The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

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Transcript The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Last week’s focus:
communication as information
This week’s focus: media technology in the writings of
Walter Benjamin
Marshall McLuhan
Media as Extension
Media or “medium theory”
Examines the particular qualities of a media technology.
Considers how media technologies may bring about different forms of patterns of human
and social organization.
May also theorize how particular media technologies affect sense perception and reorganize our experience and understanding of space and time, individually and
Walter Benjamin: “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
15 July 1892 – 27 September 1940
Benjamin was a Marxist, but he was also influenced by Jewish mysticism.
Associate with a group of writers known as “The Frankfurt School
Leo Lowenthal
Max Horkheimer
Theodore Adorno
Jürgen Habermas
Early Frankfurt School members were philosophers, sociologists, psychologists
looking for ways to explain, and understand the devastation of Europe,
Fascism, the Holocaust
Walter Benjamin: “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
Preface: superstructure (art, culture, ideology) and substructure (economy) (Marx’s
German Ideology most clearly distinguishes between ideology/ economy and
modes and means of production).
Benjamin’s work on art as production clearly criticizes this “classical Marxist
1.Art has always been reproducible.
2. Brings out aspects of a work that would be invisible; extends the ‘reach’ of a
work. Also destroys the idea that a work has a unique history in time and
place, what Benjamin calls its AURA.
3. It transforms human sense perception and ‘humanity’s entire mode of existence’.
It ‘equalizes’ everything by destroying it’s distinct difference as a discrete
Walter Benjamin: “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
4. They lose their primary function within ritual.
5. Exhibition value takes over.
6. Cult value may survive, but it is a residual aspect.
MARSHALL McLUHAN. The Medium is the Message”
July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980
MARSHALL McLUHAN. The Medium is the Message”
A Canadian Communications Scholar associated with “The Toronto School”
A new scale is introduced by media that McLuhan says are extensions of our
This brings about new patterns of human association
The mechanical era fragmented the senses
The electrical age brings about their re-integration, thought McLuhan.
What does the electronic age, or digital epoch do?
MARSHALL McLUHAN. The Medium is the Message”
MARSHALL McLUHAN. The Medium is the Message”
Light is pure information: a message without any content.
The content of one media is another media
All media have a particular ‘grammar’ and this is what we must study. The change of
scale or pace that it introduces into human affairs.
The introduction of a new media technology can bring about a clash within
civilizations or between civilizations and cultures.
Different media are also associated with different values (individualism) and forms
of political organization (Nationalism; globalization)
Media (or Medium) Theory
According to Joshua Meyrowitz, “Medium theory focuses on the particular
characteristics of each individual medium or of each particular type of medium. The
evolution and history of communications media have been distinguished by different
phases of development. Innis emphasized, among other evolutions, the difference
between oral and literate cultures in the development of civilization. He also traced
the rise of modern print culture and the dramatic changes that took place with the
emergence of technological media in the 19th century. In doing so, he helped to
create a framework for understanding the emergence of "new" media, one which
continues to influence communication scholars today.”
Meyrowitz, Joshua. "Medium Theory." In Communication Theory Today. Edited by D.
Crowley and D. Mitchell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 50-57.
From the website: Old Messengers, New Media: the legacy of Innis and McLuhan