This week, you will just be commenting on this post, rather than creating an original post of your own. This means that your post can be considerably shorter than last week (a paragraph will suffice, though you’re free to write more), but that you will need to read over the prior comments from your classmates and engage with them/respond to them when appropriate. Unlike last week’s prompt, which was relatively directed in terms of which texts you needed to engage with and what to cover, this week I wanted to continue our conversation about Walter Benjamin’s seminal 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”
Specifically, I would like you to consider the “cult” of copyright, in terms of how copyright laws and/or copyright industries/copyright holders attempt to reinstate the aura, authenticity, and authority of cultural products. Consider the “important insight” from Benjamin, that “mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual” (736), and how this relates to his subsequent remarks on “cult value” and “exhibition value” (737-738). In addition to offering some analysis of these remarks, consider responding to any of the following questions:
- Do think that the “ritualistic” quality of art has been dismantled by mechanical reproduction? If so, has mechanical reproduction shifted the function of art towards political practice?
- Do you generally think about art objects that you encounter as having an “aura?” Certain objects and not others?
- How might we productively engage Patry’s discussion of the Copyright Wars through Benjamin’s remarks on the relationship between war and technology (750-751)?
And here’s one final provocation: In his book Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts, Jonathan Gray suggests:
If ‘aura’ is the sense of a text’s authenticity and authority – which, by nature, could never be an actual, uncontested quality of a text, only a discursively constructed value – while Benjamin focuses on how reproduction might lessen aura, surely we might explore ways in which reproduction might change the text, add context, ‘tradition,’ and ‘presence,’ and thereby increase aura (97).
Gray’s example is a Lord of the Rings DVD, in which a plethora of paratexts/special features (film commentaries, making of documentaries, interviews with the cast and crew) all work to build an aura around the film, and its reaffirm the authority of Peter Jackson as the “artist.” Can you think of any other examples in which reproduction might actually increase the aura of a cultural object?
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings (Fifth Edition). Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 731-751. Print.
Gray, Jonathan. Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts. New York: New York University Press, 2010. Print.