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Walter Benjamin

As sociological and cultural critic Benjamin combined ideas drawn from historical materialism, German idealism, and Jewish mysticism to create a critique of culture which contributed much to Western Marxism and aesthetic theory.

his literary works

Essays on Charles Baudelaire, Translated the Tableaux Parisiens edition of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal Translated Proust's In Search of Lost Time, Critical essays Task of the Translator and The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

Benjamins concept of auratic perception was influenced by

Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815 1887): a Swiss anthropologist and sociologist, who is known for his research into matriarchal clans.

The title of his seminal 1861 book Mutterrecht, or Mother Right: an investigation of the religious and juridical character of matriarchy in the Ancient World

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction -Walter Benjamin

What the essay is about:

In principle a work of art has always been reproducible. There have been two different manifestations of technical reproduction the reproduction of works of art and the art of the film . Benjamin reveals the nature of the repercussions that these two manifestations have had on art in its traditional form

No reproduction of a work of art can duplicate one element: the presence of the original work of art in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be .

The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity . The sphere of this authenticity is outside the technical reproducibility.

Concepts of: original _ authenticity historical testimony _ authority of the art object

dependent on

historical testimony
So if

Authenticity jeopardized Then historical testimony jeopardized. Affecting the authority of the object.

Since the historical testimony rests on the authenticity, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter. And what is really jeopardized when the historical testimony is affected is the authority of the object.

Benjamin subsumes that element which has been eliminated from the art object in the term aura and concludes: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.

Changes with time:

The mode of human sense perception changes with humanitys entire mode of existence. What changes?
The manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished

The withering away of aura:

Related to the increasing significance of the masses in modern social life: 1. the desire to bring things closer in space, 2. inclination to overcome the uniqueness of a work by accepting its reproduction.

A work of art is unique because it is rooted in tradition.

Secular/ religious



Value of a work of art


Cult value :
Secular cult (hero-worship) Religious cult (instrument of magic)


Secular value (aesthetic)

Beauty Politics (Utilitarian)


Exhibition value replaces cult value But cult value resisting this remains through the secular cults (Diana, Elvis Presley, etc)

Photography ------ film

Photography changing the nature of art Film changing the

Medium of art Tool(s) used for art Way of exhibiting Therefore: audience perception changing

The film

The artistic performance of a stage actor is presented by a camera A sequence of positional views composed by the editor.

Need not respect the performance as an integral whole.

Hence, the new art comprises

certain factors of movement which are those of the camera, performance of the actor is subjected to a series of optical tests the audience to take the position of a critic, without experiencing any personal contact with the actor

The critical eye of the audience/camera

The uncritical eye of the religious/cult-valuer

the withering of the aura

though man has to operate with his whole living person, yet he has to forgo its aura. aura is tied to his presence; there can be no replica of it.

Consequently, the aura that envelops the actor vanishes, and with it the aura of the figure he portrays.

The only exception to this is when the actor him/herself becomes the object of a cult.

The film responds to the shriveling of the aura with an artificial buildup of the personality outside the studio. The cult of the movie star preserves not the unique aura of the person but the spell of the personality, the phony spell of a commodity.

Thus an actor may not be treated with the same uncritical veneration as the follower of a cult would give his object of worship.
The actor/artist has become a commodity,- and must fulfill the expectation of his followers.

The position of the artist

He knows that ultimately he will face the public, the consumers who constitute the market But this market, where he offers not only his labor but also his whole self, his heart and soul, is beyond his reach.

pressure to fulfill promise

everybody is something of an expert readers = writers published material has lost its aura

magician/surgeon painter/photographer

the aura/ awe of magic is lost the authority is lost

. Dadaism:
a rejection of the prevailing standards in art through antiart cultural works A deliberate destruction of the aura of their creations, which they branded as reproductions with the very means of


the movement was a protest against the bourgeois nationalist and colonialist interests, which many Dadaists believed were the root cause of the war, and against the cultural and intellectual conformityin art and more broadly in society

Dada art hannah hoch

The mass is a matrix from which all traditional behavior toward works of art issues today in a new form

Marcel Junco:

We had lost confidence in our culture. Everything had to be demolished. We would begin again after the "tabula rasa".

Paint/ Film

for contemporary man the representation of reality by the film represents a closer reflection of reality. This is more significant than that of the painter, since it offers, precisely because the mechanical equipment used can permeate reality to a greater degree.

art then art now

Concept of art altered with coming of mechanical reproduction

Mode of participation in art altered Thus changing the way we view art