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Episode #152 ... The Frankfurt School - Walter Benjamin pt. 1

2021-03-19 | 🔗

Today we begin discussing the work of Walter Benjamin. 

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello, everyone, I'm Stephen West. This is philosophize this thank you to the people that support the show through Patreon and the contribute. What you think the shows worth model also have three new designs and a new store for March, so check that out of it, something you want to do all three of these are located on the front page of the website: philosophises, DOT, Org, twitter, dot, com, slash, I'm Stephen West for updates on the pursuits today shows the first and what it thinks. A pretty awesome series on Walter been humming. I hope you agree and, as always, I hope you love the show today. Sir Walter been mean is notorious for being one of the most elusive thinkers of the early twentieth century. His work is a company. Of influence is so varied. It's almost funny. It's a mix of ideas, so seemingly disconnected the act of connecting them is almost doesn't as far as the ideas themselves, he'll go from cod then over the marks in back to nineteen
century german literary criticism than over the jewish mysticism you will all over the world and needless to say, but really builds from all. This is a very interesting critique of twentieth century culture. The man's work is often referred to as difficult. Sometimes people go so far as to say it's downright income, principle. This is no doubt part of the reason why there is such a lack of representation of his work in the world, which is part of the reason. Why I wanted to come here today, sometimes, reading been I mean he can say things that on the surface seem to be completely irrational or completely counter intuitive but I think the biggest barrier and trying to understand what he sang is in a weird way under standing what he's trying to say, but that said, I dont think you can just begin the disk caution with Walter Benda means most famous work called art in the age of mechanical reproduction, as some people do, and I dont
think you can just cannonball into talking about his critique of modernity, as some people have in the past, things like the arcades project, Phantasmagoria the crisis of the novel, no Think there are a few extremely important things we need to understand about mean stop in general, before we can even hope to start covering these more complex topics, and I want to start today. In true, been humming fashion by the way, by talking about something, that's gonna at first seem completely random, but will ultimately end up being a piece of a larger critique that will excavate over the course of the series, and that is by looking at one of his early essays, called the task of the translator So the title of the essays actually really good. If you wanted to describe what the essays all about when somebody is translator, something from one language into another. What exactly?
is the job of that translator. What is the task of the translator now at first? This may seem to some, like a pretty strange question to ask translation seems pretty straightforward. You have a text written in one language, you speak another language really seems a simple is just saying what they said in one language in another language, and the end result will be that its readable to a whole other group of people, but didn't have access before who wouldn't want that. But this The work in the area of translation theory and people who think about translation a lot. This would be a pretty over simplified way of looking at the whole process, that's going on when we translate something. There's a reason. We don't just copy and paste entire texts into Google. Translate then call that a translation, because it's a blurring mess because sentences will, ridden away that doesn't make any sense, because Is often words or sayings in one language that they're just isn't it
word for in another language, because languages don't line up perfectly. In other words, there are thousands of different ways you could translate any single sentence, thousands of- It sets of criteria you could use when determining what exactly the best way is to do that and considering that something will often swear by one translation of a work and throw out all the others. In other, say things like this translation Of meditations by Marcus Aurelius is the best one and all the other ones complete wasting your time. These sorts of value judge necessarily imply that there must be better ways to translate than others. This is part of,
What Walter been humming is interested in getting to the bottom of, and if you want to find out what the best way to translate, something is seems like a pretty good place. To start would be to consider what the task of the translator is at all been a mean, writes about a couple different answers to this that are extremely common, that he thinks are completely incorrect. The first one is the task of the transit, is to make the translation as accessible as possible for the reader in the new language that, when choosing between the thousands of ways, you could translate a sentence, your job is to choose the one that expresses What is being said and the way that most easily allows people to get a hold of it? On the other side, Walter Benyamin thinks this is wrong and he begins making his case by underscoring the fact that, if we want to find the task of the translator, we have to remember
that the translator is always doing their job, while interacting with what is ultimately a piece of artwork. When you are translating a book of poetry, you are ultimately translating a work of art when you translate a great Level, that is art even when you're translating a work of nonfiction, was the author not poetically or artistically, trying to we together ideas into a tapestry that could be considered art. So in keeping with this, when considering the task of the translator, we also need to consider the nature of art itself and on this topic been humming says the following quote: no poem is intended for the reader no picture for the beholder no symphony for the listener, in appreciation for a work of art or art form Consideration of the receiver never proves fruitful. End quote now. If this seems like a
weird thing to say because of our unique position in twenty twenty one give been some time here, he's making a point about the way. Art has typically been done historically, and what he's getting at is it? We don't necessarily create works of art. With audience in mind? Nor does a work of art need an audience to be considered a work of art like when you were sixteen years old in your room running poetry in your own blood, about other security guard at the mall hates you did. You expect, even care. If any one read those poems. When you're singing in the shower or doing some sort of interpretive, it's completely alone in her room. Are you doing those things because of all the p? will they get the listen to them? No suspend humming, and that's because art is not about the audience. Art at its core is the ultimate form of self expression So, if we're trying to translate the full meaning behind a work of art, the real
or the beholder who really matter at all. Ok, so, let's not consider the reader. Let's just consider the text. What is actually inside of this book that we're translating, in other words the task of the translator, is to engage in this purely technical exercise of taking the contents of one thing and dumping it over into another language as perfectly as possible?. Benjamin would ask: is this really all that trend? leaders are doing. Take this as an example, Tchaikovsky is eighteen, twelve overture song about the war of eighteen, twelve, powerful, so powerful. Now imagine I take the sheet music sit at home with an orchestra full of instruments all by myself with enough time playing all the notes. Exactly as the written on the page, I might be able to produce a recording of the eighty twelve overture that is indistinguishable from the recording I'm trying to emulate, but have
I recreated the extent of the meaning behind this work of art. Something I made in the year twenty twenty one in my condo alone cannot possibly capture the meaning behind this work of art when it was created where it was created, how it was conveyed, and the point is no matter how perfectly you reproduce the rod date. In a work of art and no matter how perfectly you can translate the contents of a text. There we'll always be something more. You are missing when it comes to accessing the entirety of its meaning. Now this isn't episode about translation theory. This is ultimately an episode about art and it ceased who major points about works of art. You're gonna, be massively useful for us when it comes to understanding the rest of the series, but for anyone interested the ones, since version of the task of the translator forbidden mean, is that its derived from the story of the Tower of Babel
in the beginning, there was one language: that's now many different, fragmented languages, and that the task is to build bridges between these different languages that share a certain. Can. Chip always striving towards, but never actually achieving that ideal of the unified language in the beginning. Obviously so much more to it,. Definitely recommend reading the essay if you're at all interested, but again these take always about art from this essay are the things that are going to help us understand what he saying by understanding. What he's trying to say we will reference back, to them as we need them now. Another initially confusing thing that we need to understand about banning start is why he would be so interested in something as random and oddly specific as late nineteenth century german literary criticism why This matter to him so much well in a letter to a been Benyamin once claimed that, during his time in Germany, literary criticized
I was not a serious genre and that, if anyone ever wanted to seriously have a future in it, they would essentially have to recreate the genre. One thing to note: off the bat here is that when we hear the words literary criticism, we are not just talking about criticism of works of literature. Certainly literature is part of it. The literature of a time affects the culture of the time when you asked someone for examples of things that helped shape their experience of reality, oftentimes respond with some really powerful books that they read. But in the sense that books are collections of symbols that denote a particular meaning to you. Didn't you say that the world around you is just as much a cold action of symbols that your constantly reading, that the note meetings as well, for example, would say they tear down a building and they put up a new one that uses all new technology new doors, new windows, a homo
instead of a single story: rambler, but the backyard. Now we have a I rise apartment building, there's fences now, there's a security shed, stop signs, there's even little trash cans for people to stockpile their dogs. Discarded waste does the introduction of new building this new technology, this new symbol that people are reading does in any way change the experience of people who read it. Does reading the world around us have an effect on US at the same level. That reading a book does interesting question one of the things and I mean is interested in the most- is how the introduction of a new technology shapes the experiences of people, and one of the most famous examples that he writes about is the technology of photography, Now, for the sake of us listening to this in the year, twenty twenty one, let's think of photography as any sort of photo depiction of reality,
So it's not like video is something that's exempt from this discussion. What is the technological predecessor to the photograph There are, of course, many minor inventions that can be seen as just trying to do with the photograph eventually did much better than all of them, but the true predecessor, The photograph when it comes to creating representations of reality, is the painting. If you want To look at a picture of a landscape or a person, or in some sort of noteworthy political event that took place like a like some final dinner of some sort. I don't feel bad example point is if you wanted a visual representation of reality in any sense, for the longest time, the painting was all that you had to look at now consider certain realities about the technology of the painting. They were produced, one at a time I need it to be done by somebody very skilled. They were expensive to produce, to see them from most of history had to be in the exact same place that they were, and they were always produced through the lens of the interpretation.
Of a particular artist. Someone didn't deliver a stack of paintings to your front door step every morning, showing you what was going on around town so for most a history your visual understanding of what the world was in your place within it really came down. Do. What you immediately saw around you. Another thing to consider Benyamin says is that for the longest time, because paintings were so expensive and time consuming to produce it was, only the rich and powerful. Most of the time, members of the aristocracy that could ever afford to have their likeness painted, which means for the common person for the longest time they did have a right to their own likeness, but allow came the photograph, and all this start to change Benyamin says it's no coincidence that the first photographs you see are all people taking pictures of themselves, their families and their loved ones, but it should be said. As we all know, there is a big difference between being face to face looking
someone and seeing a picture of them there's some degree of lost that occurs in the picture. I mean there's array and people find it far more satisfying to travel and see things than to just sit at home on Google images and look at pictures of landmarks once again, there's some degree of loss there What exactly are we losing mean says that a good place to start looking is to consider the fact that, as these people were among the first to ever, gaze into a camera lens to record their likeness wonder if any them ever noticed that the camera wasn't gazing back at them. What did he mean by that member back and task of the translator when we're talking about how the rock contents of a piece of our work are not tantamount to the entire meaning of that piece of artwork. Example. I recreate the eighteen, twelve overture and no matter how perfectly I photographed that work by Tchaikovsky. There would always be something missing between what we could call me
photo depiction and the original work think of the difference between being in person witnessing an x bearing sing the one and only Mona LISA and merely saying a picture of it. We recognise something has been lost in the photograph. Been him he would say that what were noticing is missing is what he calls the aura of a moment or a piece of artwork. He describes the concept of the aura here quote a strange weave of space and time the unique appearance or semblance of distance, no matter how close it may be. While it rest on a summers, noon to trace array Jim mountains on the horizon or a branch that through its shadow on the observer until the moment or the hour become part of their appearance. This is what it means to breed the aura of those mountains, or that branch end quote
much of any one feels the same way. Hopefully I don't sound like a crazy person here, but I'm kind of a fan of the moon, you know as well as a celebrity in my life. That's my celebrity like it we're looked up at the moon one night and it's one of those nitrate. Doesn't even look real like he could reach out and touch it almost. In my opinion, that can be one of the most beautiful things that you could possibly see out there and I'm not exaggerating when I say there have been at least ten times in my life. I've been looking up, Those moods and I pull out my phone. I'm all excited, I take a picture, and I go down to send it to all my friends that I dont have, and I look at it and I'm glad I dont have friends, because it just looks like a tennis ball floating in the sky. This What better means getting it? There is no picture out there. They could possibly capture the aesthetic experience of being present with us moon in that moment in space and time has been a means describing with both the mouth
in the branch in that passage there is an immediacy to my experience of the moon, because we are subject an object coexisting at a particular moment in space and time together. But on the other hand, there is a distance between subject an object and it's this distance that allows for the aesthetic experience it's not possible on the camera on my phone. But true of my Sperience of the moon is true of works of art all throughout history, and this is something Bynum calls the aura of a work of art. This is why I feel so different to see a picture of the Mona LISA as opposed to flying to Paris and sing the one and only Mona LISA. And this one and only quality has been important for experiencing art in the past. This unique experience that someone can only have if both the subject and object, our existing
the same moment in same place, but it should be said as a technological intervention into the experience of people. This is exactly what the photograph allows us not to need anymore, The whole selling point of the photograph is that we can visually catch a reality and it can exist outside of space, and time if the aura of a moment or a piece of artwork requires that distance to allow for the space needed to reflect on it, aesthetically then been I would say we have to consider the fact that the key function of the photograph or the video is to reduce that distance. Benyamin would say that during this time. The world is entering into an age were visible. Rapporteur
patients of reality are limited to how many paintings you can produce. Basically, anyone with functioning hands can point a camera, take a picture or something and then Mass distributed to everyone. Yes, this decreases that distance. Yes, it demystify reality, people can take as many pictures as they want, but in the same way, you'd rather travel then see pictures of landmarks. This de mystified reality comes with a degree of loss. Yeah, you don't got a fly all over the world anymore. If you want to see the Mona LISA but with ever, Silver lining comes a cloud in the cloud here. To Walter, been I mean, is the destruction of the aesthetic experience of the past. Member when we talked about german literary criticism and always interest. Figuring out how technology that's introduced into people's lives, changes, people, senses and experiences of the world
but we are living in an age where they technology that has been introduced has made ethically everything about our lives, mass reproducible. This is why he's concerned with the quote dead genre. Literary criticism in Germany because he actually thinks that technology has changed the experience of people so much that the critical tools that were used in the nineteenth century to analyze culture in the world were so outdated that they didn't even work anymore. We have technology our way into a place where we lack the tools necessary to even critique the world around us. It be like trying to take a mortar and pestle and using it to grind up steal the tools from a former
era don't work with our current technology and experience. We needed a new set of tools and his words, someone needed to recreate the genre and, as will see throughout the series doing, this will become a pretty considerable piece of his work. So when taking a picture, people gaze into the camera but the camera doesn't return their gaze, meaning there is not a subject- an object, coexisting in a moment of space and time, meaning that the photograph reducing that since we talked about de mystifying. Reality leads to the decline of the aura. Benjamin writes about it here. Quote the repealing away of the objects. Shell, the destruction of the aura, is the signature of a perception who, since of the sameness of things, has grown to the point where even the singular the unique is divested of its uniqueness by means of its reproduction.
End quote once again: there is a difference between flying to Paris and seeing the one and only Mona LISA and seeing a picture, the Mona LISA that's been mass produced by technology, just as there's a differ between looking up in witnessing the moon and seeing the tennis ball in the sky on your phone, not only the photograph, but the technology introduced during the age of the mechanical reproduction of things has, as Walter Benyamin beautifully puts divested. The uniqueness of things. What is happening is we are destroying the aura of ourselves, the world and works of art. More importantly, though, we are changed. The very definition of what a work of art is at all task of a translator. Simply no longer need to care about mass, producing merely the contents or the raw data of a work of art. The destruction of the aura makes us
but now there is not even anything missing if something mass produced distributed and commodified, we have changed the aesthetic experience altogether. We no longer need to care about her eating art for the sake of the consumer. On the other side, now we can make marble movies, because art is no longer. The ultimate form of self expression see, wilfully sacrifice, my own unique self. In this era of reproduce ability. Let me explain that further actually see whenever we take a selfie, we are essentially turning ourselves into a picture of them
LISA, rather than the real thing we mass reproduce, distribute and commodified ourselves. We divest ourselves of our own uniqueness and instead make our likeness into one of an infinite number of copies. Tell me if the intervention of a technology like a building can change the experience of people and the way they see themselves. What might something like this do and what, if the critical tools of the past, were incapable of seeing it. This mass reproduce ability of everything, including of our own likeness divested of its uniqueness Benyamin, would say it's not a coincidence that this technology has corresponded with a rise in mass culture, mass production, mass transit, mass distribution, mass psychology, mass consumption, mass communication take your pick, but before we get ahead of ourselves
An important question Walter been humming would want to ask here and something it's can be really important ones. He creates a new method of criticism and it starts looking at what the world has become once again fascinated by how the introduction of new technologies affect the experiences of people with all these new forms of communication available. What happens when you can turn on the tv or the radio, and you can see or hear crowds of people gathered at a political event or a concert, we're sports game? What happens when, for the first time in human history, the masses can come face to face with themselves? Thank you for listening I'll talk to you next time.
Transcript generated on 2021-04-01.