Benjamin and Modern EnchantmentJul 14, 2020
Has the modern world become disenchanted? Is there a way to find the magic again? In this week's show, we're discussing Walter Benjamin, the German-Jewish cultural critic from the early 20th century, who had fascinating things to say about this.
Monday, July 13, 2020 -- 1:37 PMDave See write in during
Dave S. wrote in at the end of Sunday's broadcast with the following:
Greets, with hopes you & yours are, & remain healthy!
--true that he used a manuscript to roll cigarettes?
--agreed, "aura"has been superseded by the 'net?
Reply from Josh:
For me it’s a yes and no: on the one hand I do think the internet has intensified the situation described by Benjamin, since (among other things) we can now gain access to high-quality digital reproductions of artworks. But on the other hand people are still traveling from all over the world to see the Mona Lisa (the crowds in the Louvre make it an absurd situation) and other paintings, as well as sculptures, buildings, etc. So the original object, in cases where there is one, still exerts at least some pull.
I haven’t heard that cigarette story about Benjamin, but I have heard it about Mikhail Bakhtin. (See Michael Holquist's Introduction to The Dialogic Imagination, pp. xv-xxxiii.) Fascinating story!
Tuesday, July 21, 2020 -- 3:44 PMThe Walter Benjamin show was
The Walter Benjamin show was great; thanks! A problem/obstacle to understanding the role of art is that art has been overtaken by entertainment, as in, for example, TED Talks, which should be TAD Talks. People don't seem to want to go deep, be transformed--the effects of art--they want to be distracted--the effects of entertainment. I'm entertained by watching my cat.
Sunday, July 3, 2022 -- 4:06 PMAre photography as well as
Are photography as well as moving two dimensional photographic images correctly described as a separate domain set aside exclusively for objects predicated essentially by their capacity to distract? And how is the genre founded on the use of distractibles describable as of works of art existing for their own sake, for which an imperative to preserve is not related to any practical value? It must be the high concentration of sensory input which produces the capacity to distract, and the skill in what's chosen and how it's put together in correspondence with the effect on the viewer which generates the imperative to preserve. This imperative disappears, however, where such two dimensional images are mass-produced and widely distributed. Instead these come to be imposed as part of a normal collective environment, where there's more effort to get it out of the way than to preserve it. Does Benjamin take up something similar outside of his 1931 essay on photography?
Saturday, July 9, 2022 -- 1:15 PMRemoteness applies to what
Remoteness applies to what isn't there, so that the way things normally are, typical ordinariness, is also the most remote domain from thought-contents, as comprised of what provokes no need for thought and "goes without saying", so to speak. Logic as traditionally understood can be described as an attempt to eliminate the remoteness of the domain of everydayness, with the result that it is brought close to one's explicit consideration and enters into the sphere of practical use.
But what occurs when what is remote is extraordinary, decisively distinct, and unconditionally individual? There come to be two processes of remoteness-removal:
1) accommodate one's body to proximity of the object as an individual;
2) bring a replica of the object to one's area of sensory intake.
Point (1) describes the relationship between the art-product and its consumer as understood in the pre-photographic period; whereas point (2) indicates the situation where photographic reproductions of what are called "artworks" can be widely distributed throughout given populations. Benjamin employs the term "aura" in a technical sense to refer to a thing's remoteness, or its distance, as a component part of its presence, so that the distribution of two dimensional photographic art-work replicas precludes the material conditions by which their auras can persist. And because Benjamin makes the claim (in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction") that the form of sensory intake and that of assumed circumstances of existence are co-variant, that is, changing correlative to one another, this indicates that with the elimination of the aura of individual distinction in art-works comes the general inability to understand anything else as remote in its self-assertion, or as distant while present, and thus extraordinary.
Benjamin draws both negative and positive consequences from this state of affairs:
1) Modus tollens:
a) The authority attributed to the object is eliminated and replaced by that of the subject, who sits in judgement upon it according to how the subject is affected, rather than inadequately understanding a meaning of the original in correspondence to which judgement must be suspended.
2) Modus ponens:
a) Photographic reproduction allows contact-recognition with the original, where a plurality of copies resuscitates it in a multiplicity of surrogate subjects.
On this latter point Benjamin describes the camera as the liberator of the artwork from its social function in ritual, to such an extent that the works themselves come to be made specifically with their reproducibility in mind, while the basis of ritual in cult-organizations hangs on in the form of photographic portraiture and by extension the cult of personality in cinematic celebrity.
Most interesting though in Benjamin's analysis of aura-decay is his view that the evolution of photographic reproduction into moving pictures, or film, is characterized as a revolutionary possibility in what in the above post I called a "genre of distractibles", i.e. that being distracted itself becomes the object, resulting in what Benjamin calls "a heightened presence of mind" in order to not be distracted amidst what is maximally distracting, inducing the subjective habit of attention-decisiveness. How would this apply to later developments in distractibilities such as those associated with use of the internet brought up by Josh above? Does one find that, paradoxically, aura-elimination under conditions of maximized distraction results in aura-restoration by induced self-remoteness?