In this essay Walter Benjamin presents a critique about a type of alienation caused by progressive forces of modernity and industrial systems during the rise of Fascism and Nazi rule in 1930s Europe. There was tension surrounding his life at all levels, so several factors were influential for this writing, such as political dynamics, personal struggles, and choosing to engage with propositions and arguments during a time of historical significance. With his theories of Art, Benjamin offers an account of how Capitalism and conventional material practices can shape particular modes of consciousness, as well as providing an analysis of alienation using ideals similar to those of Marxism; in the process, revealing possibilities of Post-Marxist aesthetics and a better understanding about the revolutionary politics of Art itself.
From the beginning of his essay Benjamin brings up the concept of how art can mirror history and contemporary social developments, of how time and art progress and we also develop intellect and better modes of perception to analyze oncoming changes. By stressing the interrelations between Art and advancing technological resources, he reveals to his political audience the premise that revolutionary demands can be made with a better understanding and suitable practice of the politics within Art. With his style of writing and choice of which issues to dwell further into, Benjamin also addresses personal conflicts with his protégé, who also happened to be his editor at the time. However, much of his work was only meant to emphasize how materially different peoples’ modes of consciousness could become as a result of interaction with the complexities of modern industrial networks.
Most interesting of all was Benjamin’s approach to this critique of alienation introducing concepts of an anti-fetishized commodity, which diverges from Marxist format somewhat, but also similar principles. By using the notion of the “aura,” as well as referring to the emergence of photography and film as sources of mechanical reproduction causing the alienation, I think made Benjamin’s arguments stronger. This essay grew in significance for me because of the politics of arts involved, and I have friends and family who are involved with music and creating pieces of artwork. I detect the feeling of authenticity when they finish a recording, a painting, or new sketches of fresh product designs. That I take it might be a type of the auratic feeling Benjamin was proposing, the ability to create something from free will and one’s own expertise, then to appreciate it in its beauty at that precise moment. I noticed the affect produced does stimulate certain areas of the consciousness, inducing a unique experience and a slight change in outlook as well.
On the other hand, I also realize the feelings of alienation, or other changes caused in artists’ perspectives when their work is intended for reproduction in the multitudes. Interaction with the processes of filming and media was also a major case study for Benjamin, recognizing shifts in peoples’ perceptions, sense of place, time, and other basic areas of consciousness. Due to mass communication, the influence and impression that the art piece conveyed in its sole presence, becomes diminished in some standards, but also more tremendous in others. The piece of art is no longer isolated, but can now be seen by an entire population through various media sources. This may seem to deplete its uniqueness, but it can now be used to shape a message, one that can be presented before the public instead of just a select few; for example, a political reference advocating revolution.
This essay produced by Benjamin contained some really complex dynamics, considering all the hardships and turmoil surrounding his personal life and social surroundings during that time. What I found consistent was his criticism against technology, and the belief in Art’s ability to liberalize our consciousness, rather than suffering the same bland characteristics we develop from certain modes of sociality. This is still expectant among our society today, with Capitalism and mechanical reproduction as efficient as ever. Others might see it differently, but I think this essay helps establish an awareness of transformations that industrial systems can still cause within our senses. I believe that awareness is vital to living a meaningful and individualistic existence, instead of just going along with the system.