Excessive politics of aura

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"Adorno and the Excessive Politics of Aura." Benjamin's Blind Spot: Walter Benjamin and the Premature Death of Aura & ICI Field Notes 5: The Manual of Lost Ideas . Ed. Lise Patt. Los Angeles: The Institute of Cultural Inquiry, 2001. 25-36.

Adorno and the Excessive Politics of Aura Gehard Richter The more closely you look at the world, the more distantly it looks back. —Walter Benjamin, citingKarl Kraus Like the idea of aura itself, the abiding friendship between Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno is a complex weave of proximity and distance, immediacy and deferral. While Benjamin cultivated life-altering friendships with several writers and philosophers — among them, prominently, Gershom Scholem, Ernst Bloch, Bertolt Brecht, and Siegfried Kracauer his long affiliation with Adornowas perhaps the most intimate and the most ambivalent elective affinity in his life and thought. The two first met in Frankfurt in 1923, and they remained friends until Benjamin's untimely suicide in 1940. Adorno was the main link between Benjamin and the Institute for Social Research (the Frankfurt School), proving an intellectual and financial lifeline to Benjamin during many of the latter'smeager years of marginal existence. After a narrow-minded German professor at the University of Frankfurt rejected Benjamin's Trauerspiel book, an explosive study of the Baroque drama, as a professorial habilitation and thereby effectively ended Benjamin's hopes for an academic career, Adorno recognized the importance of his friend's work. Indeed Adorno's first books would hardly be thinkable withoutBenjamin's ghostly presence. In 1932, Adorno even offered a seminar at Frankfurt on the Trauerspiel book — the first [p.26] official Benjamin course ever. After World War II, Adorno was instrumental in making Benjamin's then largely unknown oeuvre widely available to German readers, and his extensive correspondence with Benjamin, along with the seminal essays he devoted to his friend's work,remain indispensable for any understanding of Benjamin today. Yet what is often neglected by readers of both writers is the impact of Benjamin's theoretical category of "aura" on Adorno's late work. I wish to suggest that Adorno's major work, Aesthetic Theory, which was published posthumously in 1969, mobilizes the dialectical interplay of proximity and distance inherent in this concept as a figure forthe excessiveness in the work of art that is inseparable from its political resonances. That the auratic within the artwork prevents the aesthetic form from becoming simply itself means, for Adorno, that it belongs to the realm of the political, even - or precisely - when it seems far removed from political questions on the surface. The auratic in the artwork is irreducibly figurative. Benjamin'sconcept of aura thus helps to shed light on Adorno's enigmatic contention that political art, "which is a moment in society even in opposing it, must close its eyes and ears to society." "An 'it shall be different' is hidden," Adorno claims, "in even the most sublimated work of art. If art is merely identical with itself, a purely scientized construction, it has already gone bad and is literallypre-artistic." Adorno argues that this "is not the time for political works of art; rather politics has migrated into the autonomous work of art, and it has penetrated most deeply into works that present themselves as politically dead."1 It is in this highly mediated sense of thc political in art, I suggest, that Adorno wishes to situate Benjamin's aura. [p.27] In Benjamin's thinking, there can beno concept of aura that is not always already traversed by its own blind spots. This is so not only because the concept of aura in the trajectory of his thinking undergoes a series of transformations — from his essays of the 1920s through his hashish protocols to his later meditations on technical reproducibility in photography and film in the 1930s — but also because his concepts are never...
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