Sunday, May 5, 2013

Walter Benjamin on the Aestheticization of Politics

One of Walter Benjamin's most notable ides in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" is that of the aestheticization of politics. This notion is discussed by Benjamin through the concept of "aura" and its loss (see: loss of the aura). The loss of the aure, the onetimness of the work of art which establishes a certain relation to it, is described by Benjamin is a part of a material process of technological and therefore cultural change which is not restricted to art alone. Art only heralds this change which degenerates the experience of authenticity and the shift into mass consumerism of aesthetics. The new forms of art, photography and cinema, bring about a new type of collective reception. In a sense, for Benjamin, you are how you see your art, and you are something completely different when you stand in front of original art than when you are sitting in front of the TV.

Fascism and capitalism exploit this function of art to their own needs by using its logic. Through the conditions of reception formed by the aura. Capitalism uses the force of the aura to position the individual as self contained, self dependant and able (as opposed to his true social condition) while fascism uses it to completely erase the individual. Both capitalism and fascism practice what Benjamin calls aestheticization of politics.

The Marxist counteraction to the aestheticization of politics according to Benjamin should be the politicization of the aesthetic. The politicization of the aesthetic is conducted in two manners: by identifying and resisting the ways art is exploited and by identifying its revolutionary potential. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" is in itself such an attempt to politicize aesthetics. The structure of culture is, for Benjamin, the structure of society. While in fascism the art comes from the leader, Marxist art should originate from the people.

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