Argumentative essay assignment

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Walter Benjamin argues that films change the way we perceive and think, as well as changing what counts as art. His context is primarily silent and Soviet cinema. Test his ideas in relation to a contemporary film.

This is not a research paper so no sources other than the reading attached are required.

The topic provided is broad so it needs to be narrow down to have a specific and argumentative thesis statement.

The silent and Soviet movie: eg. Man with a movie camera.

About contemporary film, you could write about Videodrome.

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BENJAMIN The work of art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility 230 PART 3 MODERNISM AND REALISM: DEBATES 231 Uncate power Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility is one of English translation by Harry Zahn, published in Illuminations (1968) as "The Work of Art the most original and influential in the history of film criticism and theory. Although the in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," has been widely circulated and cited, this fresh Benjamin's essay was first published in Germany in 1935. it highlighted a trend through the translation of the essay's second version offers new insights into Benjamin's thought. When 1920s and 1930s (especially in Europe) to recognize and understand the movies, not just as ful political and ideological values. In the essay, Benjamin argues that cinema has the tech entertainment, but also as cultural experiences that shape society and communicate nological ability to transform traditional art forms, such as paintings hanging on a mus wall, by overcoming the aesthetic distances that isolate art from the real world. Breaking has remained an important touchstone for contemporary critics such as John Berger (p. 114) down art's "aura, film could instead offer audiences a more immediate engagemen their everyday realities. Due to its emphasis on ideology and audience dynamics, this essay 325) who are similarly concerned with spectators and cultural values future. What could be expected, it emerged, was not only an increasingly harsh ex- make it possible for capitalism to abolish itself. ploitation of the proletariat but ultimately, the creation of conditions which would Since the transformation of the superstructure proceeds far more slowly than that of the base, it has taken more than half a century for the change in the conditions of production to be manifested in all areas of culture. How this ces has affected culture can only now be assessed, and these assessments and certain prog nostic requirements. They do not, however, call for theses on the art the proletariat after its seizure of power and still less for any on the art of the classes society. They call for theses defining the tendencies of the development of art under the present conditions of production. The dialectic of these conditions of production is evident in the superstructure, no less than in the economy. Theses defining the develop mental tendencies of art can therefore contribute to the political struggle in ways that it would be a mistake to underestimate. They neutralize a number of traditional a museum with and Miriam Hasen concepts—such as creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery-which, used in an uncontrolled way (and controlling them is difficult today), allow factual material to be manipulated in the interests of fascism. In what follows, the concepts which are introduced into the theory of art differ from those now current in that they are com- pletely useless for the purposes of fascism. On the other hand, they are useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art (Kunstpolitik). READING CUES & KEY CONCEPTS How does technological reproducibility make, according to Benjamin, concepts such as "authenticity." "originality," and "aura" potentially obsolete? pation; film spectators effectively become "critics" who "test" reality through the mos According to Benjamin, film's unique technological qualities demand audience partici: ies. Consider how this testing of reality might give film a revolutionary potential. Toward the end of the essay, Benjamin offers a suggestive but elusive summary of his new film audience: "Reception in distraction ... finds in film its true training ground." In light of what you have read, how do you understand this phrase? Key Concepts: Aura; Exhibition Value/Cult Value; Film Reception; Technological Reproducibility: Optical Unconscious; Distraction The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility (Second Version) II In principle, the work of art has always been reproducible.Objects made by humans could always be copied by humans. Replicas were made by pupils in practicing for their craft, by masters in disseminating their works, and, finally, by third parties in pursuit of profit. But the technological reproduction of artworks is something new. Having appeared intermittently in history, at widely spaced intervals, it is now being adopted with ever-increasing intensity. Graphic art was first made technologically reproducible by the woodcut, long before written language became reproducible by movable type. The enormous changes brought about in literature by movable type, the technological reproduction of writing, are well known. But they are only a special case, though an important one of the phenomenon considered here from the perspective of world history. In the course of the Middle Ages the woodcut was supplemented by engraving and etching, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century by lithography. Lithography marked a fundamentally new stage in the technology of reproduc- tion. This much more direct process-distinguished by the fact that the drawing is traced on a stone, rather than incised on a block of wood or etched on a plate-first made it possible for graphic art to market its products not only in large numbers, as previously, but in daily changing variations. Lithography enabled graphic art to provide an illustrated accompaniment to everyday life. It began to keep pace with movable-type printing. But only a few decades after the invention of lithography, graphic art was surpassed by photography. For the first time, photogra- phy freed the hand from the most important artistic tasks in the process of pictorial reproduction-tasks that now devolved upon the eye alone. And since the eye per- ceives more swiftly than the hand can draw, the process of pictorial reproduction a copper The true is what he can; the false is what he wants. Madame de Duras I When Marx undertook his analysis of the capitalist mode of production, that mode was in its infancy. Marx adopted an approach which gave his investigations prog sented them in a way which showed what could be expected of capitalism in the nostic value. Going back to the basic conditions of capitalist production, he pree 232 PART 3 MODERNISM ANDR was enormously accelerated, so that it could now keep pace with speech. Just as the latent in photography. The technological reproduction of sound was tackled at the illustrated newspaper virtually lay hidden within lithography, so the sound film was end of the last century. Around 1900. technological reproduction not only had reached a standard that permitted it to reproduce all known works of art, profoundly modify- ing their effect, but it also had captured a place of its own among the artistic processes. manifestations--the reproduction of artworks and the art of film-are having on art BENJAMIN The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility 233 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 artis the latter's aura. This process is symptomatic; its significance extends far beyond the realm of art. 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 two processes lead to a massive upheaval in the domain of objects handed down from the past-a shattering of tradition which is the reverse side of the mass movements of our day. Their most powerful agent is film. The social significance of film, even-and especially--in its most positive form, is inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic side: the liquidation of the value of tradition in the cultural heri- tage. This phenomenon is most apparent in the great historical films. It is assimilating ever more advanced positions in its spread. When Abel Gance fervently proclaimed in 1927, “Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Beethoven will make films. . . . All legends, all their celluloid resurrection, and the heroes are pressing at the gates," he was inviting the reader, no doubt unawares, to witness a comprehensive liquidation. IV III In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art-its unique existence in a particular place. It is this unique existence and nothing else--that bears the mark of the history to which the work has been subject. This history includes changes to the physical structure of the work over time, together with any changes in ownership. Traces of the former can be detected only by chemical or physical analyses (which cannot be performed on a reproduc- tion), while changes of ownership are part of a tradition which can be traced only from the standpoint of the original in its present location. The here and now of the original underlies the concept of its authenticity, and on the latter in turn is founded the idea of a tradition which has passed the object down as the same, identical thing to the present day. The whole sphere of authen- ticity eludes technological—and of course not only technological—reproduction. But whereas the authentic work retains its full authority in the face of a reproduction made by hand, which it generally brands a forgery, this is not the case with tech- nological reproduction. The reason is twofold. First, technological reproduction is more independent of the original than is manual reproduction. For example, in photography it can bring out aspects of the original that are accessible only to the lens (which is adjustable and can easily change viewpoint) but not to the human eye; or it can use certain processes, such as enlargement or slow motion, to record images which escape natural optics altogether. This is the first reason. Second, technological reproduction can place the copy of the original in situations which the original itself cannot attain. Above all, it enables the original to meet the re- cipient halfway, whether in the form of a photograph or in that of a gramophone record. The cathedral leaves its site to be received in the studio of an art lover; the choral work performed in an auditorium or in the open air is enjoyed in a private room. Just as the entire mode of existence of human collectives changes over long historical periods, so too does their mode of perception. The way in which human perception s organized—the medium in which it occurs—is conditioned not only by nature but by history. The era of the migration of peoples, an era which saw the rise of the late-Roman art industry and the Vienna Genesis, developed not only an art different from that of antiquity but also a different perception. The scholars of the Viennese school Riegl and Wickhoff, resisting the weight of the classical tradition beneath which this art had been buried, were the first to think of using such art to draw conclusions about the organization of perception at the time the art was produced. However far-reaching their insight, it was limited by the fact that these scholars were content to highlight the formal signature which characterized perception in late-Roman times. They did not attempt to show the social upheavals manifested in these changes in perception-and perhaps could not have hoped to do so at that time. Today, the conditions for an analogous insight are more favorable. And if changes in the medium of present-day perception can be understood as a decay of the aura, it is possible to demonstrate the social determinants of that decay. What, then, is the aura? A strange tissue of space and time: the unique appari- tion 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. In the light of this description, we can readily grasp the social basis of the aura's pres- ent 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 These changed circumstances may leave the artwork's other properties un- touched, but they certainly devalue the here and now of the artwork. And although this can apply not only to art but (say) to a landscape moving past the spectator in a film, in the work of art this process touches on a highly sensitive core, more vulner- able than that of any natural object. That core is its authenticity. 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 histori- cal 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 The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility 235 234 PART3 MODERNISM AND REALISM: DEBATES IN CLA VI for overcoming each things uniqueness (Oberwindung des Einmaligen jeder Gege- the present-day masses to get closer to things and their equally passionate concern benheit] by assimilaring it as a reproduction. Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at close range in an image (Bild), or, better, in a facsimile (Ab. bild), a reproduction. And the reproduction Reproduktion), as offered by illustrated magazines and newsreels, differs unmistakably from the image. Uniqueness and the aura, is the signature of a perception whose "sense for all that is the same in ability in the former. The stripping of the veil from the object, the destruction of permanence are as closely entwined in the latter as are transitoriness and repeat the world has so increased that, by means of reproduction, it extracts sameness even from what is unique. Thus is manifested in the field of perception what in the theoretical sphere is noticeable in the increasing significance of statistics. The alignment of reality with the masses and of the masses with reality is a process of immeasurable importance for both thinking and perception. V The uniqueness of the work of art is identical to its embeddedness in the context of tradition. Of course, this tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely change- able. An ancient statue of Venus, for instance, existed in a traditional context for the Greeks (who made it an object of worship) that was different from the context in which it existed for medieval clerics (who viewed it as a sinister idol). But what was equally evident to both was its uniqueness--that is, its aura. Originally, the embeddedness of an artwork in the context of tradition found expression in a cult. As we know, the earli est artworks originated in the service of rituals--first magical, then religious. And it is highly significant that the artwork's auratic mode of existence is never entirely severed from its ritual function. In other words, the unique value of the "authentic" work of art always has its basis in ritual. This ritualistic basis, however mediated it may be, is still recognizable as secularized ritual in even the most profane forms of the cult of beauty. The secular worship of beauty, which developed during the Renaissance and prevailed for three centuries, clearly displayed that ritualistic basis in its subsequent decline and in the first severe crisis which befell it. For when, with the advent of the first truly revo- lutionary means of reproduction (namely photography, which emerged at the same time as socialism), art felt the approach of that crisis which a century later has become unmistakable, it reacted with the doctrine of l'art pour l'art-that is, with a theology of art. This in turn gave rise to a negative theology, in the form of an idea of "pure" art, which rejects not only any social function but any definition in terms of a representa- tional content. (In poetry, Mallarmé was the first to adopt this standpoint.) No investigation of the work of art in the age of its technological reproducibil- ity can overlook these connections. They lead to a crucial 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 repro- duced 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. Art history might be seen as the working out of a tension between two polarities within the artwork itself, its course being determined by shifts in the balance between the two. These two poles are the artwork's cult value and its exhibition value. Artistic production begins with figures in the service of magic. What is im- portant for these figures is that they are present, not that they are seen. The elk de picted by Stone Age man on the walls of his cave an instrument of magic, and is exhibited to others only coincidentally; what matters is that the spirits see it. Cult value as such even tends to keep the artwork out of sight: certain statues of gods are accessible only to the priest in the cella: certain images of the Madonna remain covered nearly all year round; certain sculptures on medieval cathedrals are not visible to the viewer at ground level. With the emancipation of specific artistic prac- vices from the service of ritual, the opportunities for exhibiting their products increase It is easier to exhibit a portrait bust that can be sent here and there than to exhibit the statue of a divinity that has a fixed place in the interior of a temple. A panel painting can be exhibited more easily than the mosaic or fresco which preceded it. And although a mass may have been no less suited to public presentation than a symphony, the symphony came into being at a time when the possibility of such presentation promised to be greater. The scope for exhibiting the work of art has increased so enormously with the various methods of technologically reproducing it that, as happened in prehistoric times, a quan- titative shift between the two poles of the artwork has led to a qualitative transformation in its nature. Just as the work of art in prehistoric times, through the exclusive emphasis placed on its cult value, became first and foremost an instrument of magic which only later came to be recognized as a work of art, so today, through the exclusive emphasis placed on its exhibition value, the work of art becomes a construct (Gebilde) with quite new functions. Among these, the one we are conscious of-the artistic function- may subsequently be seen as incidental. This much is certain: today, film is the most serviceable vehicle of this new understanding. Certain, as well, is the fact that the historical moment of this change in the function of art-a change which is most fully evident in the case of film--allows a direct comparison with the primeval era of art not only from a methodological but also from a material point of view. Prehistoric art made use of certain fixed notations in the service of magical practice. In some cases, these notations probably comprised the actual performing of magical acts (the carving of an ancestral figure is itself such an act); in others, they gave instructions for such procedures (the ancestral figure demonstrates a ritual posture); and in still others, they provided objects for magical contempla- tion (contemplation of an ancestral figure strengthens the occult powers of the beholder). The subjects for these notations were humans and their environment, which were depicted according to the requirements of a society whose technology existed only in fusion with ritual. Compared to that of the machine age, of course, this technology was undeveloped. But from a dialectical standpoint, the disparity is unimportant. What matters is the way the orientation and aims of that technology differ from those of ours. Whereas the former made the maximum possible use of human beings, the latter reduces their use to the minimum. The achievements of the first technology might be said to culminate in human sacrifice; those of the Instead of being founded on ritual, it is based on a different practice: politics.
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Films
Art has always been a powerful tool for communication and expression among world
cultures. From the Neanderthal period, humans painted in the caves to communicate various
details that pertained to daily life. What is perceived as art has changed in society due to
technological advancements. Over time, the culture of production has evolved and made
more efficient with technology. Production has not only improved with commodities but also
changed the artwork. One of the effects of technology is mass production, that is, high levels
of production are attained to meet the high societal demand. Such production has a significant
impact on the photography and film industry. The industry, which has its origin in the arts
that began as simple cave paintings and cu...


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