wrote this stuff about this article "Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" These reading notes are not attempting to be anything like exhaustive. i'm just writing down philosophical aspects that may or may not be of interest to you, but which i suspect a non-philosopher would not be aware of in reading this article. you might not want to look at them until after you have had a chance to digest the article, because there is a lot of cud-chewing going on here.


fascism identified with highest form of capitalist production. cultural aspect of art under conditions of capitalism reveals a fundamental insight into one of the contradictions that necessarily develops out of this mode of production and leads to its downfall: i.e., the mechanically reproduced work of art. that is, benjamin is examining a point ofturbulence present in the superstructures of social relations and claims that it reflects the base structural grumblings inherent in capital.

downside at close of section. debasement of qualitative aura of the original. mass production in matters of art reveals something essential about the system of exchange at work in capital. all values degraded to quantitative values measurable in universalized terms. for example, as valuable as van gogh paintings are, the entire collection at the museum in amsterdam is still worth less than a billion big macs. each can be measured with monetary values, and compared through this universal measure. this transformation of the world of objects of value, is also -as marx would claim- a transformation in the world of valuing subjects. interesting note: aisthesis is the greek for perception. benjamin seems aware of this when he plays off the comparison of perceptual schemes to object domains (like art works, or aesthetic objects). note the form of subjectivity that is evolving is a valuing subjectivity that negates hierarchies of value infavor of universal identification of the form in which value may take. everything enters into a flat and singular world of relations. i.e., there are no more apples and oranges. or rathr, even apples and oranges can be compared because they can both be given a value in common terms. this is two-sided, both optimistic and pessimistic from the marxist point of view. pessimistically, human beings are succumbing to a normalization process that forces them into this same flat and universal realm of relations and thus enables a greater hyper-exploitation of human resources for use by capital (the equation of late capitalism with fascism suggests benjamin's awareness that fascism was first and foremost a form of hyper-exploitation -a very common position among the critical theorists). optimistically,aristocratic conceptions of value, elitist ideals about art are being worn away. this marks the first insight into the nature of the contradictory nature of reproduced art.

wearing away of the sacred. another step away from the medieval andpre-protestant, pre-enlightenment emphasis on the divine function of human beings. artwork, by being freed from this sacredness again enters into duality of pessimism and optimism: pessimistically, art may lose some of its significance and importance for the culture at large. optimistically, it may begin to serve political functions that are more egalitarian and liberating in content.

i deeply agree with his comments on the danger of mechanized reproduction in the process of creating the artwork. it is so hard to avoid listening to language with the voice of the universalized and generalized reader or publisher who will come to the work. listening to this voice, will radically transform the manner in which the artwork emerges into view because the least common denominator will be the behavioral force behind the generalization of the audience into a category or group of "consumers". but on the other hand, to stick with his theme, you can see that the educational element of any artwork, its radically social impetus, would require it reach just such a group (like for instance Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" which nearly every american read in the mid 1770s and whichultimately became one of the driving political forces behind the americanrevolution --here's a quote from Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" which is pretty cool for describing the phenomenon in question: "Where such a keen taste for books prevailed among the general population, we need not be surprised that Thomas Paine's Common Sense, published on January 10, 1776, sold more than 100,000 copies by March of the same year. In 1985, a book would have to sell eight million copies (in two months) to match the proportion of the population Paine's book attracted. If we go beyond March, 1776, a more awesome set of figures is given by Howard Fast: *'No one knows just how many copies were actually printed.* The most conservative sources place the figure at something over 300,000 copies. Others place it just under half a million. Taking a figure of 400,000 in a population of 3,000,000, a book published today would have to sell 24,000,000 copies to do as well.' The only communication event that could produce such collective attention in today's America is the Superbowl." [emphasis added]). I seem to remember Postman pointing out in one of the footnotes (but i didn't check) that quite obviously the number of copiessold is not identical to the number of people who read the book. unlike today however, he argues the figure could only be higher as in colonial america reading was the favorite passtime and books were scarce. everyone who got their hands on it probably read it and it is conceivable that each copy would have more than one reader. an interesting residual effect of mechanical reproduction since this sharing of a books (i.e., libraries no doubt), is not an increase of readership based on an increase of production. the loaning of books, it is possible at least, might itself become a form of community that would assist in the revolutionary aspects of the work.

Don't really have time to reread any more. don't know how helpful any of this is. i did take a look at the epilogue. note the way that benjamin (in the last sentence) postions fascism's aesthetic politics relative to communist politics of art in such a way as make it something other than a strict contradictory opposition. but rather a dialectical historical contradiction. which means that the appearance of the turbulence of the artwork in the fascist form of aesthetics already begins to determine the stage of history that follows from it, namely a communal or socialist use of the artwork.

this article is clearly written in the shadow of the recent publication of marx's german ideology (which had only been recently discovered). other related texts that he's thinking about: Lukacs' "Theory of the Novel" and Hegel's "Logic". I also get a very strong sense of Weber on Beaurocracy and the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Also, I am reminded -in the fascist stuff- of that awesome article by a guy named Junger (Hans maybe?) called "Total Mobilization". He's not exactly a fascist but the fascists made big use of him. in the article he is getting all bunged up ecstatic over the use of the entire means of production of society for the sake of waging war. ie. like the total mobilization of all social forces for the sake of attacking or fighting an enemy. this article is available in a book called "The Heidegger Controversy" edited by Richard Wolin (and which i have). it's a really cool article, because it sounds alot like reagan's rationale behind the deficit spending on military projects made in speeches during the early 80s.

->Michael Roth<-