The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
The mass is a matrix from which all traditional behavior toward works of art issues today in a new form. Quantity has been transmuted into quality. The greatly increased mass of participants has produced a change in the mode of participation. The fact that the new mode of participation first appeared in a disreputable form must not confuse the spectator. Yet some people have launched spirited attacks against precisely this superficial aspect. Among these, Duhamel has expressed himself in the most radical manner. What he objects to most is the kind of participation which the movie elicits from the masses. Duhamel calls the movie “a pastime for helots, a diversion for uneducated, wretched, worn-out creatures who are consumed by their worries … a spectacle which requires no concentration and presupposes no intelligence … which kindles no light in the heart and awakens no hope other than the ridiculous one of someday becoming a ‘star’ in Los Angeles.” (Duhamel, op. cit., p. 58.) Clearly, this is at bottom the same ancient lament that the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator. That is a commonplace. The question remains whether it provides a platform for the analysis of the film. A closer look is needed here. Distraction and concentration form polar opposites which may be stated as follows: A man who concentrates before a work of art is absorbed by it. He enters into this work of art the way legend tells of the Chinese painter when he viewed his finished painting. In contrast, the distracted mass absorbs the work of art. This is most obvious with regard to buildings. Architecture has always represented the prototype of a work of art the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction. The laws of its reception are most instructive.
In the quotation that both saves and chastises, language proves the matrix of justice. It summons the word by its name, wrenches it destructively from its context, but precisely thereby calls it back to its origin. It appears, now with rhyme and reason, sonorously, congruously in the structure of a new text. As rhyme it gathers the similar into its aura; as name it stands alone and expressionless. In quotation the two realms—of origin and destruction—justify themselves before language. And conversely, only where they interpenetrate—in quotation—is language consummated. In it is mirrored the angelic tongue in which all words, startled from the idyllic context of meaning, have become mottoes in the book of Creation.”
—Walter Benjamin, “Karl Kraus,” Reflections
The task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect upon the language which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original…Unlike a work of literature, translation does not find itself in the center of the language forest but on the outside; it calls into it without entering, aiming at that single spot where the echo is able to give, in its own language, the reverberation of the work in the alien one.
On my return home, when the chain on the bathroom door proved hard to fasten, the suspicion: an experiment was being set up.
—Walter Benjamin, “Main Features of My Second Impression of Hashish (Written January 15, 1928, at 3:30 P.M.)” (via semioticsofsloth)
In a love affair, most seek an eternal homeland. Others, but very few, eternal voyaging. These latter are melancholics, for whom contact with mother earth is to be shunned. They seek the person who will keep far from them the homeland’s sadness. To that person, they remain faithful.
— Walter Benjamin, One Way Street (via possiblesubject)
The good writer says no more than he thinks. And much depends on that. For speech is not simply the expression but also the making real of thought. In the same way that running is not just the expression of desire to reach a goal, but also the realization of that goal. But the kind of realization, where it is precisely adapted to the goal, or whether it loosely and wantonly wastes itself on the desire – depends on the training of the person who is running. The more he has himself in hand and avoids superfluous, exaggerated, and uncoordinated movements, the more self-sufficient his position will be and the more economical use of his body. The bad writer has many ideas which he lets run riot, just like the bad, untrained runner with his slack, overenthusiastic body action. And for that very reason, he can never say soberly just what he thinks. The talent of the good writer is to make use of his style to supply his thought with a spectacle of the kind provided by a well-trained body. He never says more than he has thought. Hence, his writing redounds not to his benefit, but solely to the benefit of what he says.
—Walter Benjamin, 1928 (via marklow)
Melancholy betrays the world for the sake of knowledge. But in its tenacious self-absorption it embraces dead objects in its contemplation, in order to redeem them. The poet, of whom the following has been said, speaks from the spirit of melancholy. ‘Péguy used to speak of the irredeemability of things, that recalcitrance, that heaviness of things, indeed of beings, which in the end allows a little ash to survive from the efforts of heroes and saints.’ The persistence which is expressed in the intention of mourning, is borne of its loyalty to the world of things.
Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away.
—Walter Benjamin (via naveenaqvi)
WAYS OF SEEING
(A Documentary of John Berger on Walter Benjamin)