Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, and Technology

I am at the library (open 24 hours, much to my liking) finishing up a paper on montage in German Expressionist film and Walter Benjamin's essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction for my German Cinema class.

In the piece Benjamin argues that technology redefined art:

"The nineteenth-century dispute as to the artistic value of painting versus photography today seems devious and confused. This does not diminish its importance, however; if anything, it underlines it. The dispute was in fact the symptom of a historical transformation the universal impact of which was not realized by either of the rivals. When the age of mechanical reproduction separated art from its basis in cult, the semblance of its autonomy disappeared forever. The resulting change in the function of art transcended the perspective of the century; for a long time it even escaped that of the twentieth century, which experienced the development of the film.

Earlier much futile thought had been devoted to the question of whether photography is an art. The primary question—whether the very invention of photography had not transformed the entire nature of art—was not raised. Soon the film theoreticians asked the same ill-considered question with regard to the film. But the difficulties which photography caused traditional aesthetics were mere child’s play as compared to those raised by the film."

Discussing this section in my paper, I couldn't help thinking of a Marshall McLuhan quote that Rick Seifert, one of my Journalism teachers at PCC, often repeated: "the medium is the message."

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