Benjamin’s Legacy

Earlier this semester I was invited by the folks at mediacommons.org to contribute a short piece to their Field Guide section. The prompt was “Where can we locate Walter Benjamin’s legacy in the digital to post-digital landscape?” I am fascinated by Benjamin’s work, particularly his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” and in that piece establishes and dissects the notion of aura (as related to art) in really interesting ways–ways that have evolved (if not drastically transformed) in the digital realm. But rather than go that route, I revisited the piece (again and again, perpetually it seems), and kept asking myself about the fundamental dynamic at stake in his work. And I kept coming back to this notion that at its core Benjamin was articulating shifts in the human condition brought on by shifts in the human-technology relationship (specifically taking up with the camera and film). In fact, Benjamin was articulating a shift in sense perception (and even our sense ratios) some 20 years before Marshall McLuhan would mainstream the ideas, and it struck me as odd that I had never noticed these things before (despite my multiple passes through the work). And I’m thankful to D’An Ball (who contacted me for this opportunity) and Media Commons for giving me the opportunity to revisit Benjamin’s with this prompt in mind.

To read the full (short) piece, visit: http://mediacommons.org/fieldguide/content/benjamin-human-technology-relationship.

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