Art’s Absent Aura in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

“The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear; it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject….Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens itself to the naked eye—if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man….Here the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowerings and liftings, its interruptions and isolation, its extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions. The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.”

“To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura, is the mark of a perception whose “sense of the universal equality of things” has increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction.”

Although Benjamin hits on many salient points in his essay: the position of art as it relates to later stage Capitalism, the historical development of the artistic work, and the impact of mechanical reproduction on artistic endeavor, it’s his notion of the aura of a work of art that I found most problematic. This essay is through and through a work of political writing. The aesthetic concerns provide a forceful context. However, I found Benjamin’s argument disjointed, and often times inconsistent.

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