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Thisnarrowunderstandingof aurais particularlypronouncedin the essay’sthird,1939version,whichwasﬁrst publishedin 1955andenteredEnglish-languagedebatesunderthe title“The Workof Art in the Age of MechanicalReproduction,”
trans.HarryZohn,ed.HannahArendt (New York,1969),pp. 217–51.A thoroughlyrevisedtranslationof thisversionisnow availablein Benjamin,“The Workof Art in the Age of ItsTechnologicalReproducibility:ThirdVersion,”trans.Zohn andEdmundJephcott,
],trans.RodneyLivingstoneet al.,ed. MarcusBullocket al.,4 vols.(Cambridge,Mass.,1996–2003),4:251–83.However,I will be usingprimarilythe second(ﬁrsttypescript)versionof 1936,to whichBenjaminreferredas hisurtext;see Benjamin,
],ed. Rolf TiedemannandHermannSchweppenha¨user,7 vols.(Frankfurt,1989),7:350–84;trans.Jephcottand Zohn underthe title “The Workof Art in the Age of ItsTechnologicalReproducibility:SecondVersion,”
3:101–33.I discussthe implicationsof these diﬀerentversionsin MiriamHansen,“Room-for-Play:Benjamin’sGamblewithCinema,”
no.109(Summer2004):3–45,an essaythat oﬀersa counterpointto the presentone;bothwill be partof abookthat putsBenjamin’sreﬂectionson ﬁlm andmass-mediatedmodernityin a conversationwith thoseof SiegfriedKracauerandTheodorW. Adorno.
See BertoltBrecht,entryfor25 July1938,
1934–55,trans.HughRorrison,ed. JohnWillett and RalphManheim(London,1993),p. 10:“a loadof mysticism,althoughhisattitudeisagainstmysticism”;on Scholem,see below.
an acutely negative valence, which turns the etiology of aura’s decline intoa call for its demolition.The narrowly aesthetic understanding of aura rests on a reductive read-ing of Benjamin, even of his famous essay “The Work of Art in the Age of ItsTechnologicalReproducibility”(1936),whichseemstoadvancemostax-iomaticallysuchcircumscription.
IfweagreethatBenjamin’swritings,readthrough and against their historical contingencies, still hold actuality forﬁlm and media theory—and hence for questions of the aesthetic in thebroadest sense—this notion of aura is not particularly helpful. I proceedfrom the suspicion, ﬁrst expressed by Benjamin’s antipodean friends Ger-shomScholemandBertoltBrecht,thattheexemplarylinkageofauratothestatus of the artwork in Western tradition, whatever it may have accom-plished for Benjamin’s theory of modernity, was not least a tactical movedesigned toisolateanddistancetheconceptfromtheatoncemorepopularandmoreesotericnotionsofaurathatﬂourishedincontemporaryoccultistdiscourse(anddotothisday).
AsBenjaminknewwell,tocorralthemean-ings of aura into the privileged sphere of aesthetic tradition—and thus to
is Ferdinand Schevill Distinguished ServiceProfessor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she teaches inthe Department of English and the Committee on Cinema and Media Studies.Her publications include a book on Ezra Pound’s early poetics (1979) and
Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film
(1991). She is currently completing a study entitled
The Other Frankfurt School: Kracauer, Benjamin, and Adorno on Cinema, Mass Culture, and Modernity.
Her next project is a book onthe notion of cinema as vernacular modernism.