I would like to say, in a bit of a criticism, that both of these authors decided to err on the side of embellishment at the sake of clarity. They do both sound very high-brow, and one is forced to undergo rather severe mental gymnastics to make heads or tails of their meaning. I say both authors: the Flusser piece I must admit I do not yet fully understand, and will devote another day to, but my guess is both could have written much simpler pieces that carried just as effectively their meanings. But I digress.
The gist of Benjamin’s argument is that ‘mechanical reproduction’ is going to change everything we know about the artistic tradition. Not only that, but this is just a symptom of a farther reaching effect of mechanical reproduction, the onset of a change of the way the human being perceives the external world. Essentially, our ability to stamp out a million copies of any particular work of art, or scene of nature, or play on film, has deadened our abilities to pick apart the individuality of each of these individual moments. Or, to use his words, the ‘aura’ of a thing, whether it is an actor or a symphony or a painting is irreparably lost once that moment is captured on a transportable medium that may be viewed anywhere. This is where he gets the title of the piece from, the ‘Mechanical Reproduction’ of art that pervades culture.
Now, I’m kind of with him so far—it is not the same seeing the Mona Lisa on a billboard in the Marta station waiting for the train as it is to actually see her in the Louvre (that was a guess, I don’t know where she is). I can at least understand his argument that ‘art’ is shifting today, that the authentic piece no longer exists because it was created without that personality in the art to begin with. I don’t agree with him, but so far so good. But it goes a little too Marxist when he claims that it’s all politics after the aura is completely taken out of the picture (that was a pun). I think of pieces by Andy Warhol while reading this article; the art of the thing is taken out, you are receiving commentary on the state of culture and the new age as opposed to the beauty of a particular person’s ideals or imagination. It’s still a sort of art—sort of. But is real art, art imbued with aura, dried up with our post-modern age? I don’t know, but I think this is the sort of question Benjamin wants us to ask ourselves from the article.
Art without effort required by the viewer. That is the main purpose of movies, pop music for the eyes. It’s a distraction, and sure enough I think Benjamin gets it right. His distinction between cult and mass consumption is right, too, though a lot easier to understand than he makes out. What bothers me about these sorts of conversations with art is really to wonder if it’s such a bad thing? We could make an argument that Benjamin doesn’t think so, he’s just describing what’s taking place, but I wouldn’t believe that, and I don’t think the person making the argument would either. This is Adorno bemoaning the fact that our culture has lost all of its sincerity and concentration, and spends all its time wrapped up in the most superficial sorts of amusements. And this, I think, is not that big a deal. It’s because art and amusements are two different things, created for two different purposes. I believe that the prints of Andy Warhol were probably art of a sort, though they were created as a commentary and with less talent than Titian, or da Vinci. I would demur that the movies that come out today, in general, have any concern whatsoever with being art. The directors and screenwriters are concerned with creating entertainment, hence it is made without the ‘aura’, it is not especially deep or anything you haven’t seen before. That’s ok. At the very least, the best of these directors and people from Hollywood, the most honest of them, would admit that they practice a craft, and do it well, and it appeals to many people not because it’s a great work of art, but because it’s a great movie. The individual has been taken out of the process of its creation, it is readily consumed; but I’ve read poetry recently written that was art, I’ve even seen a movie or two that were probably art. It’s the entertainment business, it’s amusement. Don’t worry so much that Beethoven’s ninth is played in a cat food commercial. People might hear it, but until somebody sits down to listen to Beethoven’s ninth, he has not been reproduced. He can not be reproduced. Give some credit to the artists. For that matter, give some credit to our consumer populace. I might draw mustaches on the Mona Lisa in the train station, because it makes me laugh. But it doesn’t cheapen the real thing, and seeing the real thing would still be something along the lines of a sacred event, something like a cult.
Aura – seeing the sublime in its proper environment. A person on the stage, a scene from nature (this is always crazy how true it is), or music played in the symphony hall. There is something of a ring of sincerity to all of these, it must be authentic.
Mechanical Reproduction – taking a piece of art that has that Aura and copying it, so that it’s exactly the same except without the soul. It’s like Night of the Living Dead. Or maybe more Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Cult – Those who truly appreciate the art, who are sensitive to the aura. It’s not going to be the masses, because it’s never been the masses; not everyone is going to go crazy about football, although there will be more people out tailgating than in the museums. It takes effort, it’s a particular sort of person.
Let’s see if this email thing works
Because persuasion ain’t all about arguments.
Or, maybe, as in the Hill piece, an argument isn’t all about logic. I presented at New Voices a couple of weeks ago. My paper was on the Scottish Enlightenment, and how the Scottish philosophers broke with the Cartesian idea of deductive logic being the end-all; instead, the Scots focused on what motivates a human being as the starting point, and discovered that we are susceptible to all sorts of influences, passionate and emotional and logical and things in between. Aesthetic stimulus is one, although I wouldn’t know exactly how to place it; the Scots would say something along the lines of, ‘so long as it influences, it has a proper place in rhetoric.’ Or so I imagine.
I was struck at the reaction we all had to the tongue in the ear line from our third reading; I didn’t have the same reaction (girls and boys are different, right?), but I certainly did notice it. We had a visceral reaction to it, at the image that it depicted in our minds. There is probably a whole paper waiting to be written on the difference between mental versus observed images, as an actual image of a woman tonguing a guys ear would probably be even more disturbing (or sexy, if your mind resides in places on low). I’m not going to write it, though, just thought I’d point out the example.
Anyway, here are my terms and definitions:
Image: Well, maybe I will write an abstract for that paper on mental and visual images. Visual images are generally more immediate, I think. Something like the Mona Lisa grows on you, but to see a picture of someone in an automobile accident is gruesome. Words are less immediate, in general; that’s what’s captured by the word visceral I think, which sounds like visual but originates from viscera, your guts. That’s what images do a good job of, what the Hill article talks about; the immediacy of emotional touch effected by images is hard to duplicate with words alone.
Persuasion: Basic stuff, but worth a minute of our time. To persuade is to produce some feeling inside another person, and then get them to act on that. You should have some idea of what sort of act you want it to be, too; acquit my client, or vote to pass this bill, etc. The feeling part can be either emotional or intellectual, but it should be some apprehension, and the stronger it is the better. And getting them to act on it is motivation of will–push with your words without being pushy, or at least without aggravating.
Presence: A technical term. Presence is, pretty simply, what you notice. The space with the most gravity, so that your eyes land just there and it’s an effort to pull them back off. You’re trying for the black holes, when you’re a rhetorician.
See ya’ll in class.
Cause my first said hello world.
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