Benjamin's Aura in the 21st Century: The Printing Press, Copyright Law and the Death of Creativity

Mr. David Roh
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Walter Benjamin defines aura as the distance between a purveyor of the work of art and the work itself. With the advent of mechanical reproduction, he argues, the distance has been closed, aura diminished, and the work of art democratized. Fast-forward nearly 70 years later, and we find that instead of aura having been completely eradicated by perfect and nearly limitless digital reproduction, the distance between the work of art and the purveyor (consumer) grows wider than ever.

What happened? How did this occur? What had Walter Benjamin neglected to see in his prescient view of the world? My answer is two-fold: one, he neglects to take into consideration the consumer attraction to manufactured fetishes and the commensurate exchange-value that comes with such commodities. Two, at a time when corporate culture was in its infancy, he could not have had any presentiments of the reckless vigor with which content industries would fight to protect their investments. Culture-producing corporations create fetishes, but their most pernicious weapon is the copyright. Once written to protect the public good, through legislation and lobbying copyright law has been perverted to create profits for corporations at the expense of the public domain of cultural creativity.

What can be done? I argue that technology has the power to circumvent as well as oppress, and using the MP3 paradigm, illustrate how the literati can create a new explosion of cultural creativity by way of a new type of printing press. We, academics, bibliophiles, readers, writers, are the stakeholders in an imminent battle that will threaten our very way of work and livelihood. This paper illustrates how it will come about and what can be done.

Keywords: Walter Benjamin, Printing Press, Aura, Copyright, Creative Destruction, Technology, Society
Stream: Technology in Community, Technology in Education, Knowledge and Technology
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Mr. David Roh

English Literature Department, University of California, Santa Barbara

Ref: T05P0051