The Generic Unmasked: Reproducibility and Profanation

Triple Ampersand 8:5 (2019)
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Walter Benjamin’s oft-quoted 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” advances the claim that, for the first time in history, the “function” of the work of art is political, as evidenced by cinema. For Benjamin, film is the “first art form whose artistic character is entirely determined by its reproducibility” and Giorgio Agamben, a contemporary Benjaminian philosopher, further elucidates this “function,” positing that cinema essentially ranks with ethics and politics, not solely with aesthetics, and, consequently, is proximate to philosophy itself. Whereas Deleuze’s Cinema books posed cinema as enacting time in a pure state, Agamben, in his “Notes on Gesture,” breaches from Deleuze’s spatial and cartographic theory of cinema, drawing on Guy Debord’s “détournement via montage,” Simone Weil’s “decreation” and, perhaps most implicitly, from Benjamin. Agamben’s political theory of cinema, motivated by cinema’s “stoppage and repetition of time,” is directly informed by Benjamin’s: “optical unconscious,” appropriation of Brecht’s “social Gestus,” and the relationship between technological reproducibility and aura. Agamben’s “gesture” fastens cinema’s aesthetics not only to ethics and politics, but to the “ontological consistency of human experience,” or to a way of being.
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Archival date: 2019-08-23
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