BAROQUE DRAMA AND THE QUEST
FOR AUTONOMOUS POLITICS
Benjamin's artwork essay intends to unravel how fascist politics mobilizes the masses and channels desire into the mold of political spectacles. Benjamin's critique of fascism does not focus on the content, the ideological substance of fascist politics. It largely ignores the role of racism, antiSemitism, or social-Darwinism, abstaining from analyzing their polarizing and unifying functions. Instead, what is at stake in Benjamin's remarks of the 1930s about politics rendered aesthetic is a particular deformation of political communication and its effects on the production of mass loyalty. To the extent that aesthetic politics “sees its salvation in giving the masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves” (ill 241; GS 1:506), it valorizes form over content and silences the masses. Relying on modern technologies of mass communication, the fascist theatricalization of the state solicits public spaces that enable a cathartic release from everyday constraints. Although fascism employs the hardware of modernity, it proliferates archaic software. Only in so doing can it promise to undo the putatively feminizing effects of the modern differentiation of power and value; only thus can it succeed in unifying the body politic. Benjamin's commentaries on aesthetic politics debunk decadent modes of aesthetic address and exchange that do not unfold what he considers the emancipatory potential of technologically advanced mass media. According to Benjamin, it is precisely this truncation of symmetrical forms of intersubjectivity, this petrification of charismatic energies in the cast of well-organized, wellsurveyed, and mechanically reproduced mass ornaments, that empowers fascism to warrant political authority.
On the other hand, Benjamin also contends that an alternative alliance of the most advanced hardware and software in postauratic communication may potentially yield revolutionary effects. In the very form and structure of modern cinematic address and exchange, he detects a blueprint for com-