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Monday, July 4, 2011

Walter Benjamin: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction


Benjamin's 1936 The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction on Dadaism:

One of the foremost tasks of art has always been the creation of a demand which could not be fully satisfied only later.... The Dadaists attached much less importance to the sales value of their work than to its uselessness for contemplative immersion. (Illuminations 237)

.... Dadaists became an instrument of ballistics. It hit the spectator like a bullet, it happened to him, thus acquiring a tactile quality. It promoted a demand for the film, the distracting element of which is also primarily tactile, being based on changes of place and focus which periodically assail the spectator. Let us compare the screen on which a film unfolds with the canvas of a painting. The painting invites the spectator to contemplation; before it the spectator can abandon himself to his associations. Before the movie frame he cannot do so. No sooner has his eye grasped a scene than it is already changed. It cannot be arrested. Duhamel, who detests the film and knows nothing of its significance, though something of its structure, notes this circumstance as follows: "I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images." (Duhamel, Scenes la vie future, 1930 p. 52) The spectator's process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant, sudden change. This constitutes the shock effect of the film, which, like all shocks, should be cushioned by heightened presence of mind. (I p. 238)

Benjamin does not note here that the destruction of memory is a consequence. Memory requires time for contemplation, a quality of time not too slow and not too fast. Just right as Goldilocks would say.

In the decline of middle class society, contemplation became a school for asocial behavior; it was countered by distraction as a variant of social conduct. (I p. 238)

Distraction and contemplation form polar opposites. (I p.239) And we are aware how Meyer has used the concept distraction any number of times in Twilight. Vampires are easily distracted. Bella is not. Until she is a vampire.

What might all this have to say about ADHD or ADD if there is a difference? Are we reinforcing and provoking shifting attention spans?

The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick is pure contemplation. It is also true that his films have not been blockbusters, although they all have been critical successes in one way or another. Malick is an artist first. He makes the films he wants to make.

He is far more than an auteur director. He is a consummate artist of film in our time. He is preserving contemplation as a way of thinking and he is introducing it to those who have not experienced it before: The distractable ones, the ones who tend to walk out on this film. The ones who find it excruciating and
The Tree of Life Terrence Malick
boring. The ones who hate it. The ones who would have hated the Meadow Scene as Meyer wrote it. The ones who have probably never watched a Bergman film. And what Rob Pattinson's fans love about him without knowing is his intensity in contemplation, his way of gazing at a person and really seeing them, not a distracted flicking of the eyes. And by consuming every single banal image floating globally the fans are destroying their ability to contemplate him. They are just flicking their eyes down and across a myriad of images on a screen.

Here's DeLillo:

He stood a while longer, watching a single gull lift and ripple in a furl of air, admiring the bird, thinking into it, trying to know the bird, feeling the sturdy earnest beat of its scavenger's ravenous heart. (C p. 7)

Didi: Don't you see yourself in every picture you love? You feel a radiance wash through you. It's something you can't analyze or speak about clearly. What are you doing at that moment? You're looking at a picture on a wall. That's all. But it makes you feel alive in the world. It tells you yes, you're here. And yes, you have a range of being that's deeper and sweeter than you knew. ( p.30)

He watched her. He didn't think he wanted to be surprised, even by a woman, this woman, who'd taught him how to look, how to feel enchantment damp on his face, the melt of pleasure inside a brushstroke or band of color. (C p. 3)
Rob Pattinson as Eric Packer
My mood shifts and bends. But when I'm alive and heightened, I'm super-acute. Do you know what I see when I look at you? I see a woman who wants to live shamelessly in her body. Tell me this is not the truth. You want to follow your body into idleness and fleshiness. .... Tell me I'm making it up. You can't do that. It's there in your face, all of it, the way it rarely shows in any face.  (C 49)

Jane Melman:Pull back. I am advising you in this matter not only as your chief of finance but as a woman who would still be married to her husbands if they had looked at her the way you have looked at me here today. (C 34)
Rob Pattinson as Eric Packer



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