The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
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An attempt to analyze the changed experience of art in modern capitalist society.
Walter Benjamin 1892–1940 Walter Benjamin The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction TRANSLATED BY J. A. UNDERWOOD PENGUIN BOOKS — GREAT IDEAS PENGUIN BOOKS Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Ireland, 25 St
that emerges when a work of art becomes a commodity, we must carefully and discreetly (yet without trepidation) drop the term if we do not wish simultaneously to abolish the function of that commodity, because this is a phase it must go through, and I mean that quite literally, this is no casual deviation from the correct path, what happens to it here is going to change it profoundly, eradicating its past to an extent that, were the old term to be resumed (and it will be, why not?), it will have
painting and music like this: ‘Painting is superior to music because it need not die as soon as it has received life, as is the case with poor music [ … ]. Music, which vanishes the moment after it comes into being, is no match for painting, which with the use of varnish has become eternal.’ 17. If we are looking for an analogy with this situation, we shall find an instructive one in Renaissance painting. Here too we encounter an art whose unparalleled rise and importance rest not least on the
for life. Several years passed. [Hamsun’s] Growth of the Soil came out, containing the story of a serving-girl who commits the same crime, receives the same sentence, and, as the reader can clearly see, had undoubtedly not deserved a heavier one. Kafka’s thoughts as handed down in ‘Building the Great Wall of China’ prompt us to recall this sequence of events. Because hardly had this posthumous volume appeared than, on the basis of those thoughts, a reading of Kafka began to prevail that enjoyed
every day of the need to apprehend objects in pictures (or rather in copies, in reproductions of pictures) from very close to. And there is no mistaking the difference between the reproduction (such as illustrated papers and weekly news round-ups hold in readiness) and the picture. Uniqueness and duration are as tightly intertwined in the latter as are transience and reiterability in the former. Stripping the object of its sheath, shattering the aura, bear witness to a kind of perception where ‘a