Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin and Image Theory: Aura and reproduction of the work of art

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The most significant notion of Benjamin’s thinking in the path of a particular refinement of style surely represents the concept of aura. From this notion, the basic meta-aesthetic experience of the event is crystallized and sublimated. In this way, art also appears as the object of materialization and the act of dematerialization, loss and re-emergence in a completely different light than in the past. The aura of the work of art is the truth of the event of messianic redemption within the limits of technological reproducibility. And this will highlight the “ontological” problem of Benjamin’s thinking concerning the “topology” today when many interpreters take it as a precursor to the idea of ​​the status of art in the age of information, new media and cybernetic technology. Aura represents the philosophical notion of the simultaneous appearance and disappearance of the thing itself (das Ding selbst). Therefore, it seems entirely justified to speak of a decentered centre of thought of events. Benjamin, though in a quite different direction than Heidegger, will bring modern art in its autonomy to an end to all illusions of irreducibility. It does so by releasing it from the compulsion to serve anything but the frantic god of the aestheticization of politics (fascism) and the politicization of art (communism). 

Keywords: Image theory, aura, reproduction, technology, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, the technosphere

1. Aura and its loss: technological reproducibility

In the famous essay from 1935/1936 The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility (Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit), Benjamin introduces a highly ambiguous notion in the philosophical and historical discourse of aesthetics (Benjamin 2008). It blends motifs of Greek mythology, Jewish Kabalistic and eschatology, echoes of esotericism and occultism, the modern experience of transcending the boundaries of the material world of phenomena, the bohemian experience of poets and artists from Baudelaire to the Surrealists, and the practice of opium and hashish users. Isn’t it truly “shocking” and “provocative” that the key notion of contemporary art which survives in the age of the technosphere encompasses at least speculative-metaphysical, and above all hybrid distracted and open to multiple meanings precisely because it speaks of the power of image over language? All of Heidegger’s “terms” and “categories” are transformed metaphysical thoughts with clear traces of the Greco-German experience of thought from primordial to modern times. Thus, for example, the most significant notion of modern philosophy, such as event (Ereignis), is the connection of Being and time on the horizon of what is a condition of possibility of appearance. And above all, it is the language of rooting in the land and the tradition from which all the essential words of the West originate. However, despite his mimetic theory of language, Benjamin opened the door to philosophy and art, starting from the “pictorial nature” of language. This is what Heidegger says at one point in Plato’s thought that the experience of early Greek use of the word logos has been related to the image of a gathering place and the gathering of what was distracted.

In the most significant discussion of art in the 20th century, with the aforementioned Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art (Heidegger 1977), Benjamin’s thinking of aura became a mystery and mysticism to be the very essence of art at the outcome of its historical advancement. Already in 1930 at Marseilleswhere he wrote an essay entitled On Hashish (Über Haschisch) Benjamin delves into an expanded understanding of the aura from the perspective of theosophy, esotericism and occultism. (Benjamin 2000) This should be particularly emphasized for the following reason. It has been customary lately to speak of the experience of the sacred as access to the divine in contemporary art. Thus, for example, Malevich’s suprematism and intangible painting are explained by a “secret connection” with the rationalist mysticism of the Russian philosopher Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum. Duchamp, however, flirted with the Holy Grail esoteric, and Beuys repeatedly invoked God as an art source in an anthroposophical sense. The need for alternative religious experience testifies to the fact that contemporary art, from the very beginning of the destruction of modern art in the historical avant-garde, lacks a different kind of autonomy, not merely aesthetic. In that sense, “greedy pursuit of God,” as Arthur Rimbaud puts it in Season in Hell, denotes an act of creative construction of a different transcendence from the legitimate dogmas of monotheistic religions, especially Christianity. There is no more credible witness of thinking on this trail than Walter Benjamin. 

Benjamin’s starting point could be described in a manner that the work of art is traditionally understood from its non-autonomy. It originates from ritual and cult festivity. This means that it lies in the event of the sacred concerning the divine from the Greeks to the Middle Ages that proves that myth and religion give the arts an aura of uniqueness. The authority of revelation thus has the function of legitimizing the place of art as a work celebrating the relationship of the divine and the human in the community. In contrast, the advent of the modern way of production in the capitalist industry requires the introduction of a machine that rests on the logic of multiplying the original into infinity. The driving force behind this logic denotes the notion of technological reproducibility. Since Benjamin thinks of the metaphysical structure of the German language in the same way as Heidegger, it must be obvious that he uses the term Technik in its adjective form: that which is technical should be both mechanical and reproductive. The problem, however, is that the use of the German word for the term technique in both Heidegger and Benjamin does not refer to the instrumental nature of the technique as a means or tool of work for other purposes. Technique as reproducibility for Benjamin denotes the technology. And that means it’s a system of managing and delivering information. Only from the system does the possibility of creating a new (product) emerge. Its features are: (a) that it is substitutable and reproducible; (b) there is no longer any difference between the original and the copy; (c) to reproduce from the secular notion of the industry in the economy of modern capitalism the spiritual realm. So, it’s no longer a Guttenberg machine. The medium of photography and film now prevails. With them, the technological age of reproduction appears as a sign of loss or destruction of the aura (Verlust der Aura). Instead of the uniqueness of the original, we encounter the doubling and multiplying of the singularity of Being. This only means that art as a production (poiesis) of a work or creation can no longer be considered without material or technological “nature” that significantly affect the form and content of the work itself:

“The authenticity of a thing is the quintessence of all that is transmissible in it from its origin on, ranging from its physical duration to the historical testimony relating to it. Since the historical testimony is founded on the physical duration, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction, in which the physical duration plays no part. And what is really jeopardized when the historical testimony is affected is the authority of the object, the weight it derives from tradition. One might focus these aspects of the artwork in the concept of the aura, and go on to say: what withers in the age of the technological reproducibility of the work of art is the latter’s aura.” (Benjamin 2008:  22)

          What is it─technological reproducibility? The technique, as we have seen, for Benjamin is the same as modern technology. Its essence cannot be hidden in the understanding of the machine as a tool for production in terms of mechanical operations performed on an object for utterly artificially what resembles nature. The analogy between nature and machine denotes, however, still the basis for understanding industrial production, as it was for Marx in the analysis of abstract work in Capital. The difference, however, arises when the technique, like reproduction, no longer imitates the work of nature. Instead, it is the construction of a “second nature” that acts quite differently from the original. This is evident in what Benjamin sees as the essence of 20th-century technologies. In its two modes of appearance, technological reproducibility denotes: (1) more independence of the original as handwork that boils down to the logic of nature teleology (means-purpose), and this might be evident in photography and cinematography, where it can no longer be possible to establish an analogy with nature as a one-off and inimitable reality of the “necessity” and “factuality” of Being ; (2) it follows the distance of the object and the viewer when it comes to cinema, because it brings a copy of the original to a situation completely different from the original, thus eliminating the authenticity of the work or its aura, which is placed in the essence of reproduction.             

From that viewpoint, it will be obvious that aura can be understood as a single occurrence (einmalig Vorkommen) of what is invisible in the appearance itself. It is, therefore, the relationship between the qualitative and the quantitative determination of the figure that points to the thing itself. The relationship always assumes two. Likewise, Benjamin, in explaining why the term aura cannot have anything to do with the occult, shows that it is something that will be referred to in the essay from 1931 entitled A Short History of Photography (Kleine Geschichte der Photographie)as”optically unconscious.” (Benjamin 2015) For the aura to appear in the phenomenon, there must be a distance between the thing itself and the observer. What, in geometric perspective theory, is referred to as the horizon as a framework within which the possibility of an image occurring at all, has its place where the aura possesses its “backing”. We cannot assume the relationship between “subject” and “object” in the cognitive sense of contemporary Kantian aesthetics. Instead, Benjamin has already adopted from Schlegel and Novalis a new language that Paul Klee will develop in the modern art of painting when at one point in his Diary heexpressed the key thought of a 20th-century painting revolution: “Now objects perceive me.” Yes, that is the essence of the relationship between a thing and its occurrence concerning the observer. Without the aura that appears and at the same time loses/disappears in a one-off game of approaching/distancing, it would be impossible to comprehend why metaphysically certain art was at the service of the events of the ritual cult feast. What gives an event the dimension of sublime beauty does not come from objects as images. Everything comes from the aura of things alone. Just that bestows on the subject holiness in the mystical environment the spiritualization of reality. We can say that is a spiritual horizon on which art “here” and “now” goes beyond. Only in this way become possible to reach the divine. Without aura, classical art does not have its essence. Persistence denotes the essence in which it should be materializing, and the measure of true time, therefore, belongs to eternity beyond transient temporality. In the spirit of Jewish mysticism with clear traces of Gershom Scholem, as Jürgen Habermas plastically pointed out to “actualize” Benjamin, it might be not difficult to find the origin of his key notion of time, which has its origin in the singularity of the aura─eternal now (Jetztzeit). How to keep track of the appearance of the aura in the uniqueness and singularity of the original in the time of eternal now? The answer lies in the notion of technological reproducibility.

There is no doubt that the epistemological structure of the aura represents a secularized form of the exaltation of God’s presence in the image. In the sign of “profane illumination” and “optical unconscious”, a new technological notion of the essence of art brings everything to the wall, and so does the relation of Being and time in the metaphysical sense of the word. The condition of the possibility of technological reproducibility with which the aura disappears from the horizon of appearance is shown in essence by the production of the “new”. Walter Benjamin in the Arcades/Das Passagen-Werk, with the first drafts of the 1935 project, seeks to resolve the antinomies of time─progress and eternal return through the experience of what was the main cognitive problem of medieval theology: tertium datur. If repetition causes boredom, and progress signifies acceleration into infinity as a kind of “shock” with which the experience of uniqueness and singularity arises, then the only solution that seems acceptable to the spirit of modernity should be the abolition of the boredom of “homogeneous and empty” time in the constant staging of “new”. The circle is therefore not open in all directions, but a closed logic of constant renewal at an increasing level of intensity. Reproducibility must, from a state of homogenous machine reproducibility, assume the moment of the creative energy of the “new”. Instead of natural renewal cycles, the artificial need for “new” is at work. Although at the level of analyzing the sociological experiences of the modern city, such as fashion and design, in Paris in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Benjamin made a counterpoint to industry, architecture and avant-garde art, which uses assembly and patchwork to arrive at a new way of aesthetic experience (Erlebnis), it is quite obvious that reproducibility cannot be what emerges from the essence of technology. Instead, technology as reproduction denotes the very essence of artificial life. (Benjamin 1991: 60-78)

The singularity of Being in art-politics-technology is manifested in the constellations of the relationship between society-culture of the high modernity of capitalism as an image of the stopped acceleration of life itself. The true medium of melancholy was represented by photography. And a snapshot of life in duration and becoming in transformation only exists as a film without a subject. What does that mean? First of all, photography and film are in a linear sequence from the standpoint of the technological history of the invention. The First denotes the condition of possibility of the latter. The difference stems from the relationship between the standstill and the movement of Being as such. While photography captures reality at the moment of its crystallization, the film revolves around the same changes. Two notions of time correspond to two mediums of technological construction in modern times. Photographic time emerges as a melancholy sense of life in mourning for what has irreversibly gone. Therefore, it is possible to preserve its traces in memory only through a snapshot of the moment of existence. On the contrary, kinematic time is shown by repetition time. In every new rhythm and frame of life, the joy of living flows. So much that might be the talk of the reality of technical media should represent a complete failure. There is no reality beyond the construction of the apparatus. After all, it is no coincidence that Benjamin, in his analysis of photography and film, addressed the problem of the technological constitution of the relationship between illusion and its object. Just as painting in the Renaissance era, through mathematics and physics, in a linear and geometric perspective, found a medium of representation of beauty and sublime by creating the illusion of depth in an image, in the same way, it can be analogously argued that photography disappears precisely from the aura from which the image is obtained as „excess of the imaginary“. Without the distance between the sublime object of the image and its observer, there is no possibility of experiencing an aesthetic appearance and beauty. When there is no such gap, when in the film it happens that the movement of the thing itself is deluged by the assembly of individual fragments into one incomplete whole, then we have the situation that the disappearance of the aura and its replacement by the experience of mass catharsis becomes a new aesthetic experience.

Let us return to Benjamin’s notion of the aura. We have seen that the concept of distance is extremely important. There is no mere relation of contemplation between the sublime object of the experience of the event of the work of art and its observer. The observer is not a dead acceptor of stimuli coming from some distant realm of spirituality as an antenna receiving signals from the surrounding world. Kantian model of aesthetic experience Benjamin critically took over and upgraded in the early writings, starting from the essence of romanticism (Schlegel and Novalis) and Nietzsche. For the work to emanate a sense that evokes pleasure and cathartic experience of overcoming physicality, the metaphysical structure of art must be brought closer to the observer. Beyond mere contemplation resides the meeting place of the work and the audience. What was the notion of reflection in early Benjamin is now evolving to the notion of an aesthetic experience of participating in an event (Bubner 1991). The problem, however, is that, in the age of technological reproducibility, the media themselves, such as photography and film, are generalizing the subject of observational ecstasy in experiencing a work of art. This is a crucial change. Instead of reflection as an act of critical evaluation of the work, the collective subject of modern society, the mass, is brought to the centre of contemporary art due to new media originating in their technological changed essence.

It might be stated as a general formula that the technology of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of tradition. By replicating the work many times over, it substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to reach the recipient in his or her own situation, it actualizes that which is reproduced. These twoprocesses lead to a massive upheaval in the domain of objects handeddown from the past-a shattering of tradition which is the reverse side ofthe present crisis and renewal of humanity. Both processes are intimatelyrelated to the mass movements of our day. Their most powerful agent isfilm. The social significance of film, even-and especially-in its mostpositive form, is inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic side: the liquidation of the value of tradition in the cultural heritage.” (Benjamin 2008: 22)

The change that comes with the introduction of “technological reproducibility” into the way of production of modern capitalism has far-reaching consequences that Benjamin cannot in any case omit. This, after all, makes the fundamental problem of his art theory and materialistic theology of the redemption of history. If affiliation with the idea of ​​Frankfurt’s critical theory of society is ever shown as the unbreakable weaving of the various strings that connect it with Adorno and Horkheimer, Kracauer and Brecht, it is undoubtedly his view that the contemporary constellation of societies-cultures in late capitalism has been the result of a new set (art-politics-technology) with which everyday life becomes also aestheticized as a social construction. One has to restrain the attitude whether it is at the same time a fall into the umbrella of the not so “hard” dialectic, which nevertheless shares with Adorno the position on social conditionality not only of technology but, above all, of art concerning its aesthetic potentials. The development of society presupposes the historical development of art forms. So, the shadow of Hegel and his idea of ​​the “end of art” after the spiritual need for a sensible representation of the idea disappears is present in Benjamin’s considerations of modern ideologies of progress. Although Hannah Arendt pointed to Benjamin’s closeness to Heidegger, what seems to distinguish them from the abyss denotes almost the same as that which distinguishes Heidegger and Adorno. And this thought deals with Being and thinking of a negative dialectic that cannot exclude from the horizon its notion of the world:

              (1) that the capitalist mode of production of life, despite its total technologization, designates only a social formation at the highest level of generality and abstraction, and therefore criticism of society proves to be a condition of every other criticism;

              (2) that the cultural industry becomes a new ideology of late capitalism within which the aesthetic drive of art proves to be a sublime field of alienation of the social Being of man. (Walker 2008 in Macdonald and Ziarek: 87-105)

Benjamin constantly kept in mind these differences in social formations, although, unlike other representatives of the Frankfurt School, he was being directed on what constitutes the essence of the aesthetic in the technological period. The ontological difference between technology and society for Heidegger boils down to the fact that modern society is the result of subjectivity. Therefore, industrial society in capitalism is merely a continuation of modern subjectivity, not an independent entity that could be preserved by overcoming its alienated way of Being that destroys humans, as in the technological age the aura is the essence of the event from which art obtains its meaning (Heidegger 1976: 125). What does it mean for Heidegger that industrial society is the outcome of modern subjectivity? Nothing but the social essence of man has been determined by the rule of science and technology over nature as an object. Society emerges as a subject only when its object becomes a very outcome of modern industrial production. The extension of the concept of subjectivity corresponds to the extension of the concept of society to all other areas of the human being. In this sense, the relationship between technology and society cannot be causal-teleological but stems from the logic of complexity. With the introduction of new terms and categories, the order changes. Society can never be considered a substitute for Being because it is the outcome of what enables it. Also, society does not mean a condition for the development and advancement of technology. In so far as the fate of art in the technological age enters the issue of the relationship between the essence of technology and the world as a space-time of technical construction, not a matter of social change. With all this in mind, it should be obvious that the closeness of Heidegger and Benjamin does not show that they both see the work dematerialize in the technological era, lose an aura, and become an aesthetic object similar to Duchamp’s readymades. The closeness is as in Benjamin’s notion of aura at the same time in the very distance. Almost without any possibility of the encounter unless the dispute between modern subjectivity and aesthetic objectification should be resolved on the ground of another land─modern reproduction technology. That matter enables us to replace the original image with the cinema pictures. All this is happening in such a way that now the event of the depiction of life has the status of a work, not as it was before. In other words, the issue of the relation between art and technology becomes the quest for the metaphysical relation between reproduction and life itself. Already Marx assumed a life, at the level of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, determined by its gender-historical reproduction. The process of making Human as a historical being of practice presupposes the reproduction of nature itself as a Being. So, a work in the meaning of “second nature” reproduces the “first nature” with a tendency to overcome it in the form of an artwork. This ontological model gives rise to the possibility of “experimental science” which begins the realm of freedom as a game. (Sutlić 1987)

Benjamin was right to say that the entry-level aesthetics of the reception ceased to apply to the masses. His idea of ​​the peaceful contemplation of a sublime object of art flares up. The aura of the work of art is disappearing. But this destruction, as the basic notion of the historical avant-garde, is the beginning of its occult and secret power of action after it has disappeared irreversibly. Disappearance presupposes two things: (a) the replacement of the original with a copy and (2) the new foundation of art from the spirit of reproduction. Reproduction technology denotes the site of the gap between cult and ritual and the everyday banality of “homogeneous and empty” time. In this space in between resides, the Messianic rose in the cross of history.[i] There is, however, still something extremely problematic about the ontological status of the aura. If it is out of the question that Benjamin, in a threefold sense, is calculated with a metaphysical history of transcendence, let us look at what „auraticizing“ the world means at all. Before that, we should start from the initial assumption. In the strict sense of the word, the term aura ranges from “profane illumination” to “optical unconscious” as a result of the immanent transcendence of the metaphysical assembly of Being, God, the world, and humans. If we might capture the “essence” of the aura, the problem of replacing language with an image in 20th-century philosophy and art must be raised. What for Hegel was an absolute synthesis of self-consciousness and spirit in art, religion and philosophy, for Nietzsche the notion of the will to power as the eternal restoration of equals, for Marx the work of the equivalence of necessity and freedom in the inverted state in the capital, and for Heidegger in the notion of the event (Ereignis) which gives rise to the possibility of a “second beginning” of history, is contained in Benjamin’s conception of aura. From that point of view, the space-time of a different way of fighting for a difference from the nihilism of world history should be opened. Therefore, an aura must be defined as approaching distance, as a sublime meeting place of the historical circuit and the constellation of history, as an experience of the origin-disappearance of the world in general, and ultimately as that which enables things to shine in the state of dematerialization as a spiritual figure of a singular individual. Not only does his physical appearance die with him, but also the entire spiritual world of human life under the stars. There are, therefore, three modes of appearing in which the essence of the aura crystallizes:

              (1) appearing in all things, such as the monad, and only occasionally in the extraordinary stories that people attribute to things;

              (2) the change of aura comes from the movement of the thing itself, which means that the vision of the coming is revealed as a trace and as a mark of what is not visible in things but the outlines of their figures;

              (3) true aura cannot be equated with spiritualism, but only with the ornamental circle in which a thing or Being resides in the world around it. (Mersch, 2002: 47-52., Groys, 2003, 34-35)

The relationship between aura and reproduction is essentially the relationship between two modes of human existence in the world. The first denotes authenticity and the second is non-authenticity. Heidegger identified two primary ways of understanding Being from the horizon of time in Being and Time. What is authentic not only drives the truth of the Being, but also the possibility of missing its meaning. When a man misses life, there is desolation behind him. Nothing is worthy of a new attempt. Death represents the last frontier on which the confrontation between truth and non-truth, authenticity and forgery are weighed. In Benjamin’s understanding of the aura as an event by which art redeems the missed existence of an individual man in the past, we do not find only the Jewish mysticism of the Talmud. The same can be said for the revelation of Christianity. For the Messiah, in the image of Jesus Christ, does not redeem this life “here” and “now.” It is the whole history of the human race in all epochs, with no difference in the degree of cruelty to nature and other human beings. Otherwise, the meaning of messianism would be truncated by the already failed gesture of acquiescence with the ideology of unconditional progress behind which hides the desolation and emptiness of the human heart.

Walter Benjamin

2. Profane illumination and messianic event

What designates the relationship between the sociological category of Entzauberung and the aesthetic theory of the loss of the aura of a work of art? In this case, we will not be interested in the broader explication of Weber’s analysis of rationalization and of all the processes that in modern times have become a condition for the possibility of being transformed into a “machine of progress.” Capitalism, from Marx to Weber, became a system of the dialectical interpenetration of abstract and concrete work. Besides, his new legitimacy now had cultural credibility, not just economic and political. With these traces, with the help of Lukács’s theory of the creation of goods as a fetish, Walter Benjamin went on to critically analyze the ambivalent process: on the one hand, the absolute rationalization of nature and culture, and on the other, with new forms of the enchantment of what had already been dis-enchantment. The emergence of photography and film, as well as their massive popularity and acceptance as a new aesthetic and artistic experience, really reversed the usual notion of the downfall of art as the truth of the human being. What remains an unresolved problem in this ambivalence to this day is how the aura of a work of art disappears. Is it the reason why the artistic feature of the work in terms of uniqueness and singularity is only lost, as Marx wrote about the craftsmanship from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to the Baroque? Craftsmanship in the industry is referred to as sublimity to banality. Authenticity signifies the uniqueness of a creative act, and vulgarity denotes that which is massively reproduced. In short, Benjamin appreciates Weber’s analysis of the process of rationalizing modern capitalist society. The difference is that he does not consider the self-establishment of the mind from the Kantian perspective of a rule. Instead, in the wake of Nietzsche and romanticism, he introduced a new concept of aesthetic experience (Erlebnis). And this means that the mind itself is des-enchanted by being enchanted in the play of the creation of the fetishism of goods. The reproduction technologies underlying the mass receptivity of photography and film in the 20th century completely overthrew the basic idea and at the same time the dogma of modern art about the autonomy of works. Instead of the subject of contemplation, which is always ultimately the object of a more powerful “subject” (society, culture, technology), film and photography encounter the overcoming (Aufhebung) of the distinction between art and life. Freedom of one’s legitimacy is transformed into a service to one of two substitute religions: politics and aesthetics as ideology. What was the intention of the historical movements of the avant-garde, in particular Berlin’s Dadaism with the invention of the body as a performative event, was accomplished at the end of the 20th century with the introduction of the technosphere into the production of “artificial life”(A-Life). Therefore, rationalization and mysticism are no longer in irreconcilable contradiction.

It was obvious to Benjamin that what constitutes the unsolvable aporias and paradoxes of modern times stems from the structure of mythical thinking. In that sense, we can determine the loss of the aura as the liquidation or abolition of the autonomy of modern art, which in this act of pseudo-synthesis in the historical avant-garde of the first half of the 20th century goes in two pernicious directions. The first is related to fascism/Nazism and the second to Stalinist communism; the first is named the aestheticization of politics and the second with the concept of the politicization of art.

“Fiat ars-pereat mundus, “It says fascism, expecting from war, as Marinetti admits, the artistic gratification of a sense perception altered by technology. This is evidently the consummation of art /Jour l’art. Humankind, which once, in Homer, was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, has now become one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure. Such is the aestheticizing of politics, as practised by fascism. Communism replies by politicizing art. (Benjamin 2008: 42)

Aestheticization and politicization are just two different paths to the same─nihilism without works. In both cases, it is a construction of life from the spirit of technology reproduction. Fascism and Nazism start from the distraction or diffusion of the machine that manages human emotions, granting them the right to anger against the Other. That is why the aestheticization of politics should be always ideological propaganda that demands the power of Nature over the spirit (the biology of a race); the politicization of art, in turn, relies on the power of History over nature (the necessity of establishing communism as the “iron law” of progress and development). In both cases, the human body lies in the centre. So, this becomes the model for the technological construction of myth and science. The artwork is destroyed in its autonomy. So, the aura was thus replaced by mass idolatry of the Leader, the Party and the people. What Benjamin assumes is that the technological reproducibility of the film coincides perfectly with the propaganda of fascism/Nazism and Stalinist communism. Mass in this context designates the end of the representational art of depicting the world as nature and history. Instead, what the film expresses shows as a new form of aesthetic distraction denotes the artificial creation of a personality cult as a star. This replaces the aura of the one-time appearance of the sacred and the divine. And it also marks the end of mortality and the static of the object. It is no longer subject to contemplation because it is not outside the observer’s objection. Now the object itself, as an aesthetic sublimation of things (slaves of fetishism), changes the observer by changing his status as the indifferent subject. Change drives the notion of aesthetic cognition. The most significant consequence of this reversal we can see in that what the massage of technological reproduction becomes─”culture”. Guy Debord named it with a concept of a society of the spectacle. The paradigmatic case for this cannot be longer the art of high modernism. There is now a massive establishment of a body cult in modern sport. Once again, we are confronted with the aporia and paradox of the founding of the “new.” When the aura of the work of art disappears into the place of its topology “here” and “now”, the technological refinement of the multiplied “original” comes at this place. Certainly, it might be one of the reasons for Boris Groys’ extremely provocative and controversial position concerning the art theory today. He claims, namely, that the aura does not disappear with the loss of the original. On the contrary, it is just emerging in full scale of its appearance. (Groys 2003: 35)[i]

“Profane illumination” and “optical unconscious” are nowhere to be found anywhere other than technological reproduction. That fact seems to be a mystery. Let’s stop here. What was unattainable to the senses during the history of the metaphysics of the West, and therefore had the status of sublimity that cannot be reduced to the materiality of the object, is now turning to the aesthetic construction of events. Thanks to the cinematic projection apparatus, images that emanate new meanings have the character of a laterna magica. The event of film production, distribution and screening in its “holy trinity” elevates the banality, triviality and ordinariness of life to the altar of the sublime portrayal of the unpredictable. In A Short History of Photography (Kleine Geschichte der Photographie), Benjamin summarized his understanding of the aura as an atmosphere. It cannot be otherwise determined except by surrounding things with the wondrous weaving of beauty in its ineffability. In the relationship between the two technology-created media such as photography and film, the problem becomes more complex. Not just because photography is an “excess of the imaginary.” It is in that it stops the movement like dreams crystallized in hovering over things. The movement, in turn, produces the effect of double (de)materialization:

              (1) emergence of an image from the succession of the moment, which means that it is precisely the time of awareness or the present-time (Jetztzeit) that is a condition of being able to remember and recollect;

              (2) transformation of the image into a medium of the “optically unconscious”, which means that movement does not take place outside the objection of the movement of the body itself concerning the observer.

Aura cannot be reduced to the visions, the view, the image and its frame of appearance. It is the link between a Being and time. Through a specific way of mediation, we can arrive at its muted splendour. With the help of the aura, the mediality of the media is revealed. (Mersch 2002: 47-50) What is referred to as the mediated immediacy in Hegel at the level of the absolute which encompasses a subjective and objective spirit, appears in Benjamin’s thought in a fragmented totality of experience. Beyond traditional cognitive theory and its dogma about the subject and object of the objection, the experience combines Erlebnis and affect in a new context. The aura must, therefore, be understood as an ontological-temporal horizon for the appearance of things. Like a shadow without which light cannot trace the object in the image, its appearance is framed by the presence of the sacred. The location of the horizon lies between a Being and time. As an event of “profane illumination,” the aura illuminates things in the world. Their mark is imprinted with the seal of the holy and the divine. Without it, art cannot have a permanent place in the metaphysical horizon of things:

“What, then, is the aura? A strange tissue of space and time: the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be. To follow with the eye-while resting on a summer afternoon-a mountain range on the horizon or a branch that casts its shadow on the beholder is to breathe the aura of those mountains, of that branch. Inthe light of this description, we can readily grasp the social basis of the aura’s present decay. It rests on two circumstances, both linked to the increasing emergence of the masses and the growing intensity of their movements. Namely: the desire of the present-day masses to “get closer” to things, and their equally passionate concern for overcoming each thing’s uniqueness [Oberwindung des Einmaligen jeder Gegebenheit] by assimilating it as a reproduction. Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at close rangein an image [Bild], or, better, in a facsimile [Abbild], a reproduction.” (Benjamin 2008: 23)

The reason why Benjamin sought to bring to the consideration of technology a yet esoteric-occult term secularized to the extent acceptable to the modern experience of transforming a work of art from a mystery of singularity into a mystic of reproduction might be that he saw how photography and film were perfect media for the performance of “immanent transcendence“ of the world as an assembly (art-politics-technology) and a constellation of relations between society-culture. With the technical picture produced by the new media of reproduction, life itself becomes more than “life” and artless than “art.” The avant-garde dream of merging life and art has taken the form of what is happening by stopping. Then the “dialectical images”, thanks to the “tiger leap into the past”, searching a way to what had always been a gift of indelible beauty. It is beauty that possesses an excess of melancholy. The surplus of this mental experience arises because every step forward into a dizzyingly accelerated future seems like the boredom of a “homogeneous and empty” time. The problem with the disappearance and emergence of an aura of a work of art during the rule of the technological media, therefore, comes down to the question of time. If time denotes a condition of possibility of propagation, then the movement cannot be, therefore, a matter of mechanics as the physics of objects in space, but of the threefold relation of Being, time and aura. The aura gives the event a light of redemption. How should this be understood? The messianic trace of sublime beauty might be visible in the atmosphere of things. There is no possibility of its occurrence anywhere else. Benjamin’s thinking concerning the topology of aura in the essence by technology created world, therefore, evolves in the face of a break-off of history. It had already happened before the essence of modernity became an open field of signs of fate. Yet we cannot escape the impression that Benjamin’s insight into technology, unlike Heidegger’s, is imbued with aporias and paradoxes. As a paradigmatic representative of the “dissident” direction of Frankfurt’s critical theory of society, he cannot transcend the epochal shadows of that thought orientation and its failure.

What does that mean? Nothing but that modern technology is a term that arises from the social production of life, more precisely from a framework in which photography and film do not appear merely through the technological progress of the media concerning painting, for example. Much more significant than this fatal linearity of the technology might be that the social envelope in which the “productive forces” of history operate, to use Marx’s term, is determined by the constellation of relations. In other words, despite all the fences and additions of historical materialism, Benjamin eventually realizes art beyond that matter, because it is not entirely clear why the art of the masses should be the social power of changing the reception of a work of art. The technology as the power to reproduce the Being in reducing it to the possibility of “another life,” appears to be a fundamental “social power.” In a profane order, it has an alternate function of cult and ritual. What is this other than an event!? Of course, it is by no means possible to understand it without invoking what was also Marx’s problem in determining the ontological assumptions of capital. It is a mystery of the emergence of the new as a “social relationship”. The later post-structuralist readings of Benjamin’s notion of aura in the technology-created history bear this landmark. They cannot be liberated even when, as in the case of Gilles Deleuze, they find in the logic of film the effect of “immanent transcendence” through the concepts of image-movement and image-time. (Deleuze 1986; Deleuze 1989)

Benjamin saw the disappearance of the aura by replacing it with new reproductive technologies. According to the proposed definition of “the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be“, the distance between the apparition event and the apparition as such must be determined Spatio-temporal. Disposability is twofold: it belongs to space (“here”) and time (“now”). The disappearance of aura of the work of art that gives away “value” also disappears here-and-now. And that can only be holy as a condition of the possibility of the divine. Therefore, it is a definition that Benjamin necessarily derives from Kant’s aesthetics and Hegel’s speculative-dialectical critique of art. The latter eventually slips into the “private space” of the observer’s remarks when the “spiritual need” for art disappears. If by analogy this is derived from the religion of Protestantism, which in the profane period of the “end of history” becomes the private sphere of experiencing the sacred, then the aura of the work of art should be placed in the environment of the play of aesthetic transcendence of Being. What Kant does in his third critique is a dispute between the sensible objection and the intellectual dawn in the notion of sublimity, for Hegel opens up the spiritual horizon of the emergence and disappearance of art. When absolute science eliminates the need for art, a new need for its replacement has to be born. In this discussion, Benjamin opened up the problem of the end of the metaphysical notion of art. The development of modernity takes place in the aporia of its foundation in “nature” and/or “spirit”. Although an example of a natural aura is one that, as in Kant, becomes an aesthetic paradigm, it would be obvious that the shadow of Hegel is irresistible in this debate. This might be, of course, obvious from the fact that in his lectures on the history of aesthetics from the Greeks through the Christian Middle Ages to the modern age, the process of overcoming (Aufhebung) art and religion took the form of philosophy as absolute knowledge.

The process is completed in such a way that the autonomy of art concerning its work marks the path of self-reflection. With it, art purifies itself from religion. It happens in such a way that the essence of art is no longer reducible to cult and ritual (the event of the sacred). It is now about the social conditionality of its emergence. The transition from the pre-modern community to the complex fabric of the modern art society signifies loss and gain. What is lost is participation in the mystery of the sacred. And what is gained is massive idolatry of the technical image of life itself. Beauty is replaced by shock, and sublimity is replaced by the provocation of pure physicality. Pleasure can no longer be separated from trauma. (Perniola 2004: 3-25) Benjamin will, therefore, understand Hegel’s view of the “end of art” in the same way as Heidegger, and in the same way as Adorno. Also, it is not a work of “negative dialectics” with a peak in belief in the authenticity and autonomy of a work of art. Instead, everything now turns to the new mystique of “society.” Admittedly, this is not a sublime facility like in Marcuse’s theory. But it opens, therefore, a space for the emergence of freedom and experiment in play beyond the ideology of capitalism and its “homogeneous and empty” reproduction times. In other words, in the idea of ​​the emancipation of art from religion, cults and rituals are inscribed in an “enlightened way” into “other authenticity.”  This happens in the face of the mass society of the new reception of the work of art. Exactly because photography and film lose singularity features, they become a “second event”. Such an event now bears the trace of aura distraction. Instead of the space that gives it meaning in the Spatio-temporal sequence of moments “here” and “now”, the following works:

─ duplication of the original;        

─ abolishing the presentation site by moving it anywhere, anytime;        

─ announcement of the path to the dematerialization of the media in pure technology created picture as information:        

“… No investigation of the work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility can overlook these connections. They lead to an insight: for the first time in world history, technological reproducibility emancipates the work of art from its parasitic subservience to ritual. To an ever-increasing degree, the work reproduced becomes the reproduction of a work designed for reproducibility. From a photographic plate, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense. But as soon as the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applied to artistic production, the whole social function of art is revolutionized. Instead of being founded on ritual, it is based on a different practice: politics. (Benjamin 2008: 24-25)

“Parasitic subservience to ritual”, that’s the perfect critique of the mortification of works! When we recall Benjamin’s early writings on art criticism as well as the messianic idea of ​​history, we are tempted to move in a different direction from the paved paths of interpretation of the 1935/36 debate. First of all, what is “saved by the mortification of works” in his “second life” cannot be a mere reconstruction of the original covered by the ruins of history. Salvation denotes an act of ethical-political redemption. But in the case of an aura of the work of art, it is even more enigmatic than the seemingly radical representation of modernist praise for the autonomy of art. Namely, it is about Benjamin having to redefine the emancipation of art from religion. All that Marx attributed in the critique of Hegel’s state law to the idea of ​​universal emancipation of man came to be incomplete. This meant that the notion of emancipation from the theology of politics in the civil society of early capitalism was assumed by the Hegelian machine of Aufhebung. To emancipate himself as a man, it is necessary to reach the threshold of universality from the shackles of civil existence. Leaving the reductive position of a nation, class, gender/sex reaches a higher level of humanity. But this does not mean that emancipation denotes an act of abstract generality. By early Marx, we find the origin of the proposition about secularizing theology in modern politics. Carl Schmitt will argue the same in 1927 The Concept of the Political (Der Begriff des Politischen).

The emancipation of art from religion cannot be, therefore, an autonomous act of artistic practice. It is an act of political emancipation from religion as politics. In this sense, in criticizing “parasitic subservience to ritual”, Benjamin cannot release the influence of cult and ritual as a topology of the sacred and the divine without abolishing art in life itself. Without sanctifying life there is no overcoming of art. Undoubtedly, this was the first and last aporia of historical avant-garde movements in the 20th century. The artist assumes the powers of hero, saint and martyr. But so does the public intellectual. When he questions the very framework of society in late capitalism on which the whole drive of contemporary art is based, his task is completed in the rapture of the revolutionary mysticism of events. Benjamin denied the possibility of life being holy in itself if, at the same time, such and such life was not guided by universal righteousness. In an essay entitled Critique of Violence (Zur Kritik der Gewalt) written in 1921, this thought was uttered against any kind of religion or humanitarianism. That means against the idea that life can be established in the biological or animal sense with a new origin of philosophy and art. Emancipation denotes an act of negation and suspension. When the political power of religion is denied, it is suspended in such a way that art should be formally deprived of “parasitic subservience to ritual.” It is just an act of dressing up in the Emperor’s new attire. In doing so, Benjamin made clear the fundamental problem of contemporary art. The essay ended with a diagnosis of a state of art left at the mercy of the new cult and its ritual. It is no longer a religious ritual, but a political one. This is obviously why we need to redefine the function and essence of aura in the age of technological reproducibility. Namely, the aura cannot be longer present in the “single occurrence of distance as close as it is”. What happens irrevocably through technological reproducibility is that the metaphysical foundation of art must be abandoned from the essence of the work itself. When a work loses its uniqueness and singularity, it only takes place within the material form of its presence.

Photography designates the perfect medium for the transition of painting to a crystallized state of non-motion. The image is discreetly releasing cult functions in ritual (faith). In this way, it becomes a record in the “eternal present.” That Aristotelian nunc stans cannot be in the same line as Hegel’s bad infinity. It is not even a mere presence in the linear course of time. Quite the contrary, we have the experience of the moment of the presence (Jetztzeit) that has stopped in the past. Melancholy, hence, can be nothing but the truth of aura. It must be remembered that there is a relationship between the concepts of early Benjamin’s writings on art criticism and tragedy (Trauerspiel) and reflected on the photography, the loss of the aura and the essays on Baudelaire from 1931 to 1939. With melancholy, there is a decay of the aura. The way this happens assumes the power to stop in time. It’s all like an “instant shot” of an event that takes place in memory by the act of repetition. However, one-off and non-recurring impressions do not completely disappear due to reproduction. What disappears relates to the authenticity of the moment in the act. When the film pushes photography, it starts to move towards a hyper-reality of life. The film does not signify an immersion in “here” and “now.” Its space-time determination occurs in motion-and-rest. Life as reality becomes a media event. It does not appear and does not present itself from the present, which is always slipping into the past. Because of this, a film cannot be a medium of melancholy like photography. What it lacks for that is the photographic record. At a time when time has stopped, there is a flow of awareness of irreversible disappearance. The apparent similarity between photography and film refers only to the mystery of impressions (mimesis) and presentation (representation) of reality. Instead of the past, the film reproduces what is sublime and aural at the level of Proust’s “unintentional memory” (mémoire involontaire). (Cadava 1997, 44-57) This is a reason why the film deserves the name art-without-work. It is a pure event. From it flows the river of the unconscious and dreams. It follows, therefore, that the cinema-time is always that which recedes before the present. Looking for the future, there are traces of living wounds behind him. The early expressionist and surrealist films of the 1920s in an age without sound are obsessively tied to visions of apocalypse, madness, utopia and dreams.

It’s one side of a new aura of an artistic event. The magical image that emerges from the ritual of “parasitic subservience to ritual” meets the demand of totalitarian movements of the 20th century. And that’s the other side of the same coin. The reason is that the film denotes a medium of mass reproduction of dreams and the social power of the reception of art. Everything that was inhabited in oases of privacy and intimacy is now being deployed in public spaces of the audience and interactions. Politics, as a new ritual in which art is invoked in the same way, use the technological power of film to fully mobilize the masses. Dreams, madness, visions, and utopias prove the premise that the aura of an artistic event is a new way of transmitting the sublime into the medium of reproduction. But what counteracts this is also the necessity of the “second life” of the aura after its loss and disappearance. It is a place of the aestheticization of politics (fascism/Nazism) and politicization of art (Stalinist communism). One is opposed to the other. But this happens by being in radical contradiction in its pursuit of the sublime place of devastated holiness and the divine after the realization that the autonomy of a work of art in capitalism is a mere illusion. The battle with illusions otherwise marks the golden age of modernity. However, what is common to both ways of bringing art to politics is their logic of power. Art, however, needs a totalitarian order, but only as a symbol of substitute holiness. In this sense, the result of the politicization of society in the early avant-garde was the death of the aesthetic and the beginning of the abolition of society altogether. Instead of the aesthetic experience of shock in the early avant-garde, totalitarian movements are based on the political experience of subjugating power as a surrogate force of divine presence in the form of nation/state/race/ class. The aura is destroyed by closing the gap between society, the state and the individual. The way of noticing an art object is no longer within the purview of the privatized subject of contemplation. The notion of destruction of society─the masses─is triumphantly in its place. The problem Benjamin faced was all the greater the more matured by the idea that the only thing that could redeem art from falling into the pseudo-aural substitute of the “Big Other” was the arrival of a salvage event. Through the niche of technological reproduction, the Messiah quietly sneaks in.

When it passes through the eye of a needle into the space of progress catastrophe, but with the aesthetic elevation to a new experience of art that rests on the awareness of the distance between the “subject” of notice and the “object” of remark, the age of “profane illumination” arises. The problem is that it is no longer about the possibility of experiencing aura only with the transcendence of reality using narcotics, subtle “unintentional memory” techniques like that of Proust, or the transformation of everyday life into an art laboratory of life. Instead, life is transformed, through photography and film, into a sensory objection to the experience of participating in the creation of something “new” with the features of the magic of life. Benjamin opened the space of ambivalence to the historical avant-garde and romanticism. Astonishingly, in the 1930s, he constructed a hybrid aesthetic theory of messianic politics. Starting from the horizon of the essence of technology, he reached the wall of time. What is technical and technological for him, after all? Is it something merely instrumental and usable that man has at his disposal as a tool for preset purposes or is it merely an effect of the demonic and the uncanny precisely because art and life in modern times can only be understood from technological reproduction? Unlike Heidegger and his notion of enframing (Gestell), it seems to be a matter of anthropological-sociological understanding. This does not mean that man and society can be absolutized, so the technology would be just some sort of universal substitute for human failure. Such is, after all, the philosophical conception of technology in Arnold Gehlen’s aesthetic anthropology. Benjamin, on the contrary, does not comprehend man as a creature of culture that has come to the technology to sublimate his inability to survive in nature as an animal (animal rationale). 

Freud’s psychoanalysis showed up in this regard, and this is evident in the narrative of Kafka, too short to explain being human. Instead, his thinking is a prelude to a historical understanding of the practice of experience. It opens the very event of thought with the condition of the possibility of a different set of human existence. Art as a whole has an unprecedented primacy. And the reason is that it opens up the demonic character and the uncanny factuality of technology in Western history. The closeness with Heidegger is quite noticeable here. Despite the differences in approach to the work of art in the discussions that took place in 1935/1936 both were turning points in their thinking. Heidegger and Benjamin have raised the most crucial question of modernity in general: what happens when technology in the unconditional rule as Gestell and reproducibility changes the metaphysical scheme of history and transforms a person’s life into a thing, function, object, structure, apparatus? What happens (quoddittas) not only changes the Being (quiddittas) by making the “essence” or substance de-substantial. Moreover, it is an even more far-reaching turn of things on their own. Now, it is no longer possible to think of an event by analogy with Being (nature, reality, exteriority). Instead, a techno-poetic or techno-genetic code of life is at work. Art no longer has it. In an age of information, we are witnessing its replacement in space-time-free and time-space-free. It is no longer a problem whether or not the aura is created by the technological reproduction of Being. Aura no longer has a real reason for its existence. Without the gap between what is happening and what is, there is no possibility of mysticism and mystery. If so, then it becomes clear why the technological event of transforming art into a thing/object that constructs and anaesthetizes itself determines the relationship between the aura and what is left of art.


The time of Benjamin’s immersion in the “eternal present” (Jetztzeit) has passed, and also the time of Heidegger’s enframing (Gestell). What is happening today with the technosphere, and no longer with the mechanical way of technology, goes beyond the question of the conditions of being able to comprehend image-ontology. How should this be understood? First of all, the technosphere can no longer be considered metaphysically like the thinking of technique and technology. It does not come down to tools or apparatus that serve something. It is known from the cybernetic paradigm of understanding the world that the concepts of information, code, life, system and environment are linked without a vertical or horizontal scheme of a predetermined order. When Benjamin uses the image-term constellation of relations between society-culture synonymously with the notion of time on the horizon of appearance and disappearance, it is a non-linear relationship between these terms. Information is constantly generated from nothing in the visual code of the network. Infinity takes on the role of perpetuating what no longer has its permanent essence, so it must be reconstructed to allow communication between the system and the environment. Therefore, the technosphere does not depend on external events. Its logic lies beyond the law of causality and the guiding principle of metaphysics, which, in the notion of the expediency of nature, finds its reason for existence. The aura is lost by the advent of technical media and at the same time is being replaced by dematerializing the Being. Instead of reproduction as the main term with which Benjamin meant the essence of technology, it is now about eliminating any distinction between “original” and “copied”. The ruling principle does not arise from the mimetic or representational “nature” of the image to which the language refers. The language itself, in its technological calculability, takes on the character of blank marking as an image. 

In this replacement process, it is no longer a matter of “re-producing” something that has the features of Being. Information and communication are only members of a single order or visual code system. And with them are generating new reality beyond the “imitation” (mimesis) and “representation”. Its essence can no longer be derived from the difference between nature and culture. In the meantime, reproduction has become a “new nature” in the social conditions of modern capitalism. This was the initial premise of Benjamin’s unfinished work on the Arcade/Das Passagen-Werk project. Insofar as it is about the loss of an aura, the whole philosophical and historical structure of thought in its texts is a montage-as-construction of what can no longer be subsumed into the environment of metaphysics. Although it seems that duality and binary contradictions are the results of a peculiar “negative dialectic” that he has taken from Adorno and developed in a different direction, it still seems more important to show him a language that speaks nothing more. So, after all, it stands in a single Arcades/Das Passagen-Werk record. If the language no longer speaks, what can we expect from the picture-as-thought? Maybe it just gives the sophisticated order meaningless new light and nothing more.

          What is the essence of aura in the technological age without originals and copies? Nothing but reproduction becomes the construction of the technical perpetuation of a world-without-aura. Since the technosphere is no longer derived from the metaphysical grid of thought, everything should be open. This world “here” and “now” is neither a model nor a framework for techno-genesis that “produces” new worlds by itself. With Benjamin, the aesthetics of genius and mass were completed. Two versions of the downfall─the aestheticization of politics in fascism/Nazism and the politicization of art in Stalinism─marked further attempts to think of the autonomy of art differently than to make the paradox complete, instrumental and parasitic─from cult and ritual. What is left of art when there is no longer an aura in the technological encoded media of today in such a predictable way, was brought out by Heidegger in his discussion of The Age of the Picture of the World (Die Zeit des Weltbildes). (Heidegger, 1977: 69-115) 

There, specifically, he states that the notions of information and staging arewhat art comes from the essence of the painting. It is an event of putting the world in the picture in the medium of its disappearance. In an age that no longer knows the difference between Being and event because everything “happens” in a predictable and calculating way of showing what it is in the mode of technical exposure to the world, Benjamin’s thought is perfectly pure from the temptation of prophecy and the revelation of the future. There is no problem in the future or the past. This life “here” and “now” in the moment of the eternal present (Jetztzeit) became devoid of the openness of history, which continued to claim that “only for the sake of the hopeless is hope given to us”. It is no problem, further, in the hope or redemption of the tragedy of history. What seems almost inescapable might be the very reason for the existence of the world, which, like the shadows from the photographs of the Paris arcades, has crept into the dream of the infinity of the same progress, spinning and repeating endlessly like a broken old plaque. Isn’t Benjamin’s main problem the fact that the last secret of his cosmic and human drama might be completely different from mourning the past. Instead of the ruins that remain behind us, melancholy for eternity becomes a plausible play of the construction of memory and the assembly of recollection in an age without aura.


[1] The problem that Benjamin posits at the highest level of philosophical-conceptual notion relates to what constitutes the essence of modernity in general. Art in the modern capitalist order within itself stores the experience of demystifying metaphysics from its origins to the present. When this happens, then instead of sublimity and beauty, the basic categories of classical art and aesthetics, comes the age of emptiness or the reign of banality, triviality and ordinariness. There, too, it might be possible to establish a link between Heidegger and Benjamin, although it must be clear that the latter analysis of the process of loss of aura is linked to the results of Adorno’s critique of ideology and the entire legacy of the Frankfurt School. Where the absolute appears as an alienated society in the medium of the cultural industry, there is no reflection on the metaphysical conditions of society’s independence in modern times. In Heidegger, the term “impersonal” (das Man) denotes a way of being massed tube. In this way, the sense of the existential blurring of man in modernity is lost and he becomes a mere function, a wheel in the chain of progress. Technology is proving to be the decisive category of destruction not just of the aura, as Benjamin claims. It is far-reaching destruction of being human, of the world, and the whole metaphysical complex. Therefore, what we express as banal, trivial, and usually cannot be merely a negation of the sublimity and beauty in the art after the loss of the aura. On the contrary, we are talking about the destruction of the connection and the relationship between the primordial and the actual, so Benjamin’s problem, like Kafka’s is that he saw how the temporal dimension of the present becomes nothing but a catastrophe. What works without an aura, which evolves according to the model of the industrial track, becomes the main cause of the change of being art, and hence the change of being human. The reproductive technology of art dehumanizes and depersonalizes art. (Paić 2019)

2 Groys’ interpretation of “loss of aura” by its reinstatement in new media such as film, video and various cyber-art practices is based on the emergence of an event that transcends aesthetic-artistic phenomena and gives them “higher meaning.” This setting is the birthplace of today’s trend of the repoliticization of art in the global neo-imperial order of the rule of capitalism. This is an obvious paradox because Benjamin is seen as a witness to a completely different extra-aesthetic intent. Although, at the end of the debate on the loss of the aura, Benjamin, however, ends with communism building his ideas on the politicization of art as opposed to the fascist aestheticization of politics, nowhere in his texts is the explicit desire to “politicize” art and thus desire the Avant-Garde of overcoming art in life. Groys represents a paradigmatic theorist of contemporary art who derives its “idea” from the avant-garde program and gives it the meaning of the constant struggle for a new event of socio-political “revolution”. But such a position in the debate about the meaning of the image in the age of technological reproduction denotes only the other side of the same flaw in the relationship between the technosphere and art. The problem is that the notion of the aura is simply a relic of the metaphysics of the work, and its occurrence in the pseudo-synthesis of the “optically unconscious” means nothing more than the termination of the logic of historical dialectic and all other thinking frames in the face of the rule of what transcends both art and all other human activities. Any re-politicization of art is necessarily doomed to repeat the “aesthetics of revolt” by other means and nothing more. (Mersch 2002; Paić 2019)


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Author Profile
Žarko Paić

Žarko Paić is a Professor at the University of Zagreb, where he teaches courses in Aesthetics and Media Theory. He publishes frequently in philosophy, social sciences, and art theory. His publications include Theorizing Images, eds. with Krešimir Purgar (2016), and Technosphere Vol. 1-5 (2018-2019), White Holes and the Visualization of the Body, (2019), Neoliberalism, Oligarchy and Politics of the Event – At the Ege of Chaos (2020), Aesthetics and the Iconoclasm of Contemporary Art - Pictures Without a World (2021).