The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction – Walter Benjamin 1936

“DuHamel (Georges DuHamel, french author) who detests the film and knows nothing of its significance, though something of structure, notes this circumstance follows: I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images. The spectator’s process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant sudden change. This constitutes the shock effect of the film, which, is like all shocks, should be cushioned by heightened presence of mind.” 

– Benjamin 1936

I believe what DuHamel was pointing to was the dangers of using technology as a device for entertainment. In this instance he is talking about movies and film (Of his time of course).  I think he had a valid point, if you look at modern societies apparent addiction to 24hour access to moving images e.g. TV, YouTube,Social Media, News, Games….ect. We are constantly being distracted from the real world. Faces down and fingers working frantically to get that next “Tweet” out. Is this affecting our ability to think , interact and reason? I believe it does….I want to explore if there are any scientific studies on this topic.

“Distraction and concentration form popular opposites which may be stated as follows: a man who concentrates before a work of art is absorbed by it. He enters into this work of art the way legend tells of the Chinese painter when he viewed his finished painting. In contrast, the distracted mass absorbs the work of art.”

– Benjamin 1936

I believe this statement further compounds my belief. We seem to absorb so much data on a daily basis that we scarcely remember it. A lot of the information is needless and nonsensical. I believe this makes the brain lazy, images and messages pushed at us so fast that we do not have time to consider them, analyse or question them. Do we just end up accepting them? Are we being trained to just follow instruction and not to think for ourselves?

“The distracted person, too, can form habits. More, the ability to master certain tasks in a state of distraction proves that their are solution has become a matter of habit.”

Is this saying that people learn to work through distraction and that this has become habit, therefor their work becomes thoughtless and automatic like the machines we serve?

“The film makes the cold value recede into the background not only by pushing the public in the position of the critic, but also by the fact that at the movies this position requires no attention. The public is an examiner, but an absent minded one.”

The public through its distraction cannot make coherent judgments as they are posibly unable to analyse. Their brains have become lazy and they have become dependent?

On War

“Mankind, which in Homers time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. It’s self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic.”

Out of all the statements in Benjamin’s essay this one gives me the chills. Has the human race become so removed from the natural world and its fellow humans as to become detached from War? I think so, this piece is very relevant today where the horrors of war is paraded through the medias alongside headlines used to capture audiences attention.  Brilliant billowing fireballs, fast action camera work, flashing red banners that declare “Breaking News”……and all this comes from our NEWS media…not works of fiction. Are we becoming desensitised to such an extent that we risk the lose of our humanity?

On Capitalism

Benjamin also talks about the emancipation of people through the mass production of art. We have become enslaved by the machine that was supposed to set us free. The machine has replaced creativity to make  “Aura”less (soulless) objects. We have become dependant on feeding these machines so that they feed us money to live and fill our lives with junk to distract us from the truth of our very real misery.

Possibly mass reproduced pieces of art is leaving buyers unsatisfied (marketed as life changing purchases….with the pretense of “will make you rich” …”will make you beautiful”)? Unfulfilled, they then purchase something else on the promise of life changing properties that ownership will give. These objects have no “aura” (can only be given by a hand crafted piece). There is also little satisfaction from an object that you have not had a hand in making.

Letters between Walter Benjamin and Theodoro Aldorno (Philosopher, Sociologist and Composer)

Theodora W Aldorno – says in his letters to Benjamin Walters that it is not the reproduction that is the problem but the financial exchanges that taint. He gives the example of the monetary value that is associated with the piece. The consumer worships instead the monetary value of the piece and not the piece itself. The monetary value is the object of enjoyment. On Fetishism (fanaticism) he talks about how music is not listened to properly if the audience are there to watch the conductor alone as he is the celebrity. He argues with Benjamin that it is not the reproduced music that is the problem but societies distraction with the celebrity and monetary value. Remove the monetary value and the celebrity and the whole piece then becomes pure without distraction.


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