Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at
Thu Jul 27 22:52:46 MDT 1995

On Thu, 27 Jul 1995, Ralph Dumain wrote:

> >This isn't a bad place to start with Benjamin, also.  This book
> >also has the famous "work of art" essay.
> "... in the age of mechanical reproduction".  I didn't get
> anything out of this.  What am I missing?

That's the one, and I don't know.  I think it's a fascinating essay, for
reasons it'd be hard merely to note: but for starters, an interesting
view of technology (usually read as very positive, but not necessarily
so), and the whole question of politics, aesthetics and fascism with
which the essay ends.  There has been so much commentary on this single
piece it's hard to underestimate its importance, especially for film
theorists, concerned as they are generally with modernity, mass media and
technological modernization.  Michael Taussig's _Mimesis and Alterity_
has an interestingly wacky interpretation of this essay.

> A number of people I respect are raving about Benjamin.  I'm led
> to believe he's the best of his cohort.   So what is his secret?

Cynically, I'd say because he died young(ish) in the face of fascism--the
same reasons that make Gramsci something of a left cultural studies
intellectual hero.  I'm scarcely well up on him, but by the sounds of it
his "Arcades" project (re-created in a book by Buck-Morss, _The
Dialectics of Seeing_ I think) and his stuff on Baudelaire are very
worthwhile.  The frankfurt school (of which he's usually, if perhaps
inaccurately, counted a member) were among the first to be interested in
question of culture in a period of modernization, and also have a
sufficient distance from the Soviet project that they still appear to be
relatively "respectable."

_Aesthetics and Politics_, a NLB (now Verso) book with an afterword by
Jameson, and extracts from Brecht, Adorno, Benjamin and Lukacs, is also
well worthwhile.

But others are surely better informed that I.

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at

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