Unpacking iterations in Walter Benjamin

grandvilleWalter Benjamin is perhaps the writer we most commonly associate with the recognition of the changes induced in the work of art by the “age of mechanical reproduction” in the modernist period. In that essay, Benjamin’s focus is primarily on visual and auditory reproduction, but he begins the essay with “The enormous changes brought about in literature by movable type, the technological reproducibility of writing.” He then goes on to state: “Around 1900, technological reproduction not only had reached a standard that permitted it to reproduce all known works of art, profoundly modifying their effect, but it had also captured a place of its own among the artistic processes.”

Benjamin has in mind here phonography, lithography, photography, and cinema. But, as a quotation from Paul Valéry immediately prior to this passage suggests, these changes––along with those directly bearing on print, such as the rise of the typewriter––affected the way writers like Stein, Valéry, and Benjamin approached the printed book’s already established place among literary processes.

Read more in my “Iterations” commentary on Jacket2.

About Jacob Edmond

Jacob Edmond is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He is author of A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature (Fordham UP, 2012). His articles have appeared in journals such as Comparative Literature, Contemporary Literature, Poetics Today, The China Quarterly, the Slavic and East European Journal, and Russian Literature. He is editor (with Henry Johnson and Jacqueline Leckie) of Recentring Asia: Histories, Encounters, Identities (Brill / Global Oriental, 2011), and editor and translator (with Hilary Chung) of Yang Lian’s Unreal City: A Chinese Poet in Auckland (Auckland University Press, 2006). For more, see: http://www.otago.ac.nz/english/staff/edmond.htm http://otago.academia.edu/JacobEdmond https://commonstrangeness.wordpress.com/
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