Walter Benjamin predicts things half a century before their time. His quotational references evidence his thought process. For example, when Benjamin cites Paul Valéry’s declaration that art has been forever changed by modernity, he is promptly introducing the reader to the concept of art relying on context, which he goes on to describe as reproductions. Time, he asserts, is a defining line between the spiritual, ritual relic and the reproduction. (Also links to a presentation by design co TheGreenEyl who spoke at TNS today about language being adjusted through time) From the time in which a relic is unique, yet unadapted, up to it’s future of fetishism and commodification, it is iterated upon and taken further from its original context. A fast food hamburger has been distilled from a meaty sandwhich to be eaten at a table to a slab of filler and bits taken from a thousand individual bovines, to be consumed anywhere. Film exemplifies the removal of a relic from its context. In my own experience I have noticed classical music becoming commodified as a go-to soundtrack for violent film scenes, initialized by Quetin Tarentino’s use of this trend in his films. Benjamin goes on to speak of the aura of an artwork, which he argues is stripped from the object after it has been removed from the site of its intended use; however, this idea of the devalued reproduction is not reconciled completely in the modern day art world. New York critics like Jerry Saltz credit Kim Kardashian for the invention of a new genre of photography- the selfie.
I appreciate Benjamin’s notion of the change enabled by a caption (in modern day often found littered with emojis on Instagram and other social media image feeds- art captioning art, if you would call it that). The experience of viewing a piece unprimed, without the loaded meaning of words, completely alters the viewers context and perception.
Lastly, I was interested in Benjamin’s comparison of the stage actor vs the screen actor, and how the screen actor’s aura is stripped from him as it is convoluted through many forms of media. The screen actor becomes a good, manufactured industrially, appearing on posters, stickers, toys, memes, videos, fan art. Here Benjamin has predicted celebrity worship culture that so pervades the populous today, the cultural homeostatis which demands equilibrium, an aura exchange from a true personality to an exaggerated, fetishized one (i.e. Trump, Kardashians). He wraps up by politicizing these mechanisms, calling the commodification of actors and art a means of serving capitalism.
One final small note of interest was his engagement of process: Benjamin states that process (a staged filming of a music video, the makeup artist’s work of ruse, the code to a game) reveals fallacies of a vision. I, however, feel the process is yes, a somewhat gruesomely deconstructed vision of the interstitial work, but for the curious, a candid capture of the real mechanisms which produce the outer fantasy.