By Arved Ashby
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Additional resources for Absolute Music, Mechanical Reproduction
It is important to mention here that Benjamin spends a good deal of time talking about ﬁlm, describing it as both popular and progressive. Filmmakers managed to create an entirely new art form amid the collapse of the aura, and did so using the very sort of reproductive technology that had caused the breakdown in the ﬁrst place: they developed a way to manufacture thousands upon thousands of images, link them into a new manner of narrative sequence that engages attention and awareness in a novel way, and then produce enough copies of the ﬁlm to thoroughly pervade society with its message.
We might better understand the performance, to turn to a related but more ﬂuid and synergistic concept, as a kind of text—a system of signs, an organism of interconnected meanings. The notion of a text is indeed so adaptable that it has taken on various, even contradictory, meanings. Over time there have been two basic understandings, with the second, inclusive, poststructuralist sense coming to dominate: (1) the means by which the work is transmitted, as demonstrated in the phrase “the printed text”; and (2) any system of meaning that asks to be “read,” as in the idiosyncratic visual text of Citizen Kane.
Like the recording itself, or audio technologies more generally, a Mahler symphony problematizes the historical work– concept even as it offers a particular solution to those problems. Mahler created a strange, anti-Romantic disjunction between words and music, and the glut of video and web imagery in our own era has brought us closer to understanding his “meanings” without closing the hermeneutic circle. In saying this I challenge Kramer’s belief, stated in the context of art music more generally, that “in a world that moves at digital speed, a world increasingly crowded by people, ideas, and agendas, a maelstrom of technological change .