Monday, October 22, 2012

Art in the Age of Technological Reproduction

"That is why nature is loved by all those people who go out in search of secret things much as the gypsies go stealing- poets and musicians and good-for-nothings, but also those who wrestle with the ultimate and most secret truths with the wakeful courage of bold ideas; they all loved nature, Goethe and Holderlin, Schubert and Mahler, Eichendorff and Nietzsche and Maupassant; all these dissimilar human beings lost themselves in order to find themselves, they found their souls, they were raised to their homelands" T.W Adorno 
Walter Benjamin's Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, envisaged a society that he believed was coming into being in the early 20th century where the reproductions of the great artworks of the past would be manufactured by the "Art's Industry" and made available to all, ushering in a second golden age for humanity. In this version of 20th century modernity, Art was meant to fully come into being, it would essentially represent a form of communal second nature for all members of society. However this never happened and today Art has largely become irrelevant to most people either through the static historical ossification process of simply "looking" at them without any historical imaginative reference, without feeling the potent understanding of their a-historical Dasein. Here we essentially loose their sense of relevance by not being with them when we observe them with our senses, in a gallery, upon the street or through the page.

The second sense of loss regarding Art's disappearance from the modern world has been the way in which it has been rectified and made pure and tame by the telos of modern technology- Which has far transcended the hoped for, but ultimately failed second nature of Art, by producing a realm of pure unmediated objects- the third nature- that does not need any Dasein in order to be- and this is the crucial difference between the second and the third natures. In addition, the third technological creation is even more removed from the Natural realm where great Artworks with all their imperfections hoped to lead mankind back towards, as under the sign of pure Techne, man is even more alienated from the Natural world, with the exception that the cunning of this third creation makes people think they belong to a community by being connected to its realm by pure object relationships-. The whole concept behind the Internet, Facebook, Reality TV programmes is to relate objects-to-objects- to form a relationship between objects that historically would have no natural relationship with each other- after a while these relationships feel unsatisfying due to the fact that there was never any sense of Dasein in the first place. The evil genius of this system is that it feeds into the whole cult of mass consumption- which allows a person to move without any commitment onto the next person or relationship like it was just another object- which essentially it is under this system, and so by the naturally in-built boredom of any object (due to its lack of dimensions) the whole dysfunctional system, built by design, keeps rolling along without check.

Heidegger noted much of this in what seems by our standards to be almost quaint, his concerns (Hydroelectric Power Stations!) in his famous "Letter on Humanism" written after the war, although he could not have imagined how much technology has become not just a great physical force to rival that of nature herself, but also now its become an insurmountable force in the mental lives of perhaps 70% of the Earth's population. And, yet we don't know what the actual outcome of all this will be? Like Heidegger's Dasein, Benjamin's famous aura too has departed from us the more we immerse ourselves into the system of pure objects, and so our true homeland along with the natural beauty of the Earth recedes off into the distant past or future once more.