Why this book?
Like most of Benjamin’s essays and books, "The Work of Art" essay is a dialectical study of the material conditions of the possibility of the work of art in the context of the conditions of modern reproduction techniques. Benjamin delineates a visual phenomenology of the essential features of the traditional artwork (its singularity in time and place, its disengagement from mundane experience, its provocation of thought and reflection, and its local `auratic’ presence). This frames the background to the question of the fate of art in an era where the singular work of art can be replicated and endlessly reproduced through technological means.
The artwork achieves a massive expansion in terms of audience reception and interpretation, but it is also stripped of its `aura’ and transgressive 'presence’. This analysis allows Benjamin to explore the impact of modernity upon structures of experience as a dialectical `loop’ that circles back upon the changing dynamic of visual life. It is this essay that uniquely focused cultural studies upon material and technological questions and, indirectly, provoked some of the most influential studies of visual modernity, among these Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, and Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation.
Why should I read it?
1 author picked Illuminations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.
What is this book about?
Essays and reflections from one of the twentieth century’s most original cultural critics, with an introduction by Hannah Arendt.
Walter Benjamin was an icon of criticism, renowned for his insight on art, literature, and philosophy. This volume includes his views on Kafka, with whom he felt a close personal affinity; his studies on Baudelaire and Proust; and his essays on Leskov and Brecht’s epic theater. Illuminations also includes his penetrating study “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” an enlightening discussion of translation as a literary mode; and his theses on the philosophy of history.