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  • Closing Thoughts:Benjamin to Brecht
  • Christopher Norris (bio)

Mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual . . . . From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the 'authentic' print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice–politics.

Only a thoughtless observer could deny that correspondences come into play between the world of modern technology and the archaic symbol-world of mythology.

The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.

—Walter Benjamin

Let aura fade and replication thrive!Let aura fade          now promeneurs can findNear-perfect copies in the next arcade.

Works out of sight go quickly out of mind;Works out of sight          now turn up ready-madeIn long production-runs at speed of light.

Sounds come alive with phonographic aid;Sounds come alive          as copies overwriteThe ghostly paradigms for which they strive.

Not aura-blind, the passions they excite.Not aura-blind,          but set up to deriveLarge benefits as aura lags behind. [End Page 59]

The copy-trade works best in overdrive.The copy-trade          means nothing's sealed and signed'Authentic' but all downloads make the grade.

What they invite is artwork new in kind.What they invite          is what the rear-brigadeOf aura-fanciers mobilize to fight.

'Let our archive have masterworks displayed.'Let our archive,          they say, not spread this blightOf replicas where only fakes survive.

For they've divined the depth of their new plight.For they've divined          how it may soon depriveThem of their arts and livelihoods combined.

So they're afraid when multiples arrive.So they're afraid          to see works once enshrinedIn Tate or Louvre now digitally purveyed.

The yawning height is where they'll be confined,The yawning height          that hosts the dim paradeOf works known solely to the erudite.

Why then contrive this cultural crusade?Why then contrive          false pedigrees that mightGive authenticity its old high five?

Why not rewind each archived megabyte?Why not rewind          the clip so art's nose-divePulls out to yield a flight-path more streamlined?

No plan well-laid would have them so connive.No plan well-laid [End Page 60]           has aura so entwinedWith bourgeois politics of every shade.

A sacred rite, its leopard-days assigned.A sacred rite          whose forms and customs jadeThe replica-consumer's appetite.

They twist and rive as slouching beasts invade.They twist and rive          as media trends inciteThe wrath of those who crave their culture live.

Keep that in mind if they put up a fight.Keep that in mind          when they'd seek to reviveA culture-copyright long unassigned.


Yet still I brood on aura's long decay.Yet still I brood          on cherished texts and tellMyself a tale of Kabbalah renewed.

Bert Brecht's my guide; I've learned his lessons well.Bert Brecht's my guide          when crises call for crudeApproaches or solutions cut-and-dried.

That's what he'd say: adjust your attitude.That's what he'd say:          the times are tough–untriedOr quick-fix tactics have a role to play.

No time to dwell on it; take things in stride.No time to dwell          on whether it's okayTo strike if stationed at the gates of hell.

When that's my mood I'm with him all the way.When that's my mood [End Page 61]           there's no text could compelMy mind to let those Hamlet-thoughts intrude.

It's time and tide conspire such thoughts to quell.It's time and tide          demand that we excludeAll thoughts whose action-plan's not bonafide.

Yet think how they cry out to be construed!Yet think how they,          my palimpsests, provideNo end of ways to lead the mind astray!

That's when their spell sends thinking high and wide.That's when their spell          is surest to betray...


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pp. 59-64
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