notes for a hypothetical essay on relocating the aura

curt cloninger:

Hi Ryan,

It is indeed ironic that I would be criticized as a Benjamin disciple. You and Marisa understandably challenge my reading of him, but I think my reading is defensible, with some caveats. I'm not referring to his entire canon, or to his biographical history. I am referring to one text. In that text he himself says, "We do not deny that in some cases today's films can also promote revolutionary criticism of social conditions, even of the distribution of property. However, our present study is no more specifically concerned with this than is the film production of Western Europe." Indeed, the footnoted connections he makes between film and politics seem largely tenuous and speculative, almost like they are incidental observations that he wasn't quite confident enough to include in the body of the text.

The epilogue seems particularly tacked on. He takes the marinetti quote and runs with it, but in his rush to the tour-de-force finish line, he doesn't satisfactorilly connect all the dots. Just because he wants me to focus on the epilogue doesn't mean I have to buy it. Just because I don't buy the epilogue doesn't mean I can't find use in some of his prior observations.

I probably should have prefaced my original post with some disclaimer like, "I know this goes against the accepted interpretation of Benjamin's aura, but..." Nevertheless, I don't think his observations are off limits simply because I disagree with the larger conclusions he draws from them. Am I not free to take his initial observations and draw my own conclusions? I don't think aesthetics are a fascist control mechanism of war just because Marinetti was loony and Hitler was an art school drop-out who dug "heroic" art. I don't fear the re-injection of aura into non-object art. I think it has probably already crept in anyway. I need not subscribe to Benjamin's politics in order to reference him (any more than he need subscribe to Huxley's politics in order to reference him). David used the sword of Goliath to chop off Goliath's head. It functioned.


ryan griffis wrote:

> this isn't really a disagreement or contribution into this thread,
> other than an expression of my annoyance at the continuing
> interpretation of Benjamin's text as simply nostalgic for a lost aura.
> i thought Marisa already addressed this?
> he was pretty firmly situated in the camp that believed in the
> progressive potential of technology and mechanical reproduction to
> add to art's ability to be "radical" and become something other than
> a luxury while critiquing the aestheticized politics of fascism and
> politicized art of the communists. In a lecture delivered to a mostly
> Marxist crowd of Popular Front/anti-fascists, he basically stated
> that experimentation should be considered more politically radical
> than a reliance on subject matter-as-content, ala socialist realism/
> propaganda (the whole "commitment" debate). While there is some
> "mourning" that could be found in Benjamin's account, it's more
> related to the context of the larger changes that occurred in the
> experience of material culture in general, not specifically in visual
> art. it's a change in the relationship between cultural/material
> producers and audiences that seemed important.
> Digital art doesn't "defy the very, very notion of what Benjamin was
> discussing," it pushes the argument further. Think about all the
> discourse on gaming, communication and telepresence... this is a
> clearly documented extension of Benjamin's concerns (not that he was
> the originator of them). And the concerns of people working with
> technology for its relationship to mechanisms of war were preceded by
> Benjamin's concerns that mechanization was a favorable condition to
> war and dominant property relations.
> To be critical of "mechanical reproduction" is not the same as being
> nostalgic for a pre-mechanical past.
> i'm not advocating the importance of Benjamin or his writing, i just
> don't understand the consistent reference to a text, if what's
> contained in the text really doesn't matter and just gets used willy-
> nilly.
> best,
> ryan