Response to Walter Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

This is a response to Walter Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction for Comm Lab @ ITP.

I had to brush up on my Marxist fundamentals, which I haven’t really engaged in depth since my undergrad political science classes, to understand some of the historical/political references that Benjamin was making.  This sent me on an hours-long quest looking up articles and reading articles online related to the issues Benjamin brings up.  I find the essay prophetic, as if Benjamin can somehow look into the future and see Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia and even more obviously propagandistic films like The Eternal Jew.

Benjamin writes: “For the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.”  And he continues, “Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice — politics.”  I don’t think politics can be viewed as something separate from ritual.  Politics and religion have always been linked.  Also, in political narratives that legitimize power, there are invocations of “cult value” or “instruments of magic,” be it a “founding myth” of a state or nation, or in the idolization of certain historical founder figures.  To me, they are two sides of the same coin.

“This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic.  Communism responds by politicizing art.”

These are the last two lines of the essay.  Maybe I’m not understanding nuance here, but aren’t these the same thing?  Both Fascism and Communism are mixing the art with politics or politics with art.  I believe that art and politics have always been bedfellows and that the role of artists is to comment upon and engage with their societies and times.  Sure, politicians and others can use art as a means of persuasion or propaganda, but others can similarly use art as a means of resistance against coercion and hegemony.  The innovation of mechanical reproduction, or in our times, digital distribution and network communication make art an even more powerful and even more dangerous two-edged sword and tool for oppression and for liberation.

I don’t necessarily agree that there is a decline of the aura in art, but instead, I think that the ritual value and the aura of art have changed.  There is still a ritualistic quality to going to see a movie at the cinema as an “event” or happening.  Or the ritual fetishistic quality of unwrapping an album or CD recording and playing it for the first time.  In fact, even with MP3s replacing CDs and movies available to download on demand, there is still an aura attached to the real thing.  Audiophiles and DJs still appreciate the qualities of vinyl or CDs over MP3s.  Even with the ubiquitousness of music through the popularization of iPods and other MP3 players, live music shows are still an event, a spectacle, something with an aura that has ritual value.  In fact, the relative banality of ubiquitous mechanically/digitally reproduced music probably makes us appreciate live shows even more.  Probably the same goes with movies.  Sure, I can BitTorrent a movie and watch it on my laptop to avoid paying money to see it in a theater (but of course I wouldn’t because that would be unethical and even illegal), but there is still a lingering aura in seeing it in a theater, for the immersive experience and for the ritual social value of experiencing it with friends or a date.

Oyster Festival

I met up with my classmate Catherine at the Oyster Festival on Stone Street yesterday.  I thought that I would share this funny pic she took of me eating an oyster.  This blog post is just me procrastinating when I should be working on my Walter Benjamin response.  More pics on Flickr.

Physical Computing Week 4: Analog Output & Servo Motor

Week 4 of Intro to Physical Computing @ ITP involved learning about analog output on the Arduino microprocessor and getting familiar with servo motors.


Physical Computing Week 4 – Evil Servobot from lee-sean on Vimeo.

I decided to take a riff on the lab assignment and attempt to create pure evil with limited resources (and skills for that matter).  I hooked up the servo to a photocell via the Arduino, which controls the movement of the servo based on how much light the photocell detects.  Then I added an LED that dims/brightens, also following the analog reading on the photocell.  And for the final step (and the one the really unleashed pure evil), I added a small speaker that modulates its audio output, also according to the photocell reading.  With all the wires going into the LED and servo acting as anchors, the Evil Servobot is able to dance and shake its demonic robot hips.

Here is the code:

int servoPin = 2;     // Control pin for servo motor
int buzzerPin = 5;
int ledPin = 11;  // Control pin for buzzer
int minPulse = 500;   // Minimum servo position
int maxPulse = 2500;  // Maximum servo position
int pulse = 0;        // Amount to pulse the servo
int brightness = 0;        //pitch of the

long lastPulse = 0;    // the time in milliseconds of the last pulse
int refreshTime = 20; // the time needed in between pulses

int analogValue = 0;  // the value returned from the analog sensor
int analogPin = 0;    // the analog pin that the sensor’s on

void setup() {
pinMode(servoPin, OUTPUT);  // Set servo pin as an output pin
pinMode(buzzerPin, OUTPUT); //set buzzer pin as output
pinMode(ledPin, OUTPUT);  //set LED as output
pulse = minPulse;           // Set the motor position value to the minimum
Serial.begin(9600);
}

void loop() {

analogValue = analogRead(analogPin);      // read the analog input
brightness = map(analogValue,0,800,0,255);
pulse = map(analogValue,0,800,minPulse,maxPulse);    // convert the analog value
// to a range between minPulse
// and maxPulse.
// pulse the servo again if rhe refresh time (20 ms) have passed:
Serial.println(analogValue);
if (millis() – lastPulse >= refreshTime) {
digitalWrite(servoPin, HIGH);   // Turn the motor on
delayMicroseconds(pulse);       // Length of the pulse sets the motor position
digitalWrite(servoPin, LOW);    // Turn the motor off
analogWrite(ledPin,brightness);
analogWrite(buzzerPin,analogValue*10);
lastPulse = millis();           // save the time of the last pulse
}
}

The Presidential Debate: I HAVE A BRACELET so I should be president

I watched the Obama-McCain debate tonight, while chatting on AIM with my ITP classmates.  Rather amusing indeed, the best part was when both candidates compared their accessories collection.

“I HAVE A BRACELET TOO!”  Are bracelets from military families the new yellow ribbons or flag pins?

Show your patriotism with an “I HAVE A BRACELET” T-shirtBuying stuff is patriotic too.

More on the bracelet battle from Reuters.

And from Michelle Malkin of all people.

Protest Against the Bush Bailout on Wall Street

My audio slideshow of the protest on Wall Street on September 25, 2008.


Protest Against the Bush Bailout on Wall Street from lee-sean on Vimeo.

Also on YouTube and Blip.tv. Photos on Flickr.