Alexandra Hammond (MFA AP15):The Aura of Walter Benjamin as Experienced in San Francisco, October 2013

Participant Review: Alexandra Hammond (MFA AP15)

AP Participant Review is a new feature of the AP Blog. It is an ongoing archive of selected work produced by the AP Participants drawn from their online courses. Each week faculty members select a work (from a production course) or a post (from a criticism course) and ask the student to re-edit it for the blog. 

Alexandra Hammond wrote the following entry for the session on Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” for Thyrza Goodeve’s “Foundations of Criticism” course. As this essay is assigned again and again in graduate programs, it is of particular interest how the meaning of the essay changes with each reading. Here Alex discusses the difference between her first reading of the essay and her reading for the AP course. She ties her reactions to the very concept of “aura” that is so crucial to Benjamin’s argument. She also discusses Benjamin's “On Hashish in Marseilles" which was also assigned.

The “pearl diving” reference with which she begins refers to Hannah Arendt’s outstanding description of Walter Benjamin in her introduction to Illuminations:


Like a pearl diver who descends to the bottom of the sea, not to excavate the bottom and bring it to light but to pry loose the rich and the strange, the pearls and the coral in the depths, and to carry them to the surface, this thinking delves into the depths of the past – but not in order to resuscitate it the way [it] sic was and contribute to the renewal of extinct ages. What guides this thinking is the conviction that although the living is subject to the ruin of the time, the process of decay is at the same time a process of crystallization, that in the depth of the sea, into which it sinks and is dissolved what once was alive, some things ‘suffer a sea-change’ and survive in new crystallized forms and shapes that remain immune to the elements, as though they waited only for the pearl diver who one day will come down to them and bring them up into the world of the living (…).



I guess it is because of the pearl-diving, cross-disciplinary nature of Benjamin’s writing that there is SO much contained within it. I’ve read The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction a few times, but this time around, I’m finding newly personalized gems. For instance, does the aura of an inherently reproducible form of art (such as a text) reside then, in the reader? Clearly it is my location in time and space, e.g., my state of mind at this very moment that brings me to this renewed experience of the essay. In other words, this particular reading is inspired by my location now, in the present—an entirely ephemeral and irreproducible moment.

Read More