Walter Benjamin and the Aesthetics of Power

By L. T. Koepnick | Go to book overview

5
MODERN ViSUAL (CULTURE
AND THE POLITICS OF PHANTASMAGORIA

The third section of Benjamin's artwork essay calls for a theoretical armature historicizing our modes of sense perception and experience. Benjamin in this passage rejects any Kantian attempt to map our ways of seeing and experiencing the world solely by means of transcendental categories. He instead proposes a perspective that deciphers how particular historical conditions shape our patterns of apprehension, experience, and representation: “During long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity's entire mode of existence. The manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well” (ill 222; gs 1:478). Human sense perception is deeply ingrained in the course of history and technological progress; its development bears testimony to groundbreaking social changes. Although Benjamin refers to Alois Riegl and Franz Wickhoff, the neoromantic art historians of the Viennese school, his insistence on the historicity of sense perception rings Marxian indeed. For Karl Marx, in his early anthropological writings, in particular his Economic &Philosophic Manuscripts (1844), had sought already to ground idealist constructions of sense perception a la Kant and Hegel in the materiality of history: “The formation [Bildung] of the five senses is a work of the entire previous world history.”1

Though insisting on the historicity of the human senses, Benjamin's artwork essay falls short of accounting for what solicits historically specific modes of perception. Central to his argument on the scopic politics of fascism, the genesis and content of what Benjamin defines as auratic art and postauratic visuality, respectively, remain obscure. The artwork essay describes the transition from auratic to postauratic visuality, from contemplative to distracted modes of seeing, in terms of a universal process of secularization, instead of following Benjamin's own program and analyzing

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Walter Benjamin and the Aesthetics of Power
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction: Fascism, Mass Culture, and the Avant-Garde 1
  • One - Benjamin and the Fascist Spectacle 27
  • Introduction to Part I 29
  • I - Baroque Drama and the Quest for Autonomous Politics 35
  • 2: Carnival Industrial Culture and the Politics of Authenticity 53
  • 3: Aesthetic Dictatorship 83
  • 4: Medusian Politics 109
  • 5: Modern Visual (Culture and the Politics of Phantasmagoria 141
  • 6: Perseus's Paradox 164
  • Two - Rethinking the Spectacle 175
  • Introduction to Part 2 177
  • 7: Fascist Aesthetics Revisited 187
  • 8: Benjamin's Actuality 213
  • Notes 239
  • Index 269
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