Clockwork Orange And The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction

Clockwork Orange and the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

For Walter Benjamin, the defining characteristic of modernity was mass assembly and production of commodities, concomitant with this transformation of production is the destruction of tradition and the mode of experience which depends upon that tradition. While the destruction of tradition means the destruction of authenticity, of the originally, in that it also collapses the distance between art and the masses it makes possible the liberation which capitalism both obscures and opposes. While commodity fetishism represents the alienation away from use-value and towards exchange-value, leading to the assembly line construction of the same--as we see relentlessly analyzed by Horkheimer and Adorno in their essay The Culture Industry. Benjamin believes that with the destruction of tradition, laboratory potentialities are nonetheless created. The process of the destruction of aura through mass reproduction brings about the "destruction of traditional modes of experience through shock," in response new forms of experience are created which attempt to cope with that shock.
"Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking one element: its presence in time and space, itís unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning" when substantive duration ceases to matter, he says, the authority of the object is threatened. (Think, for example of Alex's response to high art...) "technology has subjected the human sensorium to a complex kind of training. There came a day when a new and urgent need for stimuli was met by the film. In a film, perception in the form of shocks was established as a formal principle. That which determines the rhythm of production on a conveyor belt is the basis of the rhythm of reception in a film." (Motifs in Baudelaire)
Benjamin distinguishes between two kinds of experience: Erfahrung something integrated as experience, and Erlebnis, something merely lived through. Erlebnis characterizes the modern age and refers to the inability to integrate oneself and the world via experience. Erlebnis, then, is the form of experience of late capitalism, and our relation to commodities is characterized by ahistoricity, repetition, sameness, reactiveness, all the categories which the Culture Industry will describe as liquidating culture in the present post-holocaust era.
"The desire of the contemporary masses to bring things 'closer' spatially and humanlyis just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction."
The fact of this desire for the reproduction over and above the original is precisely what Horkheimer and Adorno believe is destroying culture, for contrary to Benjamin, Horkheimer and Adorno assert that any emancipatory possibilities are re-absorbed into capitalism, and fascism turns out to be the midget in the Chess-playing machine of capitalist oriented democracy. They set out, like Poe in his article "Maelzel's chess player," to show that capitalism has a hidden motor and it is none other than fascism.
Benjamin's essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" provides us with an outline of the history of the work of art and the historical changes, which have led to the transformation of experience from Erfahrung to Erlebnis. It is only in the post-modern or so called post-industrial age that the concept of autonomy handed down to us from Kant, among others, begins to reveal it ideological nature. Benjamin's analysis of autonomous art not only destroys our notions of the wholistic work, but also dispels the illusion of the artist as transcendental creator. Let us look for a moment at his comparison of the painter to the cameraman.
"The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web. There is a tremendous difference between the pictures they obtain. That of the painter is a total one that of the cameraman consists of multiple fragments, which are assembled under a new law. Thus, for contemporary man the representation of reality by the film is incomparably more significant than that of the painter, since it offers, precisely because of the thoroughgoing permeation