On Rereading.  Again.

I’ve been intermittently concerned, over the last weeks, with questions of repetition, particularly surrounding the scholarly impetus to reread and rewrite. Now I’m replaying those concerns, as I find myself teaching Adorno & Horkheimer’s “The Culture Industry” and Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” for what must be the eighty-fifth time.

There’s not much getting around it — the two essays are sufficiently key to almost any culturalist or materialist approach to media theory that they are a necessary starting point for half of my classes. The catch is that media studies majors here, who generally take more than one class from me, get Frankfurt-schooled in multiple fashion. I don’t think that’s a bad thing — in fact, I exhort my students who have read these essays before to re-read them carefully, with new eyes (figuratively, that is) each time — but there comes a point in my (re-)teaching when I could use a little shot in the arm, a little refresher of my own.

I’m planning to re-read, yes. But I’m afraid I’ve been through the essays so many times that I can’t step back from them enough to see them afresh. So here’s my call for help, for those of you who work with these essays: what’s the most important thing in them that you feel too often gets overlooked? What have I, lo these eighty-four previous sessions, missed?

6 thoughts on “On Rereading.  Again.

  1. a&h the relation to and understanding of fascism, in short the scaryness of its context and how that is somewhat disguised

    b the non-transcendent nature of an artifacts aura(though some argue aura is transcendent, i think you learn otherwise in the arcades project)

  2. In one of my recent re-readings, Benjamin’s discussion of “unconscious optics” really blew me away.

    I’m teaching “The Storyteller” next week, for the first time, so any suggestion there would be welcome.

  3. Manovich does that in “The Language of New Media,” but I’m suspicious of some of his claims there. I don’t think that Benjamin is privileging distance in the “Work of Art” essay when he talks about the aura, but you’re right, it is an interesting comparison.

  4. Great thoughts — particularly the question of the “unconscious optics.” I’m going to have to look more closely at that. I also like the question of the transcendance of the aura; it had never occurred to me that it could be read as transcendant, and now I think I understand a bit more my students’ frequent conclusion that the aura is a good thing that we’re losing (i.e., mass culture=bad).

    Conveniently enough, we’ll be reading Virilio at the end of the semester, so we’ll make the parallel then…

  5. KF,

    There is the tactic of close reading through “electro-mechanical” reproduction: a chunk of Benjamin in English run through the Babblefish translator to another language and then back again to English. It certainly reveals spots worthy of reconsideration.

    There is a ramble through Benjamin’s sexual politics in the construction of the concept of “aura”. See http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance/S2I.HTM

    Love to read more about how the students approach rereading.

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