Thursday, 4 December 2008

Walter Benjamin & Marxism

BA Cluster lecture by Paul O'Kane

Important Philosopher/Writer 1892-1940. Jewish, Marxist, German. Most important essay - 'The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.'

Had fragmented interests and he was very interested in engaging in the world/history in a very immediate and personal way. (For example - instead of viewing Communism from afar and making unformed judgements - he went to Russia and walked around the streets to understand what it was like for the people). Active between the First and Second World Wars. Overarching questions he was dealing with - What is the Modern world? Where has it come from? and where will it lead?

His writing has influenced the artistic way of thinking. Imaginative ways to think about liberty and justice. Disrupting the immediate reality of the world (i.e. walking round Marseilles stoned!)

Obviously in the political climate in Germany between the World Wars, with the rise of Hitler, as a Jew he was occupied with the rejections of traditional religious values in Modernist society. God is dead? With this loss of direction in society, people became fearful and in this mind set they were more likely to follow a totalitarian leader.

He was also interested in Mysticism of experience - new technology of photography had been invented. Almost spiritual quality to walking around a city on your own - cities can be an intoxication. Allowing non rational forces, chance, surrealism. Only way to live our life through the artistic experience?
Admired Dada and Surrealism. Feared Fascism formed synthesis of Jewish religion and Marxist promise, Neo-Marxism. Just future through Modernity.

Underpinning his theory was the fact that the world is never exactly what you thought it would be, you have to be a child and re-learn through direct imperial experience.

Frankfurt School - beginning of the term Critical Theory, New Left, Max Weber

Cultural Studies - method of approaching imaginative critique - responsibility to history - where are we heading by looking at everyday life.

Under the influences of Photography, Film, Mass Production art has undergone a transformation of values - new paradigm. Art used to be purely for religious reasons, to serve god, esoteric (Esoteric knowledge, in the dictionary (non-scholarly) sense, is thus that which is available only to a narrow circle of "enlightened", "initiated", or specially educated people) role, elitist, aesthetic, beauty, the senses.

Now, art has a political value in the 20th C. Dada - anti-aesthetic - maximum political value. Duchamp - Beauty is dead. Photography has enabled the masses to share in art, whereas in the past only the privileged few could see the paintings, now through books and reproductions everyone can see say Sunflowers by Van Gogh. (Ways of Seeing - John Berger).

Now critical thinkers like Nicholas Bourriard are fashionable, that there are no aesethetics, art is to bring people together in galleries - one of the last places where strangers talk to each other to discuss the work? Interestingly went to Seizure room at E&C day after this talk and its true - had a big discussion with about eight people during looking round which would never happen in London normally!)
Paul even arguing that there is a complete reversal with art becoming completely political and politics having aesethetic values (for example Nazism - look at the films of political rallies with the uniforms and flags).

Coming back to Walter Benjamin - of course, Nazism is a complete antithesis of Benjamin. (Alone,walking, individual discovery, intoxication, letting go).

He became a fugitive in the 30s. A very shy, unassuming man. Went to Paris - Arcades Project. Surreal wanderings - important that kept as fragments - didn't try to pull it together. Exploring the avenues of possibility in everyday things - open your imaginative eyes.

1940 - so sad, refused entry to Spain so committed suicide at the border and then the following day they were going to let him through.

His popularity now is because of his antithesis to Nazism - philosophy of artists - individualism - an accomodation of the volidatity of Modernity.

Contemporary artists influenced by him? Jeff Wall, Warhol (possibly from mech. essay), Katerina Fritch. READ THIS ABOUT HER WORK AGAIN - ELEMENTS FROM DREAMS.

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