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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Walter Benjamin: Theory of Distraction


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File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13061, Faschingsgesellschaft.jpg

Faschingsgesellschaft

Menschen im Kostüm beim Straßenkarneval

Faschingszeit ! Heimkehr eines lustigen Pierrots mit hübschen Masken vom Maskenball.

photographer unknown, February 1932 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)



Theory of distraction




File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13073, St. Moritz, Curlingspiel.jpg

St. Moritz, Curlingspiel

Das Curlingspiel, ein beliebter Wintersport auf den Eisflächen des Hochgebirges !
Wintersportler beim Curlingspiel, auch Eis-Schlitteln genannt, auf dem Eis in St. Moritz.

photographer unknown, February 1932 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)



Theory of distraction

Attempt to determine the effect of the work of art once its power of consecration has been eliminated

Parasitic existence of art as based on the sacred





File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13063, Berlin, Kinder beim Ballett.jpg

Berlin, Kinder beim Ballett

Kleine Ballettratten ! Eine reizende Aufnahme angehender Prima Ballerinas in einem Berliner Tanzinstitut.

photographer unknown, February 1932 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)



Theory of distraction

In its concern with educational value [Lehrwert], "The Author as Producer" disregards consumer value [Konsummerwert]

It is in film that the work of art is most susceptible to becoming worn out





File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13120, Berlin, Sechs-Tage-Rennen, Start.jpg

Berlin, Sechs-Tage-Rennen, Start

Der Start zum 27. Berliner Sechstagerennen !
Blick in den Sportpalast kurz vor dem Start.

photographer unknown, February 1932 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)




Theory of distraction

Fashion is an indispensable factor in the acceleration of the process of becoming worn out

The values of distraction should be defined with regard to film, just as the values of catharsis are defined with regard to tragedy






File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13096, Berlin, Hundeschau.jpg

Berlin, Hundeschau

Dame, Kind und Hund, eine Schau der schönsten Luxushunde zugunsten der Winterhilfe im Berliner Zoo ! Preisgekrönte Luxushunde nach der Prämiierung.

photographer unknown, February 1932 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)




Theory of distraction

Distraction, like catharsis, should be conceived as a physiological phenomenon

Distraction and destruction [word conjectured] as the subjective and objective sides, respectively, of one and the same process





File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13205, Miami, Strand-Domino.jpg

Miami, Strand-Domino

Der Strand ohne Sorgen !
Amerikanische Girls vergnügen sich am Strande Miamis beim Dominospiel.

photographer unknown, March 1932 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)




Theory of distraction

The relation of distraction to absorption must be examined

The survival of artworks should be represented from the standpoint of their struggle for existence





File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13205A, Leipzig, Frühjahrsmesse, Werbung.jpg

Leipzig, Frühjahrsmesse, Werbung

Die Eröffnung der Leipziger Frühjahrsmesse !
Trotz schwerer wirtschaftlicher Depression begann die Leipziger Frühjahrsmesse mit einem guten Auftakt für Käufer und Verkäufer aus allen Herren Länder.
China auf der Leipziger Messe. Ein als Chinamann gekleideter macht Propaganda für ein Kinder-Kleinauto in den Strassen Leipzigs.

photographer unknown, March 1932 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)




Theory of distraction

Their true humanity consists in their unlimited adaptability

The criterion for judging the fruitfulness of their effect is the communicability of this effect





File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13206A, Leipzig, Frühjahrsmesse, Werbung.jpg

Leipzig, Frühjahrsmesse, Werbung

Die Eröffnung der Leipziger Frühjahrsmesse !
Trotz schwerer wirtschaftlicher Depression begann die Leipziger Frühjahrsmesse mit einem guten Auftakt für Käufer und Verkäufer aus allen Herren Länder.
Originelle Reklamefiguren im Messezug der Peterstrasse in Leipzig.

photographer unknown, March 1932 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)


Theory of distraction

The educational value and the consumer value of art may converge in certain optimal cases (as in Brecht), but they don't generally coincide

The Greeks had only one form of mechanical reproduction: minting coins





File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13125, Berlin, Rettungswagen der Feuerwehr.jpg

Berlin, Rettungswagen der Feuerwehr

Kein Gespensterauto, sondern....?
....ein Schnell-Rettungswagen der Berliner Feuerwehr bei einer Uebung, um Verunglückte aus Rauch-oder Gasgefahr zu retten.

photographer unknown, February 1932 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)



Theory of distraction

They could not reproduce their art works, so these had to be lasting. Hence: eternal art

Just as the art of the Greeks was geared toward lasting, so the art of the present is geared toward becoming worn out





File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13197, Berlin-Spandau, 700 Jahrfeier.jpg

Berlin-Spandau, 700 Jahrfeier

700 Jahrfeier der Stadt Spandau !
Am 6. März 1932 feierte die Stadt Spandau ihr 700 jähriges Bestehen. Vor dem Rathaus in Spandau fand der Vorbeimarsch der Reichswehr vor den Stadtoberhäupten statt.
Parademarsch der Reichswehr vor dem Oberbürgermeister der Stadt Spandau Dr. Stritte.

photographer unknown, 6 March 1932 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)



Theory of distraction

This may happen in two different ways: through consignment of the art-work to fashion or through the work's refunctioning in politics

Reproducibility -- distraction -- politicization




File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13036, Shanghai, Drahtsperren um Europäerviertel.jpg

Shanghai, Drahtsperren um Europäerviertel

"Die Kritische Lage in Changhai !
Drahtverhaue an der Grenze des Europäerviertels in Changhai zur Sicherung gegen Aufstände."

photographer unknown, c. 1932 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)




Theory of distraction

Educational value and consumer value converge, thus making possible a new kind of learning

Art comes into contact with the commodity; the commodity comes into contact with art





http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/73/Bertolt-Brecht.jpg

Bertolt Brecht: photo by Jörg Kolbe, 1954 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)


Walter Benjamin (1882-1940): Theory of Distraction, fragment, c. 1935-1936; unpublished in Benjamin's lifetime; translated by Howard Eiland in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings: Volume 3, 1935-1938 (2002)

5 comments:

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Just as the art of the Greeks was geared toward lasting, so the art of the present is geared toward becoming worn out
. . . .

Reproducibility -- distraction -- politicization

(more food for thought, thanks. . . .)

curtisroberts said...

It's difficult to know where to start (or end), so I would just like to say that I think this is very fine. The combination of words, images and subtle colors triggers in my mind and imagination a feeling similar to the one I had a long time ago when I first read the notes and saw the images contained in the Green Box. It wrestles (gracefully, honestly and purposively) with basic, important things. I think this particular human animal has been searching for a theory of distraction for some time.

TC said...

Curtis,

One gets the feeling from these notes that Benjamin, caught up in his admiration for Brecht as the herald ("the optimal case") of a utopian condition of "Author as Producer", fabricating mechanically repoducible works to educate the proletariat, has some difficulty overcoming his own incompletely disguised hesitation about the new dawn even as he salutes it.

Ahead and never to be known to him lay vistas of distraction untold.

Robb said...

"This may happen in two different ways: through consignment of the art-work to fashion or through the work's refunctioning in politics

"Reproducibility -- distraction -- politicization"

Am I wrong to think of Shepard Fairey?

"subston"

TC said...

Robb, Something tells me that while the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction was Walter Benjamin's brainchild, if he were dropped back aboard the planet tomorrow, he might, once he got over the shock and once his head stopped spinning around in circles like that of Linda Blair in the Exorcist, have wondered whether he had created a monster.

Absolutely, Obey the Giant is infinitely reproducible.

Now even Charles Darwin Has a Posse.