Saturday, February 2, 2013

A discussion between Plato and Benjamin

Plato and Walter Benjamin would have many questions and issues to discuss in a conversation with each other as I think about the “Phaedrus” and “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” For Plato, the repetition of a story passed along for generations was the ultimate form of “art.” Would Benjamin argue that every time the story was told by someone different, the story lost its “aura”? I think Plato would say that each storyteller or philosopher brought something unique to the story when he was telling it and that each telling of the story kept the aura alive.

While Plato was not a proponent of writing, as his three major criticisms were discussed in class, Socrates did say that “the disgrace begins when a man writes not well, but badly.” Would Plato argue with Benjamin that as long as reproductions of artwork or film or photography are done well, then the art (or images) do not lose their “aura”? In other words, poor copies of the art or simply terrible films or photographs would not usually be approved by the original artist, so they would not have an aura. Or, perhaps Plato and Benjamin would have a discussion about when the copies had been made by the artist himself does that affect whether the aura still exists? I would argue that the determination of the existence of the aura should be made by the artist or photographer as really only they know the ritual they were using when they created the art. 

One could also argue with Benjamin that when you are looking through a camera lens, you are capturing moments or even capturing people’s “aura” through the photographs. While there are simply too many photographs taken by a digital camera and too many shots filmed for one scene in a movie, as Benjamin mentioned, that would allow him to believe that each image has its own aura or that digital media can restore the aura, I think that he should consider the fact that it is possible to take photographs that capture moments not normally seen, such as the movement of a hummingbird’s wings. Plato also might argue with Benjamin that films allow for conversations to be preserved, and conversations deserve the utmost respect. As Socrates said, “I believe that the grasshoppers chirruping after their manner in the heat of the sun over our heads are talking to one another and looking down at us. What would they say if they saw that we, like the many, are not conversing, but slumbering at mid-day, lulled by their voices, too indolent to think? Would they not have a right to laugh at us? They might imagine that we were slaves, who, coming to rest at a place of resort of theirs, like sheep lie asleep at noon around the well. But if they see us discoursing, and like Odysseus sailing past them, deaf to their siren voices, they may perhaps, out of respect, give us of the gifts which they receive from the gods that they may impart them to men.”

1 comment:

  1. I feel Plato would be so utterly disappointed with our youth today (and much of society) as we walk around with our heads down staring at our cell phones, texting the person we're walking next to. I feel it is so rare to have a great conversation with someone that is not a "best friend". To take time to be present in the moment and listen.