Monday, December 27, 2004

Art in the Culture of the Copy

This is the scene around the Mona Lisa by da Vinci in the Louvre, Paris. If one can get to the front row it resembled for me a mosh pit at a punk concert. Frantic characters from around the world pause for long enough to take a digital image and then are swallowed again by the flowing crowd. Like fish trying desperatly to escape their poisoned water they launched themselves upon the bank of her smile for a few seconds only to be dragged back again and swept along to the Mannerists Gallery.

It was this experience I thought of when I read:

"What withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is not the aura, the Happen-Stance, of works of art but the assurance of our own livliness. [Walter] Benjamin got it sidewise as he got the solution to the First Mover of von Kempelen's automaton chess player, whose cabinetry was occupied by no devious hunchback (of "historical materialism") but, for twenty years, by a stooped man six feet tall whose endgame was a little weak. Philosopher of the snippet, Benjamin confused misdirection with deformity. It is not that we ourselves are sudden monsterous, but that we look misguidedly to our creations to find our animation and learn our fortune. Only in the culture of the copy do we assign such motive force to the Original. What we intend by "Original" these days is that which speaks to us in an unmediated way, an experience we seem to believe we have lost between ourselves, human to human."
Hillel Schwartz The Culture of the Copy: Striking Likeness, Unreasonable Facsimiles. (1996) p141

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