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Critique, No. 26, Critical Theory and Modernity (Spring - Summer, 1982), pp. 159-171 Published by: New German Critique Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/488029 . Accessed: 06/02/2012 19:37
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Special WalterBenjaminissue (Spring1979). some of which he had already formulated in his major aesthetic manifesto. 1976). This treatise raised issues strikingly similar to those which Benjamin discussed a few years later in his Illuminations essays. In drawing this connection. and S. Benjamin and the Modern Crisis in Communication by Jan Bruck Beckett has so far largely defied sociological analysis. I am going to make use of Walter Bejnamin's theory of literary production.Beckett.1963). in a recent selectionof criticalessays edited by H. 188-236. 143-157." Letter. The only important of by exceptionI knowof is the interpretation Endgame Th. Adorno. Malone Dies and The Unnamable." New GermanCritique. particularly "The Storyteller" and "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire. Engelhardt and D. Most Red Benjamin. but only those texts which he wrote a few years after World War II . Burns. which surprisingly has so far escaped attention.17.' In an attempt to move towards a sociological perspective which could help to define more precisely the place and function of Beckett's writings in contemporary Western society."Understanding G. I am not considering Beckett's oeuvre in toto.R.Waitingfor Godot and the novel trilogy Molloy. he was received by a 1. This is still evident."Noten zur Literatur (Frankfurt/M." They deal with the concepts of "storytelling. I shall assume that his later plays and novels can be seen as a consistent development of the earlier themes and problems. II "Versuch. Adorno relates Beckett'snihilisticview of historyand his parodyof existentialist eventsof fascismand the War. W. pp. helpfulfor this analysiswere:R. sociological better known treatiseon "Commitment" (New Left Review. M. "Benjamin.I am not dealingwith historical philosophyto the catastrophic the essay in detail.. "WalterBenja159 .87/88 . and most scholars are still preoccupied with the psychological and philosophical aspects of his work.2 When Beckett arrived on the European scene. Davis. which provides an explanation of the crisis in communication and aesthetic perception that has been constitutive for many modern writers since the turn of the century. since it does not providea basisfor a systematic The analysis. for example.7 (1978). Materalien zu Samuel Becketts Romanen (Frankfurt/M. Storytellingand Brecht in the USA. Benjamincriticismin Englandand the USA has been growingin recentyears. the essay on "Proust" of 1931. das Endspiel zu verstehen." "memory" and "experience" which provide focal points for the comparative analysis of Benjamin's aesthetic theory and Beckett's literary practice. 2.. Mettler. Weber.75-89) mightbe more fruitfulin this direction.
66. for . As "time has stopped. The moon.Now what did we do yesterdayevening? E.: Alas! Beckett's creatures have been stripped of all the elements which identified the bourgeois individual as the subject and center of the world: possessions and property.1972). they also do not know what to do: "nothing to be done" is the leitmotif of their habitual and frustrating dialogue.whose failure in explaining the world and in providing a useful knowledge of the self and min.: And where were we yesterdayeveningaccording you? to E. Vladimir and Estragon. Waiting Godot (London. I suppose.the Bible.. V. the existential tramps. (withassurance).." preventing any development or change. this and that.: You didn't notice anythingout of the ordinary? E.: Do.: They must have been there.memory.yesterdaywe talkedabout nothingin particular.: How do I know? In anothercompartment. V. Beckett treats these values of bourgeois life with cynical contempt.. V.: (weary). social relations and human ties. whose traumatic experience of fascism and the War had destroyed its power of memory . there can be no progress in their understanding of the world. beyond the immediate historical catastrophe.: (sure of himself). parodying the most important discourses that provided the ideological backing of Western society . Do you not remember? E. CommodityFetishism. Yes.: Oh. 1959). We weren'there yesterdayevening. have lost the essential capacity to tell their story . no formation of an experience on which they themselves or the audience could build:3 V.: You don't rememberany fact.: Try and remember.p.: (controllinghimself). There'sno lack of void..the ability to "think history" (Adorno) and the capacity to relate its "story. Klare (New 249-275. which Beckett saw in terms of a fundamental crisis in communication and aesthetic representation.160 Jan Bruck stunned.Good. That's been going on now for half a century. the Modernand the Experienceof History.: Do? V." Yet the speechlessness whch beset both Beckett's heroes and their audience alike was not only due to the horrors of war. I supposewe blathered. V. speechless audience. as usual. any circumstance? E. 3. Science and Philosophy . Don't tormentme. Didi. Not only do they fail to remember how they came to be where they are. Dick Howardand Carl E. V. it signalized the destruction of the traditions and values of Western culture and society. now I remember. Waitingfor Godot presents this dilemma.: The sun. ed. E. York:BasicBooks."The Unknown Dimension in EuropeanMarxismSince Lenin.About what? E.nothingin particular. knowledge and rationality.
birthto into death. MalloneDies." James Joyce Quarterly. The inabilityto communicateexperiencethrougha "story"is also the for subject matterof the novel-trilogy precedingWaiting Godot. J. Malone. In The Unnamable. incapacitated. to die writing and to write dying. Ibid. Molloy. 5. the individual as human life being as pointless and incomprehensible is the historyof humankindin general. p. There is no need anymoreto reconstructthe past. No. his writingdoes not comprisea unified"story. 6. "Malone 'Given Birth to into Death. 1955). of Interpretations Molloy. thereby "being given. "A Stuttering Logos: Biblical Paradigms in Beckett's Trilogy.. 4 (1971). Jan Hokenson.p.and althoughthe hero is still able to recallpeople and occurrences the past." as the traditionalcoordinatesof space and time are out of order. MaloneDies. 180. Twentieth Century (New York.'" ed. is awaiting his death.to communicate." "creatorof all fictions. 8."He uses the Creative Wordas a comicepistemological mirrorreflectinga distortedand now grotesque image of his narrator"I. 60. The Unnamable (London." which makes death "a second. MaloneDies. the essentialelementsnecessary for the formationof an experienceare lacking."6 Psychoanalytic interpretations theirparallel in those that relate the trilogy to biblical myth: "Buildingthrough biblical allusions a parodic dialectic between Genesis and Revelation. 293.." According to Fletcher.Malone'sdesireis to writehis novel into death.Beckett. Malonerelateshis final "stories. Fletcher. aftercrawlingout of a ditch throughunknownterrain. 1959).. Having discarded materialpossessionsand humanties. to describe. Lying in his mother's room. in short the crisis in communication. J.p. Molloy engages in trivial activities and thoughts. Benjamin and the Modern Crisis in Communication 161 of society became drastically apparentin the historicalmomentof fascism and the War. attempts to reconstructhow he reached his mother's room in which he is living. only to play the final game.On the aesthetic/epistemological plane.. O'Hara. and perhaps happier birth.the point of no returnis reached. Beckett mocks the beginning and the end of "creation.An unidentifiable 4. alone.." Birth and death correlate to creation and destruction. to reminisceabout of certain aspects of his life. a pensum. most of Beckett's earlyheroes regardthe womb as a "protective calm" and life as "a punishment. The Unnamable 7. ."5His desirefor deathcan be linkedwitha "detestation for the mother who ejected the hero from the womb.As in Godot. 285." because "it will finally reverse the process that has been so painful to recalland for which life itself has not find been sufficientto atone. thispsychological or mythicaldeath signifiesthe declineof the storyand of its author. Tied to his bed and equippedwith a shortpencil.The hero of the first part."4 stories about the inability to narrate. Molloy." "lifeless like the teller.merely to pass time and to wait for his end which occurs in part II of the trilogy.
Ibid.. to be told. distant cries. I shall never be silent. through the door. if it opens. quick now before there is none left. 417f. all sense of continuity. which is if possible even more interesting. it's too late. you must go on. and distrust in the power of memory is complete. to have them carry me into my story. you must say words. consciousness. into the silence. 9. you must go on. What is left is a conglomerate of contradictory. "inarticulate murmurs" that cannot be ended. no voice left. perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story.. with the words that remain. I) and which reappears. the voice begins again. I'll never know. how would I know. Beckett's prose is a parody of story-writing.. the words that remain. in distorted form. I'll go on. I'll go on. it is "metafiction" in the sense recently defined by Margret Rose. where am I. in purgatory. p. until they say me. 294. mere speech. watching the shadows of Malone."9 What a short-sighted critic discounts as "lack of talent" in writing stories (Alvarez) is precisely the point of Beckett's work: by producing texts which lack the essential ingredients of story-telling . perhaps it's too late. cit. middle and end. subject and object have been jettisoned. it will be I. place. in the silence you don't know ."8 It seems here that Beckett reached as close as one possibly could to expressing the fundamental dilemma of communication which he formulated several times in his theoretical essays (Three Dialogues. and characters sure of their identity he demonstrates that the meaningful writing of stories and novels is no longer possible. try what. but also that I. until they find me.. it will be silence. no matter. perhaps they have. which I've forgotten. that would surprise me. quick now and try again. through the noise.. so to speak: ". strange pain. which is even more interesting. p. I don't know. I can't go on. language. strange sin. . I forget. that must be it." however rudimentary. all traditional categories of time. as long as there are any. There is no longer any "story. far from here. but also. " ". not only that I shall have to speak of things of which I cannot speak. I can't go on. Op. my old story. before the door that opens on my story. if in my situation one may speak of facts. self-relativizing and nonreferential statements that flow on from page to page without a break. that I shall have to. nothing left but the core of murmurs. perhaps it's done already. no longer in life. I don't know. in the silence you don't know. The "story" ends without an end. . while making this reflective supersession a 8.. in that it "supersedes a tradition of prose. perhaps they have said me already. And at the same time I am obliged to speak. tradition and identity has been lost. in The Unnamable: "The fact would seem to be. it begins trying again. Never. Molloy and all other heroes of the previous novels move past.plots with a clear beginning. you must go on.162 Jan Bruck "I" sits.
Beckett's "stories" represent the dilemma of story-telling. In order to uncover the causes of this crisis and the dilemma of aesthetic representation. With the advent of mechanical reproduction. where the "exhibition value" became prevalent. the work of art was endowed with a near sacred "distance. revolutionizing the means of communication (from print and lithograph to film and radio). The traditional story. a fundamental change took place: in preindustrial society. 1979). artistic forms undergo crises which necessitate the introduction of new forms. however. I will now turn to Benjamin. which Benjamin defines of course in an ideal form. and it contained a truth that was passed on from generation to generation. thereby changing it from a passive recipient of pre-established truths to an active collaborator." In the process of this development. where the production of artworks relied on the technology of the artisan. its authenticity and authority. literary production superseded the oral tradition and the novel became the dominant form. post-literary form of communication which Benjamin calls "information. The essay on "The Storyteller" is concerned with the reasons for the disappearance of story-telling in the modern world. Finally. and leading to a crisis in aesthetic perception." "inapproachability" and "uniqueness" in place and time. on the other. story-telling was the dominant medium of communication. p. less interested in cathartic experiences than in political argument. the dominance of the traditional forms of "narrating" was challenged by a new. and the crisis of literary communication in the contemporary Western world. It 10. . Benjamin applied this general model to the analysis of the modern crisis in communication and the decline in traditional aesthetic forms in his essays on "The Storyteller" and on "Baudelaire.Beckett."'0 Through their parodistic self-destruction. In preindustrial culture. where artistic production was part of a ritual or cult. Benjamin's main theoretical goal was to uncover the links that exist between the changing modes of aesthetic perception and artistic creation on the one hand." which provide a basis for the critical analysis of Beckett's dilemma of story-telling. 65. Out of this crisis. destroying the traditional aura. Rose. the work of art moved out of its collective cultic context into the competitive sphere of the commodity market. i. with the appearance of advanced technology such as newpaper and film.e. With growing industrialization and the invention of print. in short with an "aura".Benjaminand the ModernCrisisin Communication 163 subject of another fiction. originated a new form of communication which emancipated the audience from authority and tradition and released its critical potential. M." the technique or technology of the production and reproduction of artworks. derives from oral traditions in artisan culture. describing either local events and traditions ("lore of the past") or journeys and travels ("lore of faraway places"). and the general "production process. Parody/Meta-fiction (London. As the latter progresses.
He is concerned only with the impact of the technological changes. the pace of work in the factory and general global mobility. its purpose is "to isolate what happens from the realm in which it could affect the experience of the reader. the novelist speaks for "the solitary individual.probably beginning with the end of the Middle Ages . led to the replacement of traditional forms by information as the new medium of communication. who is no longer linked to the other members of the society through communal ties." which Benjamin defines as "counsel woven into the. p. 160f. Whereas the storyteller passed his experiences on to the other members of his social group as counsel and in a communal situation. . but through increasingly complex and rationalized apparatuses of socialization and communication. 12. 87.164 Jan Bruck was characterized by an "orientation towards practical interests. comprehensibility and. W. fabric of real life. p. unified experience which could be perpetuated in future generations. since the communicability of experience receded and "wisdom." is dying out. Mass media communication does not aim at the formation of a complete. brevity.e.. They are to him the indicators that reveal the changing social function of literature and art. In 11. information constantly needs to be replaced and renewed. Illuminations (London."'3 For this reason. It lives only at that moment."12 the privatized subject. this new form of aesthetic communication is due to the loss of many of the characteristics that defined story-telling. lack of connection between news items) contribute as much to this as does the make-up of pages and the paper's style. In modern times . which took place gradually over hundreds of years from mythical age to modern industrial society. Benjamin explains the fundamental difference between story-telling and information in this way: "the value of information does not survive the moment in which it was new. p. 85f. as is the case in mass society. in particular the change from a collective to an individualist social structure. The process of transformation. Ibid. 14. on aesthetic perception and the modes of artistic production. 90." The resulting decline of the story coincides with the rise of the novel as the dominant epic form.. it contained "something useful" in the form of counsel or advice...giving counsel through a story becomes less and less possible. p. the speeding up of traffic and communication."'4 The amount of sense stimuli and items of information has multiplied many times over through the increased number of signs and signals. Ibid. Benjamin does not enter into an analysis of the social and economic factors responsible for the radical transformation from artisan to industrial culture. accompanying the social transformation. Benjamin. 13." i. above all. 1970). Ibid. As an expression of the aspirations of the bourgeois industrial age. The principles of journalistic information (freshness of the news. it has to surrender to it completely and explain itself to it without losing any time.
trying to bridge the gap that had been opened up by the Kantian separation of the recognizing subject and the objective world. from the realists to the surrealists. The "truth" of the story/history lay in the coherence and plausibility of the events. With the rapidly changing and expanding horizon of communication in which every individual is living.on the groundsthat it relatedevents of the past. The realist novelists and their successors were increasingly compelled to search for the . it revealed itself through that structured order. As a result of this simultaneous expansion and disintegration of social communication. the saga. it did not differ much from the telling (and later writing) of history and. worsened by the increasing subjection of the individual to anonymous forces of bureaucracy and economic interests. revealed a truth explicable in terms of the audience's shared experience. Instead. we no longer possess a discourse which functions as a source of truth and wisdom as the old stories and the Bible did in earlier times. and it seems hard to imagine that the world will ever agree on any discourse which it can share collectively as a common medium of communication. It is this dilemma of communication and aesthetic representation to which Beckett's work gives meta-fictional expression. With the rise of the novel and following the failed attempts by idealistic and romantic writers in the early nineteenth century to regain the lost world of legend and myth. the completeness of a story and its ability to relate a "true" experience was no longer guaranteed through its history-relating structure. we have to contend with competing discourses. legend or fairy tale) had a linear morphology with a clear evolution of plot and character . The decline of storytelling manifests itself also in fundamental changes in the notions of truthand representation. rendered usually in a collective situation. if not impossible.Benjamin such a world it is of course much more difficult. the connection between the present and the past. the individual and the community is breaking up. as disparate and contradictory as the reality we live in.g. The difficulties of objectively representing the world through signs (language) became an urgent matter for philosophy and aesthetics and can be traced from the nineteenth-century novelists to the nouveau roman. to structure the millions of bits of information into a unified whole and to make sense of them in their totality. the self and the others. before it assumed a purely fictional character.now privatised and internalized . and the listener comprehended it because the story. expressing in the aesthetic/epistemological sphere the atrophy of experience and the privatization of the individual that occurred in the social sphere. between the internal structure of the text and that of its object. could claim a "truth" similar to that of history. In this.the dominant parts of narration.and the ModernCrisisin Communication 165 Beckett. The "story"in its simpleforms (e.'s 15. even if they were mythical or legendary.truth in an abstract relation of reflection between the work of art and reality. The implicationsof this epistemological dilemmafor Beckett'swork have been dis- .
" which can reproduce only "those cussed by Olga Bernal." the structure and function of which Benjamin and Beckett explain in their essays on "Baudelaire" and "Proust" respectively.""'6 and thereby provides those cultural and spiritual links necessary for the experience of completeness and totality: "Where there is experience (Erfahrung) in the strict sense of the word." Beckett defines "involuntary memory" as a faculty the novelist needs to evoke an image of the past and of the unity underlying the complexity of human action. They bring back the narrator's past.. the role of memory changes. 16. Materialen . modifying Bergson's concept of memoire pure. certain contents of the individual past combine with material of the collective past. p." as distinct from "voluntary memory".. the "miracle of evocation. which centres on the development of an individual hero and his consciousness which. the "quest for life" (Lukics) becomes the goal of the modern novel. .. as in the exemplary case of Proust. through the powers of association and reminiscence. They triggered recollection at certain times and remained handles of memory for a lifetime. 17. Op. who first introduced them in his novel." occurs about thirteen times. In contrast to this. Consequently. In the essay on "Proust. in Hegelian terms. According to Benjamin.. beginning with the famous madelaine steeped in tea. "voluntary memory" is "the uniform memory of intelligence. 96. 1969) (German translation in Engelhardt/Mettler. we need to take a closer look at the concepts of "memory" and "experience.""'7With the rise of the novel. "memory" is the cardinal faculty in producing and listening to a story. kept producing the amalgamation of these two elements over and over again." initiated usually through intense sense perceptions which Beckett calls "fetishes.) The study is partly based on Foucault's discourse analysis provided in his Les Mots et les choses. it is "the epic faculty par excellence" as it "creates the chain of tradition which passes a happening on from generation to generation. . Proust was the last and foremost novelist to utilize its power.166 Jan Bruck In order to understand the implications of this dilemma for Beckett more fully. but it lacks a sociological dimension." Language et fiction dans le roman de Beckett (Paris.. their festivals. For the privatised individual whose communal ties have been cut off and whose immediate relationship with death and eternity has been destroyed (making way for a "transcendental homelessness" which Lukics regards as characteristic for the modern novel). revealing its unity with the present and thereby its essence. The new faculty constitutive for the novel is "involuntary memory. the past can be at best recollected synthetically. in his Remembrance of Things Past. Beckett and Benjamin borrow the terms from Proust. . tries to reconcile itself with reality and understand itself as part of a necessary historical process within an ideal totality. The rituals with their ceremonies. p. cit. Ibid. 97f. in "Le Dilemma de la representation.
" "The more readily consciousnessregistersthese effect. In search of a more precise definitionof voluntarymemory."for whichthe Englishlanguagehas no equivalents. where he contrasts memory with consciousness:"Becomingconscious and leaving behind a memory trace are processes incompatiblewith one another. 32f.as a point of referenceand a parameterfor our individual and national identity.and most modernwritersafter Proustseem to be in this predicament. conscious Erlebnis. consciousness and the world in a totalizingpicture. Ibid. older people are supposed to have "experience. by turning them into a short-lived. merelya blurredand uniform projection once removedof our anxietyand opportunism that is to say.Beckett. realitylived in disparate and fragmentedmoments which do not form any coherenceand continuity.in this sense. its function consists."'8 The novelist who is unable to drawon the power of involuntary memory. which carrieswith it an increasein knowledgeand wisdom." Reformulatedin Proustiantermsthis means that "onlywhat has not been experienced explicitly and consciously. But whereasthe mechanism repression one of storing away without a release. Erfahrungrepresentsa wholeness and continuity.from leaving behind a memory trace.a unifiedexperienceof reality. The dichotomy between consciousness 18. Ibid. Erlebnis is an atomised and isolated experience. . what has not happened to the subject as an experience (Erlebnis).Benjamin draws on Freud and his Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1921). 162f. it is impossiblefor anyone to live without any memorytraces at all. p. nothing. rather. 19.can become a componentof involuntary memory. of course."and its actionscan be compared to the turningof pages in a photographalbum: "the material that it furnishescontainsnothingof the past..."20 WhatFreud shocks.of the word "experience."'9Freud had stated that consciousness(or voluntarymemory) does not retain any permanent memory traces at all. p."In contrast.cannot overcome the gap between presentand past."and againstthe excessive energies at work in the external world which enter consciousnessin the form of "shocks.Benjaminand the ModernCrisisof Communication 167 formed.) It needs pointingout. the less likely are they to have a traumatic of describeshere seems similarto the mechanism repression throughwhich we shift unpleasant experiences and problems into the subconsciousto of is avoid being troubledby them. in the "protectionagainststimuli. Ibid. 163. the function of consciousnessor voluntarymemoryas describedhere is to preventthe externalstimuliand shocks from becoming a traumatic Erfahrung. p.in German.. 20. (Benjamin makes use here of the two differentmeanings."Its impressionsof the past that were consciouslyand intelligently and images are "arbitrary" "remote from reality. withoutsome notion of continuity and tradition. thatalthoughour memorytodaymay not achieve the completeness of earlier generations.
now an ex-victim. and the greater potential ones facing humankind today. 22. when. 30. 1965). . it disappears. But to reach that position. to use the words which contain the very angst of which he is a victim. is exposed to that reality.. In sharp contrast to Beckett. its shocks and threats. 21. he is compelled to write." it is the "safeguard. we may add. . p. Benjamin discovered in the loss of aura and the disappearance of traditional artistic forms (such as the story) the 21. for a moment free. voluntary memory with heightened awareness is the recipe for the modern artist who wants to survive . he dedicates himself to the expression of the failure of the modern artist to perform his traditional function: that of giving meaning and unity to the world through his discourse. 18. he denies any positive value to human history and moves towards a position of complete silence." and "when it ceases to perform that second function."21 It is also an "agent of security. which has rendered the story (and the novel) a useless instrument of communication. and the victim. a reaction before a danger stimulus. separated from the communal ties that provided order and tradition. Beckett arrived at surprisingly similar insights into the function of consciousness and "voluntary memory. of the cat. p. The curiosity of the cat is the attitude called for by the modern artist. he regards the loss of involuntary memory and the concurrant atrophy of experience. Ibid. 23. . to express his traumatic experience of shock. In this sense his work is truly absurd. This is the point at which Beckett parts with Benjamin. as the sign of a fundamental inability of the modern artist to communicate. Instead of utilizing the creative potential of schock experience in the fashion of other modernist writers. In view of the catastrophes that he experienced. . and the catastrophic impact of mass-society and war on consciousness and memory. Without a knowledge of Freud. not as strict as Benjamin's theoretical opposition in the aesthetic sphere makes it appear to be. Ibid. when it is opposed by a phenomenon that it cannot reduce to the condition of a comfortable and familiar concept. Although he recognizes the protective function of consciousness and voluntary memory.168 Jan Bruck and memory is. "a non-conditioned reflex. Beckett pursues the depressing task of expressing the meaninglessness of discourse. as well as most modernist writers. in a word."22 . in everyday psychological reality. Not seeking refuge in either avant-garde experiments or in political utopias.. it betrays its trust as a screen to spare its victim the spectacle of reality." which he equates with "habit": "Habit is a comprise affected between the individual and his environment.as it is for people in everyday life.or. not the death. as the virtual end of communication. Related to habit is curiosity. Proust (London. and a few years before Benjamin. p."23 a mental readiness and attention which includes the occurrence of the unexpected into its horizon.
In the twentieth century. Benjamin believed in its aesthetically productive and politically liberating potential.p. 177. The first writer for whom "the experience of shock has become the norm" was Baudelaire. That which detemines the rhythm of a conveyor belt is the basis of rhythm in film." Whereas Beckett saw modern technology solely as a destructive force.Benjamin potential for new. slow motion and other technical innovations were attempts to exploit the experience of shock. The historical development has shown that it is not technological progress and concomitant aesthetic/cultural revolutions per se that lead to political liberation. always ready to parry the continuous barrage of threatening sense stimuli. by separating certain aspects and details out of the stream of events and alienating their impression. industrialism and imperialism. whose theory and practice of epic theatre and whose notion of dialectic intervention (Eingreifen) through art became a model for Benjamin's aesthetic ideas. Ibid. thereby laying the ground for a democratic and collective artistic production and consumption of the type envisaged by the Russian film-makers of the 1920s and by Brecht. There came the day when a new and urgent need for stimuli was met by the film. one may add. the film. or "shocks. perception in the form of shocks was established as a formal principle. close-up.. 164. Formally. movements such as futurism." Benjamin regards Baudelaire as the first modern artist and shows how the shock-experience of the crowd and the amorphous masses in the industrial cities has become constitutive for his work. dadaism and surrealism based their aesthetic manifestos and artistic practices on the experience of shock. which requires the continual production of commodities and assimilates even the most radical theoretical and artistic practices. which he inherited from the 1930s. this new orientation manifested itself in the destruction of traditional syntax and a disregard for the rules of logic and empirical observation which is not quite what Benjamin had in mind when he talked about the most revolutionary kind of modern art. For Benjamin the task of the modern artist is to develop a trained consciousness. p. intensified by the reality of war. similar to Brecht's technique of "epic theatre. In film. Poe's stories of "ratiocination. However. revolutionary means of communication which can help to liberate the audience from authority and tradition and instill a political awareness. whose arrival he explains in the following way: "Technology subjected the human senses to a training of a new kind. thereby making them available to conscious. Benjamin's technological and aesthetic optimism. ."25 Jump-cut. 24. The subjection of the modern mass media to the forces of the capitalistic market.. cit. is no longer justified today. whose poetry displays "a large measure of consciousness" and reveals "a plan at work in the composition"24 not unlike. 25. Op.and the ModernCrisisin Communication 169 Beckett." and to utilize their critical potential. critical analysis.
alwaysof course in danger of being destroyed throughit. not only the work of art as such.Benjamin's theoretical position is in fact an ambiguousone: it forces him to ascribe aesthetic.27Explicitlypoliticalauthorsare not necessarily more "committed" than absurdistwriters such as Kafka or Beckett.and political.althoughhe does fall into the opposite extreme by placingBeckett and Kafkaabove Brechtand the "committed" writers in the measure of their political import.it would be naive not to see the constant danger of failure of the kind which Beckett's work expresses. Despite their obvious differences. cit. p. whose greater in politicalscepticismhas some justification a worldfacedwith the threatof destruction throughyet another. What is to be avoidedis a self-indulgent which. or .most modernistand realistliterature art sharean and to antagonistic.I regardit ratheras a politicalact. and by denying the relevanceof direct politicalinterventionto the artist." For Beckett. but negatively. well as theoretical activity. but as part of a dynamicprocessof communication takingplace between texts and their audiencesand dependenton specifichistorical situations. which has reifiedworksof art into fixedobjectsand aestheticpositionsinto political the as dogmas. ratherthan attemptingto intervenein the political process."26 Adorno's point needs to be taken seriously.do not exist in their own right. a warning of a danger of which we have to be aware.170 Jan Bruck clearly limits the political influenceof the modernwriteror artist. any attempt to break out of the communicationaldilemma is futile and art remainsthereforenothingbut "the apotheosis of solitude. do not thinkthat possible catastrophe.liberationto a technological progress resultingfrom the same economicand socialforceswhichat the same time prevent that very liberation. shrinkingfrom the nullityof extracircumferential phenomena.It is. The dilemma in which both Beckett and Benjaminfind themselvesin relation to politicalrealityand the similarities well as differencesin their as 26. assumesa positionof total negationandwithdrawal.and elitist. 164. who insistently criticisedBenjamin'sand Brecht'snaive optimism.drawninto the core of the eddy. and both draw their strengthand criticalpotentialfrom their relationship to each other.atomicwar. disregarding fact that artisticproduction.negativerelationship the existingsocialandpoliticalorder. and to see the relationship betweenthemas a dialecticalone.in the face of the pessimism I itself to politicalinactivity. 27.opposition between "modernism"and "realism.resigns Beckett's work is of this kind. Op.. It is time that aesthetictheorymovedout of the enclosuresof the modernism-realism debate. And despite the need for direct political action and intervention. but also our interpretation the use we makeof it which is politicallyreactionary progressive.to defendBeckett and the modernistwritersagainstthe attacksfrom the Left and to espouse an aesthetic practicewhich.This dilemma led Adorno.In view of this it is necessaryto overcome the simplistic. after and all."avant-garde and politicalart. Beckett himself defined this attitude in his essay on "Proust":"The artistis active.
but on criticalargumentand politicalconsciousness. no longer what we were before the calamity of yesterday." the . and irredeemably part of us.regards the crisis as a necessarystage in the historicaldevelopmentfromcapitalist to proletariansociety. Deformation has taken place. history is primarilya process of destruction:"There is no escape from yesterdaybecauseyesterdayhas deformedus. p. from literate to mass-media culture. or has been deformedby us. 28. overshadowed a fundamental dilemmawithin by cannotfuncthe political process:moderntechnologyand the mass-media tion in a democraticway without political liberation. Ibid." no longer certainof our future. as we know better today. from the vantage point of his materialistphilosophy.no longer based upon auraticexperiences Thisoptimistic view is. we are other.and politicalliberation is impossible without the help of the new media. but a daystoneon the beaten trackof the years.the positivistic view of an evolution according to natural laws. Benjamin and the Modern Crisis in Communication 171 theoretical position are revealed in their notion of history.29 conceptsof history:the idealisticbelief Benjamin relinquishthe traditional in a gradualdevelopmenttowardsever greaterperfection. 13. Benjamin.Beckett's vision of could crisis and destructionpresentsa seriouswarning:that the individual be engulfed and communitiesdestroyedby the oppressiveand contradictory forces of mass-society. Yesterdayis not a milestonethat has been passed. See in particular "Theseson the Philosophyof History. heavy and dangerous. accordingto Benjamin. describing its catastrophic effects without any indication of positive alternatives.We are not merelymoreweary because of yesterday. For Beckett. withinus. past has to be struggled against and coped with all the time.Beckett. and cannot be offBoth Beckett and loaded with a comfortableknowledgeof the future. and until the media have been changedfroman instrument social control into a forum of collective decision-making. in a constant "state of emergency. It is not only the destructive experience of war. Both requireeach of other. but also the awarenessof the widersocial and political crisis of mass-societywhich is responsiblefor the pessimisticaspects of Beckett's and Benjamin's work. Both believe that bourgeois society is faced with a fundamentalcrisis and is nearing its end. Being in the positionof Tantalus (Beckett). 29. we live.. and the dogma of a necessarymovementtowardsan ideal goal."28The destructiveexperience of war lurks also behind Benjamin's work: historyoverwhelmsus in the form of catastrothe phes and confrontsus in ever new momentsof "emergency".He recognizes the progressive potential of the mass-media for the liberation of the individualfrom authorityand traditionand for the developmentof democratic forms of communication. But whereas in Beckett's work the breakdownof society and the crisisin communication and aesthetic representationtake the form of a total negation.