Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Book: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin (Penguin Classics)

I bought The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Penguin Great Ideas)as part of a job lot in a charity store. More often than not the books you think you won't be interested in do indeed turn out to be turkeys but on the odd occasion you can be pleasantly surprised as you learn of a new subject with an unexpected interest, thanks to an author who strikes all the right chords with the reader - a new window on to the world is opened.

This book was a turkey.

I was hoping for some wise gems of wisdom since Walter Benjamin was a highly respected cultural theorist and he wrote this essay during a pivotal moment in history just when mass production by mechanical means was taking hold, changing the very meaning of art as it became highly reproduced and widely distributed. Instead of feeding my glimmering spark of interest the book proved very dry and academic, with a strong political angle and thick with paragraphs such as:

"The masses have a right to see the ownership structure changed: Fascism seeks to give them a voice in retaining that structure unaltered. Fascism leads logically to an aestheticization of political life. The violation of the masses, which in a leader cult forces it to its knees, corresponds to the exercised by a film camera, which Fascism enlists in the service of producing cultural values."

I see the book is very well rated on Goodreads but then again I also see that people who read this book also read the likes of "Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" and "Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments".

I have dipped my toe in these waters and I am stepping back out again. 

* (Other essays in the book concerned Proust and Kafka. Not having read these authors, I simply couldn't engage with these pieces and so left them be).

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