Talk:The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

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Proposed change in article[edit]

The article states: "According to Benjamin older cultures can generate auras around particular objects of veneration, while capitalist culture has the opposite effect, causing the decay of the aura due to the proliferation of mass production and reproduction technologies."

I don't think that this is why Benjamin is saying. At least not exactly. The way I see it Benjamin states that art, while it existed as a privilege of the few, was characterised by 'aura'. By 'aura' he meant the authenticity, the line of ownership, the way it was exhibited. For Benjamin art's 'aura' is a negative trait, a characteristic of its bourgeois connections. Benjamin envisioned the mechanical reproduction of art, for example by means of photography, and its distribution to the masses. He states: "Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art (...) The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public" [as found in]

Interestingly Benjamin believes that access to art by the masses will shift the balance: "The mass is a matrix from which all traditional behaviour 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" [as found in]

For Benjamin, the politicizing of art, bringing it to the masses and applying political meaning to it, should be the goal of Communism; in contrast to Fascism which anesthetizes politics, maintaining art's aura and using it for propaganda.

I really don't know were "capitalism" is in his essay; it only appears in his noting Marx's theory.

I propose a change in the article as follows:

Aura Walter Benjamin used the term "aura" to refer to the feeling of awe created by unique or remarkable objects such as works of art or relics of the past. According to Benjamin this aura is obvious not only in the object itself but other attributes such as its ownership, the way it is exhibited, its authenticity, its price etc. This aura is indicative of art's association with the bourgeoisie. With mechanical reproduction the shattering of the aura is possible and art can finally reach the masses. In further analysis Benjamin accuses Fascism of using aesthetics in politics as a means of control while it credits Communism with politicizing art.

On the other hand maybe i am very wrong. Any ideas?

Sofiagk 15:07, 25 November 2005 (UTC)

Definition of "aura"[edit]

I though Sofiagk's suggestion for revising the "aura" paragraph was awesome - perceptive and clear - and so I've revised the entry to incorporate most of that. In some places I liked how she phrased things even better in her discussion leading up to the suggested paragraph, and so where that was the case I incorporated some of that phrasing.

Year of publication 1935 or 1936[edit]

The article says that the original essay in German was first published in a journal but also first published in his collected works. So which is it?

The article I read said 1935 not 1936 as shown here. A Google Search shows articles with both years? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:38, 1 March 2008 (UTC)

1935 was version 2, 1936 was version 3. I don't know what the difference between the two is, where the 1st version is, or if 2 or 3 is the more common version. 20:04, 28 May 2008 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by White Lightning (talkcontribs)

Unreferenced/speculative content[edit]

I removed the following and bring them here for discussion:


Benjamin used the word "aura" to refer to the sense of awe and reverence one presumably experienced in the presence of unique works of art. According to Benjamin, this aura inheres not in the object itself but rather in external attributes such as its known line of ownership, its restricted exhibition, its publicized authenticity, or its cultural value. Aura is thus indicative of art's traditional association with primitive, feudal, or bourgeois structures of power and its further association with magic and (religious or secular) ritual. With the advent of art's mechanical reproducibility, and the development of forms of art (such as film) in which there is no actual original, the experience of art could be freed from place and ritual and instead brought under the gaze and control of a mass audience, leading to a shattering of the aura. "For the first time in world history," Benjamin wrote, "mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual."

Politics of Art

Other Frankfurt School writers, most notably Benjamin's friend Theodor Adorno, worried about the resulting "distracted" relation to art characteristic of mass consumption, and argued that in losing the aura, we had also lost a space for potentially revolutionary reflection and imagination. In contrast, Benjamin argued that the withering of the aura was a more complicated historical development, an ambiguous force that also had the potential for democratizing both access to cultural objects and a critical attitude toward them. "Instead of being based on ritual, [art] begins to be based on another practice – politics." For Benjamin, the politicization of art should be the goal of Communism; in contrast to Fascism which aestheticized politics for the purpose of social control.

None of this is referenced, even the quotes are given without page numbers or any other information. As such, this has to remain out until it is properly sourced. ---RepublicanJacobiteThe'FortyFive' 02:22, 22 April 2010 (UTC)

Typo or mis-translation section question[edit]

Is this information important enough to warrant a section, or at least a section of that size and detail? It seems to me this article needs to go into more depth about Benjamin's ideas before delving into issues of translation. Aristophanes68 (talk) 21:03, 23 July 2011 (UTC)

If that's the case, isn't it more that the rest of the article should be expanded, rather than this section excised? Personally, I think there needs to be a little context; when was this translation published, and how widespread and influential was it? (talk) 09:26, 8 August 2011 (UTC)
But it is a useful bit of information. I agree that emphasis is too great , but just don't lose it.
Just to point out, in the Pimlico edition of 'Illuminations' (1999), the standard English edition, this mistake has long been corrected. I assume this section isn't relevant to many people and would suggest a small note with a reference for those who want to check their editions.Jamal (talk) 18:38, 31 January 2012 (UTC)
I disagree wholeheartedly. I am currently an Art History student at McGill and we had the uncorrected text in the coursepack. I Brought it up in class and my teacher was unaware of any discussion regarding this issue. I think it is very interesting and relevant. But this article should really be expanded...Adrianturcato (talk) 18:20, 13 March 2012 (UTC)
Without questioning that the dropped line concerned here has caused mischief over the years in the UK and perhaps elsewhere, the first edition of Illuminations was published in 1968 (not 1972) in New York by Harcourt, Brace (not Cape in London), and is wholly free from error. The quote comes not from the essay's "Introduction" (it has none) but from its "PREFACE," and the translator for the volume is readily identified as "Harry Zohn" (with nothing to imply that this particular essay within it was translated by someone else). The more likely inference is error was entirely due to a careless typesetter at Jonathan Cape, and as such the section ought to be wholly excised, and the essay's influence and rather more important debates about "misreadings" explored.Guiless (talk) 21:18, 17 March 2012 (UTC)

Translator (was "lead and 'Influence' section")[edit]

Some previous wikipedians appears to have accepted at face value Scannell's (see the 'References' section of article) identification of Arendt as the English translator of Illumuniations. But surely this is the eccentric view - =any= other edition and authority I can consult cites Harry Zohn. Those who would advance Scannell's implicit claim need to provide a deeper level of proof than his unexplained (and inexplicable) attribution. Note that in Scannell's subsequent (2007) Media and communication, the question of Illuminations' translator is simply elided. (talk) 22:03, 20 August 2012 (UTC)


In what sense exactly is this a Marxist essay? The assertion is made but is unsourced and appears to be original research (the domain name of the quoted website is not enough evidence to support the point). How does this relate to the ideas of Marx either the early humanist ones or the later more economically focussed ones? It is not enough for Benjamin to talk about masses and Fascism and make passing reference to the Soviet Union without spitting on the floor for the essay to be described as Marxist. (talk) 09:28, 11 September 2012 (UTC)

-- Read the framing Prologue and Epilogue of the essay: The former makes explicit reference to Marx, the latter to Communism, and both use Marxist terms of analysis. -- (talk) 12:47, 17 May 2013 (UTC)