I think this is a serious analytical error. Only someone not acculturated with cinema could believe this to be the case.
“Reception in a state of distraction, which is increasing noticeably in all fields of art and is symptomatic of profound changes in apperception, finds in the film its true means of exercise.” (15)
“Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right [to change property relations] but instead a chance to express themselves.” (16) I think this underestimates the power and value of self-expression
“only war makes it possible to mobilize all of today’s technical resources while maintaining the property system.” (16) interesting in light of Bush. Also technologicically deterministic.