Cadava, Eduardo. ‘Politics’ Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History (Chichester: Princeton University Press, 1997) 44-47


What is at stake in the question of technological reproducibility – in the question of photography, for example – is not whether photography is art, but in what way all art is photography.

For Benjamin, as soon as the technique of reproduction reaches the stage of photography, a fault line traverses the whole sphere of art: photography transforms the entire notion of art. The presumed uniqueness of a production, the singularity of the artwork, and the value of authenticity are deconstructed.

By substituting a plurality of copies for a unique original, technologically produced art destroys the very basis for the production of auratic works of art – that singularity in time and space on which they depend for their claim to authority and authenticity. Every work is now replaceable. The changes in the technical conditions for the production and reception of art constitute a break with tradition that effectively removes the previous ritual or cultic bases of art and facilitates the predominance of the political function of art.


If politics, however, fascist no less than communist, depends on photography and film’s capacity to exhibit and manipulate bodies and faces, then all politics can be viewed as a politics of art, as a politics of the technical reproduction of an image.

[discusses fascist regime with regards to art/photography]

[…] the entirety of Benjamin’s ‘Work of Art’ essay can be read as a critical response to the fascist effort to mobilize works of art – including photography and film – toward both the production of an organic community and the formation of this community (the German people or nation) as a work of art itself.


Benjamin’s insistence on the disintegration of the auratic character of the artwork, for example, belongs to his effort to deconstruct the values of originality and community at work within the fascist program of self-formation and self-production.


To the extent that the essence of the political is to be sought in art, then, there is no aesthetic or philosophy of art that can undo the link between art and politics.

Whereas fascism aestheticizes politics, Benjamin wishes to politicize aesthetics.

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