Oral Presentation - "The work of ART in the Age of Its...

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“The work of ART in the Age of Its TECHNOLOGICAL reproductibility.” Even before one begins reading the text of Walter Benjamin’s influential essay, one knows that it will focus on the relationship between art and technology, a surely fitting topic for a seminar entitled “Art and Technology.” Yet the first paragraph has nothing to do with technology. “When Marx undertook his analysis of the capitalist mode of production, that mode was in its infancy,” is the first sentence. Immediately, Benjamin invokes the notion of politics. What do politics—let alone Karl Marx--have to do with Art and Technology?, I thought to myself. After a short bit of research, I learned that Benjamin was a Marxist. Even so, why does Benjamin speak of politics in his essay on art? For Benjamin, a thorough examination of art cannot take place within the realm of art alone. It must also include a discussion of politics—of culture—of society—of human perception . Howard Caygill, author of The Colour of Experience , an analysis of Benjamin’s philosophy, writes that “…for Benjamin the ‘fate of art’ is symptomatic of a fundamental change in the structure of experience which may be traced back to broader political and technical developments.” In fact, Benjamin’s essay is, in a certain respect, similar to Marx’s work entitled Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Caygill explains that just as Marx criticizes “categories used to organize and make sense of experience” that he believes have become obsolete and unhelpful in the age of modern Capitalism—Benjamin criticizes art terminology (authenticity, uniqueness, and eternal value, for example) that he believes make no sense in the context of the new experience of reality cultivated in the
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epoch of technological reproductibility. For both scholars, a change in reality has forced us to rethink the way in which we experience the world. Douglas H. Thompson, author of “The Work of Art in the Age of Electronic (Re)Production,” includes in the essay a chart that depicts the changes Benjamin believes have occurred in art in the age of its reproductibility. Thompson’s chart is written on the board: FROM TO 1. the authentic the reproducible 2. permanence / ETERNAL VALUE (write this) transitoriness 3. uniqueness mass distribution and ownership; commodification 4. distance, the unapproachable proximity, manipulability (enables historical narratives) (re-writes history) 5. aura based on cult value and ritual exhibition based on reflecting market forces 6. autonomy interdependence 7. specialized training (initiation) polytechnic training (testing) 8. entering a work of art absorbing (consuming) a through concentration work of art through distaction 9. aestheticization of the political the politicization of the aesthetic Although I won’t be able to cover all of these changes in depth, they are important to know, as many of these shifts are closely related. Also, I’d like to make a few of my own
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This note was uploaded on 04/21/2008 for the course PHIL 337 taught by Professor Ryan during the Spring '08 term at Trinity College, Hartford.

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Oral Presentation - "The work of ART in the Age of Its...

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