English 456: C20 Criticism and Theory

Questions on Walter Benjamin's
"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

Al Drake | Cyber Cafe | Thurs. 6-7 | 714-434-1612

1. What would B argue against the formalist method? Why wouldn't he accept the way they delineate textual "objects" and then analyze those objects?

2. According to B on 1169, how does technical reproducibility destroy the "aura" of a work of art? How, on 1170, does B explain what he means by the term "aura"?

3. Why do the masses embrace the destruction of the auratic quality of works of art? (1171)

4. What are the differences between art that is created for its cult value and art that is created or produced for its exhibition value? (1171-72) Why is B so opposed to "l'art pour l'art" (art for art's sake) or aestheticism -- what relationship between producer, receiver, and art object does this doctrine maintain?

5. On 1173-74, what does B describe as some reactionary ways of resisting the camera's potential to revolutionize people's sensibilities?

6. On 1175, what does the camera, according to B, do to the actor of a film role? What happens to the real person's "stage presence" (an auratic quality if the actor is in front of a live audience in, say, a drama) once the camera captures the performance on film?

7. How, according to B on 1177, does Hollywood hold the transformative potential of film captive to the imperatives of the profit motive? How does Hollywood create a bogus aura for the actor?

8. On 1177-78, how does capitalism "deny consideration to modern man's claim to being reproduced"?

9. On 1178, B says that Aldous Huxley's footnoted complaint about the production of literary texts is "obviously not progressive." Why -- what view of the transmission of literary culture is Huxley upholding in his complaint?

10. On 1179-80, how does B address the way in which the camera changes both the object captured and the viewers' perceptive capacity?

11. How, according to B on 1181, does film help overcome the longstanding divide between art and science or technology?

12. On 1183, why is "distraction" better than "concentration" when one is experiencing film or art more generally? How is it that the masses are able to experience art in a satisfying manner while in what B calls a state of "distraction"?

13. According to Benjamin on 1184, in what way does fascism transform politics into aesthetics? (In what sense did Hitler succeed in crafting himself and the "Folk" or People into an aesthetic object?) Why does this transformation lead inexorably to a society organized entirely around the preparation for and waging of war?

14. How, according to Benjamin on 1186, is it possible that human beings can experience war -- a profoundly self-destructive act -- as pleasurable?

15. What warning does B's analysis of the Nazis' success in exploiting film's potential hold for those who concern themselves with art? Do you think that Benjamin's Marxist claims about the revolutionary power of the movie camera as a mode of "technical reproducibility" are convincing in light of such abusive treatment by reactionary movements?

Edition: The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393974294.