In the beginning was the copy (Eva Geulen on Walter Benjamin)
October 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Authenticity is a belated effect. In the beginning was not the original, but rather the reproduction, which makes the concept of authenticity posible in the first place. Authenticity becomes ‘authentic’ only against the background of reproducibility. That means, however, that authenticity is compromised from the start, inauthentic from the start, for its origin lies not in itself, but rather in its opposite, reproduction.
Like authenticity, the aura is essentially determined through its loss. The decline does not happen to, but rather constitutes the aura. The content and contours of the definition of the aura are determined by the fact that it appears only as it is disappearing.
However, the loss of the aura requires no further explanation, for the aura itself is the explanation. To the extent that Benjamin attempts to circumscribe history ‘in its name’, the aura is just as much the result of a shattered tradition as the act, the deed of shattering. That is why the aura is not a concept in the classical sense, but rather in the Hegelian one: act and result at once. That a concept such as the aura has at all become conceivable is thus a sign that art is no longer auratic. But the fact that Benjamin describes the history of art from the perspective of its aura, and the manner in which he describes this, gives the concept performative qualities.
Eva Geulen: “Under construction. Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’”
In Gerhard Richter (ed.): Benjamin’s ghosts. Interventions in contemporary literary and cultural theory
Stanford University Press, 2002