Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Walter Benjamin

"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books, 1969.

((To read this essay, which I highly recommend to everyone, scroll down to the line that starts with "Our fine arts were developed,..." here. While it's long, it's certainly worth reading. Don't ignore the end notes.))

This text says much on film, actors, the apparatus of the camera, spectatorship and the politics of evolving art. I'm very exciting to be rereading Benjamin, especially since most of what he has to say relates directly to film. In order to get a better understanding of Benjamin's overall message I went through and attempted to title each of the sections for the sake of extracting his many ideas. Here is what I came up with:

I - Reproduction
II - Time and Space
III - Changes in History and Nature
IV - Ritual, and Purity
V - Cult Value vs. Exhibition Value
VI - Aura
VII - Is Film Art?
VIII - Identification with the Apparatus
IX - The Actor as a Shadow
X - The Cult of the 'Captured'
XI - Detachment, The Surgeon vs. the Magician
XII - Collective Experience
XIII - The Camera's Revelations
XIV - Dadaism, and Shock Effect
XV - Distraction, Architecture
(These titles help me organize the essay into segments)

While his thesis is centrally surrounded by the concept of the changing nature of "the politics of art" (19) in times of technological development, these fifteen subsections can very well function as his other central themes.

The question Is film art?, however, comes up several times throughout the piece. Benjamin quotes Duhamel both in the main text and in the end notes. Duhamel says of film: "[it is] a past time for helots...a spectacle which requires no concentration and presupposes no intelligence" (32). On the other hand, Benjamin calls Duhamel "[a man] who detests the film and knows nothing of its significance" (32). Benjamin stands up for film as art throughout this entire piece while also going on to say more; Benjamin recognizes the things that the camera opens to us are far greater than those things available to the human eye. He believes that mechanically reproduced work can be art with photography and film, and it redefines art. In the endnotes Benjamin extrapolates on the idea that "the boldness of the cameraman is indeed comparable to that of the surgeon," (39) recognizing the artistry, the nibble hand work, and the intricacies involved in the making of a motion picture.

I can't wait to explore the concept of the aura further in a future post...


William Wren said...

art when not stifled by investors without imagination past the box office result

Katharine Relth said...

...? Did your comment get cut off?