walter benjamin

Modern antiques and artificial eternity


“The atrophy of individual culture through the hypertrophy of objective culture is one reason for the bitter hatred which the preachers of the most extreme individualism, above all Nietzsche, harbor against the metropolis.” Simmel

Charles Baudelaire by Frantisek KupkaBaudelaire casts the city and the modern as a kind of paradox. History is the transitory stretched out in eternity. The modern or contemporary consists of the most ephemeral aspect of the wastage of time’s passing. To be a great modern artist is to capture this excess as though it were eternal rather than to trap it within the cliches of the Historical or Classical. To be modern is to live within the specific gaits and gestures of one’s time, that is, to prepare to be an antique. The painter “makes it his business to extract from fashion whatever element it may contain of poetry within history, to distill the eternal from the transitory.” But the modern individual is no more than an animated antique. Their external life is all artifice, but this is the very material that constitutes them and which the artist captures (an artist only captures artifice and this is the ‘truth’ or the ‘soul’ of the matter). And from this matter Baudelaire spins more paradoxes: the nobility proper to artifice; the savagery found in civilization; the evil devoid of any spirituality. And each member of this trinity finds itself diagrammed out upon the body of the city and its inhabitants with their “emaciated flesh of consumption or the rounded contours of obesity, that hideous health of the slothful.” (more…)


Walter Benjamin sells magic beans

soft-construction-with-boiled-beans-premonition-of-civil-war(1)Unlike the Biblical archangel, Marxist archangels prevent man from escaping their paradises. (Nicolás Gómez Dávila)

In Walter Benjamin’s Little History of Photography, he contrasts three kinds of photography: art or creative photography, fairground ‘huckster’ photography and industrial photography. The middle form he largely abandons to set up a tidy duality. He speculates that the return of the former in the early twentieth century may be linked to a capitalist crisis (507) and equates it with ‘philistine’ (508) conceptions of art. Benjamin suggests that the philistine reacts in abject terror when technology is posed to erode their romantic conception of genius. He then recasts the photographer in the equally romantic role of the ‘overturner’ of art-fetishism who could unleash unanticipated effects. (more…)