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On Walter Benjamin’s Reinterpretation of the Auratic Art

Author ShangGuanYan
Tutor GuoJun
School Central China Normal University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Walter Benjamin The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction the auratic art the art of mechanical reproduction
Type Master's thesis
Year 2004
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Walter Benjamin was a German-Jewish philosopher and literary critic. He remained virtually a nonentity in the field of German letters until a two-volume selection of his works Schriften appeared long after his death in 1940. He is now generally recognized as one of the most original and influential thinkers of the last century. The unorthodox character of his intellectual Odyssey has inspired a wealth of interpretations and critical studies.The Chinese scholars’ studies of Benjamin’s theory, though started only recently, are also beginning to attract attention. My dissertation here intends to be one of the many voices in this critical chorus. It takes as its object of study one of Benjamin’s most famous essays The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and concerns itself chiefly with some original and illuminating ideas in the essay, especially Benjamin’s reinterpretation of the auratic art in the age of mechanical reproduction.The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is the one that receives the earliest critical acclaim in China. But upon reviewing the interpretations and criticisms on this essay in China, I find that there is no attempt to understand the revolutionary side of the essay in terms of Walter Benjamin’s messianic complex which, in my opinion, is a crucial element to understand his obscure thought. When the famous critic Jurgen Habermas classifies Benjamin’s criticism as the "rescuing critique", he refers not only to his critical method but also his ultimate concern, namely, his Utopian longing for the reestablishment of the messianic kingdom in the profane world. So according to Habermas, Benjamin explores the revolutionary force of the mechanical reproduction in his essay and makes use of historical materialism to prove the necessity of messianic redemption. Therefore in our academic study of the essay, this essential point should not be neglected. Otherwise a gap would be left between his elaboration of art and theintention of this complicated elaboration. This dissertation just tries to fill in the gap by invoking his ultimate concern as a final answer.In the critical study of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin’s Jewish messianism and Marxism are generally treated by Chinese critics as two conflicting forces co-existing within his philosophical system. This dissertation is going to investigate these two forces at two levels. In other words, I hold that his messianic thought should be viewed at a high level of his philosophy while his Marxism should be viewed as a secular means to realize the former in the profane world at a low level. From this perspective, the dissertation attempts to reevaluate the essay which is generally accepted as the product of the influence of Marxism.It is true that Benjamin’s aesthetic thought is deeply influenced by bis views on tradition. As such, this dissertation explores Benjamin’s views on tradition for a start. Both Jewish theology and German romantic anti-capitalism seem to me exert a profound influence on his views on tradition. The influence of the former can be felt in Benjamin’s idea of Messiah which makes him believe that he is endowed with a messianic power and with a sacred mission to reestablish the messianic kingdom in the profane world; the influence of the later lies in his nostalgia for bygone epochs. As a result, the fusion of Messiah with a complex of nostalgia has decided the characteristic of Benjamin’s views on tradition: the redemption of the broken state of totality from the ruins of history. It is worth reminding that the embodiment of tradition later in the realm of art turns out to be the term "aura" which is bound up with both the aesthetic experience and the psychological experience. The true understanding of the aura could be built only in the knowledge of the previous auratic consciousness of Benjamin. The auratic consciousness in the earlier times of Benjamin’s intellectual development suggests his consciousness of the universal equality of things. In other words, Benjami

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