When was this essay written, and in what social context? What may have been some of the novel features of this essay in its time?
Why does Benjamin choose the quotation from Paul Valery to preface his essay?
What, according to Benjamin, has caused a change in the "developmental tendencies" of recent art?
What aesthetic notions does Benjamin believe need to be brushed aside? (creativity, genius, eternal values and mystery)
With what political views does he identify them, and why? (Fascism, 1167)
What effects does Benjamin hope will result from an understanding of these changes? (formulation of revolutionary demands)
Do you think his optimism was justified?
How have the processes of reproducing art works changed with time? What were the qualities and effects of mechanical print reproduction? (1168)
What was added by photography? (can keep pace with and capture speech, 1168)
How have changes in reproduction altered the relationship of art to an "original" object, and how has this changed "the authority of the object"? (the newer media reproduce objects detached from the domain of tradition; photography has enabled "the original to meet the beholder halfway," 1169)
What does Benjamin mean by "the aura" of an artwork? (sense of its irreproducibility, 1169; imbeddedness in a tradition, 1171)
What are the special features of film, according to Benjamin? (associated with mass movements, 1170)
Is Benjamin correct in his hypothesis that the introduction of films will diminish traditional forms of cultural heritage? (1170)
What relationship does a contemporary mass audience wish to have with its objects of artistic interest? (1171) What features characterize pictorial reproduction in films? (audience wishes to overcome its uniqueness through reproduction, to bring objects closer)
What was once the relationship between art, tradition and ritual? Has this changed? (1171)
What is Benjamin's judgment of the motives for the doctrine of 'l'art pour 'lart"? (1172) Its inadequacies? (it denies the threat of art's new social formation)
What does Benjamin celebrate in the new conditions for reproduction? (art freed from its parasitical dependence on ritual, 1172)
In the absence of "authenticity," on what must art be based? (practice of politics, 1172) What does he seem to mean by this?
What in his view are the different motives and audiences for art?
--may exist for a cult, or for its own sake
--may be intended for exhibition; exists to be viewed or heard
Do you think his comments on the nature of pre-20th century art are applicable to all of its forms?
Why are the images of faces the last vestige of the aura? (1173)
How does Benjamin interpret the need for captions on magazine pictures? (directives, 1173) The meaning of sequences in a film? (meaning of a picture is prescribed by the sequence of preceding ones, 1173)
What prior intepretations of the significance of film does Benjamin dislike? (belief in fairylike or marvellous qualities of film; association of film with ritual and hieroglyphics; attempt to avoid representation of the mundane, 1174-75)
What are some ways in which the use of a camera alters the nature of the reception of drama?
--camera changes position with respect to the audience (1175)
--the actor no longer presents his performance to the audience in person
--the audience identifies with the camera
--the actor is forced to perform in the absence of the aura, since the camera will reproduce his image in his absence (1176)
--the film actor's performance is no longer a unity but split and recombined by the editing process (1176)
Why does the actor feel a sense of strangeness before the camera? (one's image is transportable to the public through a market which s/he cannot control, 1176-77)
What compensates for this shrivelling of the aura/sense of the presence of self? (cult of the movie star, of the [media] personality, commodification, 1177)
In what way are films revolutionary, according to Benjamin? (films are revolutionary in their criticism of traditional concepts of art, but seldom in their content, 1177) Do you agree? If so, how can these be said to be properly "revolutionary"?
What aspects of his experience with "traditional culture" (e. g., his prior studies of Greek drama) may have prompted Benjamin to seek a new conception of culture?
What are some democratic possibilities of film? (everyone may be an expert; anyone may be filmed, 1177)
What parallel features does he trace in recent literature?
--it is easier for readers to become writers than formerly, and the distinction between author and public is elided, 1178.
What contrast does he find between European and Russian films? (he notes that Russian workers may portray themselves and their own work processes, whereas in western Europe capitalism spurs interest through illusions, 1178)
What is the relationship of the viewer to mechanical equipment in movies? (the later is expunged, "reality has become an orchid in the land of technology," 1179)
What distinguishes the painter from the cameraperson? (The painter maintains a distance from reality but the cameraperson "penetrates deeply into its web"; the result is a freedom from all equipment, 1179). [Why isn't this an illusion? Is it true that a painter maintains a distance from his/her subject and that a camera, by contrast, can penetrate its object?)]
According to Benjamin, how does the use of reproduction alter audience response to art? (The audience is more receptive to true art and social criticism and able to accept innovation and social commentary, 1180). [Do you think this is often true?]
What is meant by Benjamin's claim that painting can no longer present a collective experience, except when accessible and confronted by the massses (1180)? [What might be instances of such confrontation?]
Are there other forms of art besides painting which might serve the more democratic aims which Benjamin seeks? (alternative strand of art theory centered on crafts, decorative arts, and everyday experience)
What are some features of Benjamin's style and mode of argumentation? (use of everyday as well as learned examples and evidence, such as the rapt interest of newspaper boys in the races arranged for them)
Why, according to Benjamin, does "the same public which responds in a progressive manner toward a grotesque film . . . respond in a reactionary manner to surrealism" (1180)?
How has the film enriched our modes of perception? (can isolate elements for analysis; can see the scientific and artistic in the same images; the camera "introduces us to unconscious optics" in expanding our perception of everyday life, 1181)
According to Benjamin, art creates a demand which can only be satisfied later. What instances of this phenomenon does he give? (Dadaist [collage] art destroyed the aura by the degradation of the material presented; instead it created distraction and provoked scandal and a demand for the tactile qualities of film, hitting the spectator and disrupting contemplation by interruption and change, 1182)
Does the spectator of film absorb it or contemplate its contents? (1183) Can this be said to be a passive reception?
What special features does Benjamin claim for architecture? (Buildings are appropriated by touch and sight, 1184; compare John Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture)
How do humans learn? (through habit and tactile appropriation)
In what state of mind do people receive and criticize films? (in a state of distraction, 1184)
What is the relationship of Fascism to art? (gives the masses expression but no change of property relations, 1185; forces an evil politics and ritual values on the masses)
Is this ever true of non-Fascist societies as well?
What has been the result of mass movements on the largest scale under the present property system? (war, 1185)
What is his view of Futurism? (1185) What distinguishes the quotation by Marinetti? Is it intended to be serious or parodic?
What according to Benjamin causes war? (the denial of cultural claims; "Through gas warfare the aura is abolished in a new way"; humans under Fascism can experience their own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure, 1186)
What does it mean to say that "Fascism renders politics aesthetic," and that Communism politicizes art?
What do you think are some strengths of this essay? Which of its claims are more convincing than others?
Page numbers are from the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 1166-86