April 2022

a note on Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” from lecture 7, Theory & Context

Walter Benjamin is misunderstood in his essay of 1935 if it is thought he is referring to what is particular to an artwork, or to what is unique and singular in general: the reproduction he is referring to is not so much to do with the reproduction of an original as to do with the overcoming of any sort of origin or process or event of origination as happening in an original and unrepeatable time by the fact that time itself can be repeated, in the here and now, of the shot. That is, the moving image, or movement-image.

The word he uses to cover a sense of loss, without himself giving way to any sense of loss, is aura. And by this word we are to understand not what is intrinsic to the object or the kind of movement that is intrinsic to it but what is and that kind of movement that is incidental to it. This is the action or agency of time: it’s the wear and tear, the traces of history, which mark the passage of time.

And here, in the age of mechanical reproduction, the object and its movement, as the actor and theirs’, that Benjamin also mentions, is freed from time.

The aura is lost, without a sense of its loss: in fact this sense is the coming attraction.

Now, the title of this essay, is usually given in English as reproducibility to be closer to the German Reproduzierbarkeit, but this seems wrong to me, since it undoes in part that on which the essay is premised. Where reproducibility suggests the reproduction is yet to come, the work of art in the age of … reproduction suggests it has already arrived. Or its coming is in the future perfect, as having arrived.

Reproducibility would be of the entirety of what is to come.

luz es tiempo

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from Night Thoughts by Wallace Shawn, published by Haymarket books radical, independent, nonprofit book publisher … make our books a vibrant and organic part of social movements and the education and development of a critical, engaged, international left.

The aggressiveness that has been our daily mode of being can’t help us any more. We wake up and start massacring people whom we see as our enemies. We wake up and break into the earth with gigantic drills and terrifying explosions. We wake up and find our place in a monstrous final struggle. On the one side, there are all the lucky people, and on the other side, strangely allied together, we find all the unlucky people, plus the birds, the crickets, the ladybugs, the bees, the monkeys, the parrots, the forests and the rivers. At the moment, the lucky people are clearly winning, and almost all the evidence seems to indicate that they’ll ultimately prevail. The nonhuman creatures and the unlucky people are running from place to place, gassed, strafed, shot at, booby-trapped, gasping for breath. And the living planet that we’ve blasted and bombed and injected with poison is now, like an enormous animal who’s been tortured for hours by some horribly disturbed demented children, finally beginning to die, and its terrible groans are dreadful to hear. But the animal may not die, if we can convince the children, who are ourselves, to stop killing it. It’s perhaps still a possibility that we might be able to stop being murderers. This could be our night, and during this night we might be able to stop. Stop. Think. And start again in a different way.

— Wallace Shawn, 2017


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reading 4 am the Window by Tony Birch, I want to call him on the phone, let the poet know…

restless after a bout of strange dreams
drinking hot chocolate reading
poetry by a writer acclaiming
sweet light of early mornings

I want to call him on the phone
let the poet know I know
but don't have his number
and who knows if he would answer
having been dead for decades

a mouse scuttles across the floor
(we avoid eye contact)
the garbos wake the street
disposing of all I cannot fathom


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lucky you! Indulge all your worst tendencies and most sadistic desires

— why is it people like bad music?

— it’s not that they like bad music, it’s that they prefer it.

— Shannon Cartier Lucy, If My Hand Offends, 2019

… almost all of those who are born unlucky have been brutally prevented from developing more than a fraction of their own abilities, and this is perhaps the most shocking fact about our human world.

Undoubtedly less shocking, but possibly more weird, is the incredible fact that in the contemporary world many even of those who are born lucky are voluntarily forgoing the opportunity to develop their inner resources. Gorgeous and delicious fruits, grown by seductive geniuses, sit on the plates of these lucky people but remain uneaten. A process of decay has infected the lucky in various parts of the world, and very notably in the United States, leading many even of the luckiest to turn vehemently against complex thought in general and the cultivation of the intellect in particular–and even to turn against complex pleasures. And in certain circles, crude thought and ignorance are openly respected and praised, while the concept of basing one’s conclusions on evidence (or on replicable experiments)–and even the principle of rationality itself–are ignored or even mocked. Traveling in precisely the opposite of the direction that would help the world to dig itself out of its crisis, many lucky people have come to believe that our spiritual and mental lives should have only two elements: first, everyone should learn whatever technical skills are necessary in order for them to be able to work and make money (skills learned by the unlucky would bring them a small amount of money, skills learned by the lucky would bring them a large amount of money) and second, for relaxation, people should consume very simple pleasures such as very simple stories, very simple music, very simple eroticism, and various sadistic forms of amusement such as television programs that show people insulting or tormenting each other or killing each other. Omitted from this short list of recommended intellectual activities–and from the type of education that can be derived from it–is anything conducive to the development of the wide-awake, thoughtful, curious, sharply logical, and deeply emotional human beings who could save the world, on the one hand, or, if a better world were to be created, could actually enjoy it.

— Wallace Shawn, Night Thoughts, 2017, pp. 69-71.


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