The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproducibility
Michalis Pichler

It would therefore be wrong to underestimate the value of such theses as a weapon. They brush aside a number of outmoded concepts, such as creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery.

—Walter Benjamin 

 

I

In principle, the work of art has always been reproducible. Objects made by humans could always be remade by humans. Such replicas were made by pupils in the practice of their craft, by masters in disseminating their works, and, finally, by third parties in pursuit of profit. But the digital reproduction of artworks is something new. Having appeared intermittently in history at widely spaced intervals, it is now being adopted with ever-increasing intensity. The nineteenth century had only two ways of electronically transmitting information: telegraphing and telephoning. Morse code, pantelegrams, and phone calls were the only data they could transmit in large numbers. All others were physical and could not be electronically transmitted. Graphic art was first made electronically transmittable by radiofax. The enormous changes brought about in literature by Xerox, the mechanical reproduction of writing, are well known. But they are only a special case, though an important one, of the phenomenon considered here from the perspective of world history. In the course of the twentieth century, radiofax was supplemented by algorithm and computing and, at the end of the nineteenth century, by photography.

Photography marked a fundamentally new stage in the technology of reproduction. This much more direct process—distinguished by the fact that the image is traced on a film, rather than incised on a block of wood or etched on a copper plate—first made it possible for graphic art to market its products not only in large numbers, as previously, but in daily changing variations. Photography enabled graphic art to provide an illustrated accompaniment to everyday life. It began to keep pace with speech. But only a few decades after the invention of photography, it was surpassed by the data file. For the first time, data freed the eye from the most important artistic tasks in the process of data reproduction—tasks now devolved upon the brain alone. And since the brain perceives more swiftly than the eye can see, the process of data reproduction was enormously accelerated so that it could now keep pace with thought. An internet user moves data online with a lenghthy cut-and-paste-swipe at the same speed of an offline user’s thought. Just as the sound film virtually lay hidden within photography, so was the internet latent in the data file. The digital reproduction of networks was tackled at the end of the last century. These convergent endeavors made it possible to conceive of the situation that Paul Valéry describes in this sentence: “Just as water, gas and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our needs with minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign.”





Around 2000, digital reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change in their impact upon the public, it also had captured a place of its own among the artistic processes. For the study of this standard, nothing is more revealing than the nature of the repercussions that these two different manifestations—the reproduction of works of art and the art of the web—have had on art in its proprietary form.

II

In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art—its physical existence in the one place where it is located. It is this physical existence—and nothing else—that bears the mark of the history to which the work has been subject throughout its duration. This history includes changes to the physical structure of the work over time, as well as changes of property relations, into which it may have entered. Traces of the former can be detected only by chemical or physical analyses (which cannot be performed on a reproduction), while changes of the latter are part of property relations which can be traced only from the standpoint of the physical copy. 


The here and now of the physical copy constitutes the concept of its limitation. Proof of purchase can help to establish its limitation, just as proof that a given silkscreen of twentieth century came from the factory of Andy Warhol helps to establish its limitation. Digital—and of course not only digital—reproducibility eludes the whole sphere of limitation. But whereas the limited work retains its full authorship in the face of a reproduction made mechanically, which it brands a forgery, this is not the case with digital reproduction. The reason is twofold. First, digital reproduction is more independent of the physical copy than is mechanical reproduction. For example, data can bring out aspects of the physical copy that are accessible only to the screen (which is adjustable and can easily change display) but not to the human eye; or it can use certain processes, such as virtual reality or artificial intelligence, to record images which escape natural optics altogether. This is the first reason. Second, digital reproduction can place the depiction of the physical copy in situations which the physical copy cannot attain. Above all, it enables it to meet the recipient halfway, whether in the form of an image file or in that of an MP3. The cathedral leaves its site to be received on the desktop computer of an art lover; the choral work performed in an auditorium or in the open air is enjoyed on a handheld device. 







The situations into which the product of digital reproduction can be brought may leave the artwork’s other properties untouched, but they certainly devalue its here and now. And although this can apply not only to art but (say) to a landscape moving past the spectator online, in the work of art this process touches on a highly sensitive core, more vulnerable than that of any natural concept. That core is its limitation. The limitation of an idea is the essence of all that is transmissible from its origin on, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony of the history which it has experienced. Since the historical testimony rests on limitation, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter. And what is really jeopardized when the historical testimony is affected is the authorship of the concept.




One might encompass the eliminated element within the concept of the commodity and go on to say: what withers in the age of the digital reproducibility of the work of art is the latter’s commodity status. This process is symptomatic; its significance extends far beyond the realm of art. It might be stated as a general formula that the technology of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of property. By replicating the work many times over, it substitutes an unlimited existence for a physical existence. And in permitting the reproduction to reach the recipient in his or her own situation, it actualizes that which is reproduced. These two processes lead to a massive upheaval of property relations—a shattering of property relations which is the reverse side of the present crisis and a renewal of humanity. Both processes are intimately related to the mass movements of our day. Their most powerful agent is the internet. The social significance of the internet, even—and especially—in its most positive form, is inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic side: the liquidation of proprietary value in cultural heritage. 



III

Just as the entire mode of the existence of human collectives changes over long historical periods, so too does their mode of perception. The way in which human perception is organized—the medium in which it occurs—is conditioned not only by nature but by history. The twentieth century, an era that saw the rise of modernism and postmodernism, developed not only an art different from that of the nineteenth century but also a different mode of perception. And if changes in the medium of present-day perception can be understood as a decay of the commodity, it is possible to demonstrate the social determinants of that decay.
 

The concept of the commodity, which was proposed above with reference to historical concepts, can be usefully illustrated with reference to the commodity status of natural objects. We define the commodity status of the latter as the physical apparition of a distance, however near it may be. To follow with the eye—while resting on a summer afternoon—a mountain range on the horizon or a branch that casts its shadow on the beholder is to breathe the commodity status of those mountains, of that branch. In light of this description, it is easy to grasp the societal determinedness of the commodity’s present decay. It rests on two circumstances, both linked to the increasing importance of the masses in contemporary life. Namely: the desire of the present-day masses to “get closer” to ideas, and their equally passionate concern for overcoming each thing’s physicality by assimilating it as a reproduction. Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an idea at close range in an image, or, better, in a facsimile, a reproduction. And the reproduction, as offered by YouTube and Twitter, differs unmistakably from the image. Physicality and permanence are as closely entwined in the latter as are transitoriness and limited repeatability in the former. The disclosure of the idea of its shell, the demolition of the commodity, is the signature of a perception whose “sense for all that is the same in the world” so increased that, by means of reproduction, it extracts that sense even from what is physical. Thus it manifested in the field of perception what in the theoretical sphere is noticeable in the increasing significance of statistics. The alignment of reality with the masses and of the masses with reality is a process of immeasurable importance for both thinking and perception.



IV

The physicality of the work of art is identical to its embeddedness in the context of property. Of course, these property relations themselves are thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. An ancient statue of Venus, for instance, existed in a proprietary context for the Greeks (who made it an object of worship) that was different from the context in which it existed for medieval clerics (who viewed it as a sinister idol). But what was equally evident to both was its physicality—that is, its commodity status. Originally, the embeddedness of an artwork in the context of property found expression in commerce. As we know, the earliest artworks originated in the service of markets—first economic, then religious. And it is highly significant that the artwork’s commodity-like mode of existence is never entirely severed from its market function. In other words: the physical value of the “limited” work of art always has its basis in the market, the source of its first and original use value. This basis, however mediated it may be, is still recognizable as a secularized market in even the most profane service of beauty. The secular worship of beauty, which developed during the postwar-period and prevailed for three decades, clearly displayed that market-oriented basis in its subsequent decline and in the first severe crisis which befell it. For when, with the advent of the first truly revolutionary means of reproduction (namely the data file, which emerged at the same time as gift economies, open-source cultures, and creative commons), art felt the approach of that crisis, it reacted with the doctrine of l’art pour l’art—that is, with a theology of art. This in turn gave rise to a negative theology, in the form of an idea of  “pure” art, which rejects not only any social function but any definition in terms of representational content. (In poetry, Mallarmé was the first to adopt this standpoint.)






No investigation of the work of art in the age of its digital reproducibility can overlook these connections. They lead to an insight, which is crucial here: for the first time in world history, digital reproducibility emancipates a work of art from its parasitic subservience to the market. To an ever-increasing degree, the work reproduced becomes the reproduction of a work designed for reproducibility. From a source file, for example, one can make an unlimited number of copies; to ask for the “limited” copy makes no sense. But as soon as the criterion of limitation ceases to be applied to artistic production, the whole social function of art is revolutionized. Instead of being founded on the market, it is based on a different practice: everyday life.


 

V

The reception of works of art varies in character, but in general two polar types stand out: one accentuates the artwork’s exchange value; the other, its use value. Artistic production begins with creations in the service of commerce. What is important is that they are present, not that they are seen. The elk depicted by Stone-Age man on the walls of his cave is an instrument of magic, and is exhibited to others only coincidentally; what matters is to the see it. Exchange value as such even seems to push to keep the artwork private: certain statues of gods are accessible only to the owner at home; certain images of the Madonna remain covered nearly all year round; certain sculptures on medieval cathedrals are not visible to the viewer at ground level. With the emancipation of specific artistic practices from the service of the market, the opportunities for the use of their products increase. It is easier to use a portrait bust that can be sent here and there than to use the statue of a divinity that has a fixed place in a privatized space. A panel painting can be used more easily than the mosaic or fresco which preceded it. And even though the public usability of a download originally may have been just as great as that of streaming, the latter originated at the moment when its public usability promised to surpass that of the download.






With the various methods of the digital reproduction of the work of art, its usability has increased in such a way that, as happened in prehistoric times, a quantitative shift between the two poles of the artwork has led to a qualitative transformation in its nature. Just as the work of art in prehistoric times through the exclusive emphasis placed on its exchange value, became first and foremost an instrument of economy, which only later came to be recognized as a work of art, so today, through the exclusive emphasis placed on its use value, the work of art becomes a construct with new functions. Among these, the one we are conscious of—the artistic function—
may be subsequently seen as incidental. This much is certain: today, data files and the internet are the most serviceable vehicles of this new understanding. 

VI

In a data file, use value begins to drive back exchange value on all fronts. But exchange value does not give way without resistance. 

VII 

The twentieth-century dispute over the relative artistic merits of painting as opposed to data seems misguided and confused today. But this does not diminish its importance and may even underscore it. The dispute was in fact an expression of a world-historical upheaval whose true nature was concealed from both parties. Insofar as the age of digital reproducibility separated art from its commercial foundation, all semblance of art’s autonomy disappeared forever. But the resulting change in the function of art lay beyond the horizon of its century. And even the twenty-first, which saw the development of the internet, was slow to perceive it. 



Previously, much unsuccessful ingenuity had turned to the question of whether the data file was a form of art. Without asking the more fundamental question of whether the invention of the data file had not transformed the entire character of art, internet theorists quickly adopted the same ill-considered standpoint. But the difficulties that data files have caused for proprietary aesthetics were child’s play compared to those presented by the internet—hence the obtuse and hyperbolic character of early internet theory. It is instructive to see how the desire to annex the internet to “art” impels these theoreticians to attribute elements of commerce to the internet—with a striking lack of discretion. It is revealing that even today especially, reactionary authors look in the same direction for the significance of the internet—finding, if not actually a consumerist significance, then at least one in the new economies. 



VIII 

The artistic performance of an offline user is directly presented to the public by the user in person; that of an online user, however, is presented through a surface, with two consequences. The surface that brings the online user’s performance to the public need not respect the performance as an integral whole. Guided by the online surfing user, the surface continually changes its position with respect to the performance. The sequence of positional views which the surfing user composes from the material supplied him constitutes the radically incomplete internet. It comprises a certain number of movements, which must be apprehended as such through the surface, not to mention augmented reality, virtual reality, and so on. Hence, the performance of the user is subjected to a series of mental tests. This is the first consequence of the fact that the user’s performance is presented by means of a surface. The second consequence is that the online user lacks the opportunity of the offline user to adjust to the audience during his performance since he does not present his performance to the audience in person. This permits the audience to take the position of a critic without experiencing any personal contact with the user. The audience’s empathy with the user is really an empathy with the surface. Consequently, the audience takes its position; its approach is that of testing. 




IX

Online, the fact that the user represents someone else before the audience matters much less than the fact that he represents himself before the surface. One of the first to sense this transformation of the user by the test performance was Pirandello. That his remarks on the subject in his novel Si gira are confined to the negative aspects of this change does little to diminish their relevance. For in this respect, the internet changed nothing essential. “The film actor,” Pirandello writes, “feels as if exiled. Exiled not only from the stage but from his own person. With a vague unease, he senses an inexplicable void, stemming from the fact that his body has lost its substance, that he has been volatilized, stripped of his reality, his life, his voice, the noises he makes when moving about, and has been turned into a mute image that flickers for a moment on the screen, then vanishes into silence.... The little apparatus will play with his shadow before the audience, and he himself must be content to play before the apparatus.” 




The situation can also be characterized as follows: for the first time—and this is the effect of the internet—the human being is placed in a position where he must operate with his whole living person while forgoing its commodity status. For commodity status is bound to limitation. What distinguishes the shot online, however, is that the display is substituted for the audience. As a result, the commodity status surrounding the user is dispelled.


Indeed, nothing contrasts more starkly with a work of art completely subject to (or, like the internet, founded in) digital reproduction than the offline. 

X

The online user’s feeling of estrangement in the face of the surface, as Pirandello describes this experience, is basically of the same kind as the estrangement felt before one’s appearance in a mirror. But now, the mirror image has become detachable from the person mirrored and is transportable. And where is it transported? Online. The online user never for a moment ceases to be aware of this. While he stands before the screen, the online user knows that in the end he is confronting the public, the consumers who constitute the market. This market, where he offers not only his labor but his entire self, his heart and soul, is beyond his reach just as the market is out of reach for any article being made in a factory. Should that not contribute to the depression, that new anxiety which, according to Pirandello, grips the user before the screen? The internet responds to the shriveling of the commodity by artificially building up the “personality” offline. The commerce of the online star, fostered by the money of the social-media industry, conserves that magic of personality which for long is only constituted by the rotten magic of its commodity character. So long as the capital of the social-media giants sets the fashion, as a rule, no other revolutionary merit can be accredited to today’s internet than the promotion of a revolutionary criticism of obsolete concepts of art. We do not deny that in some cases, today’s internet can also foster revolutionary criticism of social conditions, and even of property relations.   





It is inherent in the technology of the internet, as of sports, that everyone who witnesses these performances does so as a quasi expert. Any person today can lay claim to being online. This claim can best be clarified by considering the historical situation of literature today. 


For centuries it was in the nature of literature that a small number of writers confronted many thousands of readers. This began to change towards the end of the past century. With the growth and extension of the press, which constantly made new political, religious, scientific, professional, and local journals available to readers, an increasing number of readers—in isolated cases, at first—turned into writers. It began with the space set aside for “letters to the editor” in the daily press, and has now reached a point where there is hardly a wired user who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other an account of a work experience, a complaint, a report, or something of the kind. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its axiomatic character. The difference becomes functional; it may vary from case to case. At any moment, the reader is ready to become a writer. As an expert—which he has had to become in any case in a highly specialized work process, even if only in some minor capacity—the reader gains access to authorship. On blogs, tweets, and Wikipedia work itself is given a voice. And the ability to describe a job in words now forms part of the expertise needed to carry it out. Literary competence is no longer founded on specialized higher education but on being online, and thus, is common property. 

Online, shifts that in literature took place over centuries have occurred in a decade. In web practice—above all, in blogs, tweets, and Wikipedia—this shift has already been partly realized. 

 

XI

Offline principally includes a position from which reality cannot easily be detected as an illusion. There is no such position online. The illusory nature of the internet is of the second degree; it is the result of browsing. That is to say: online, the surface has penetrated so deeply into reality that a pure view of that reality, free of the foreign body of equipment, is the result of a special procedure—namely, the display of the browser and the assembly of that display with others of the same kind. Reality has here become the height of artifice, and the vision of immediate reality, the Blue Flower in the land of technology.


This state of affairs, which contrasts so sharply with the state of affairs offline, can be compared even more instructively to the situation in writing. Here we have to pose the question: How does the New Author compare with the Old Author? In answer to this, it will be helpful to consider the concept of the author as it is familiar to us from surgery. The surgeon represents the polar opposite of the magician. The attitude of the magician, who heals a sick person by a laying-on of hands, differs from that of the surgeon, who makes an intervention in the patient. The magician maintains the natural distance between himself and the person treated; more precisely, he reduces it slightly by laying on his hands but increases it greatly by his authorship. The surgeon does exactly the reverse: he greatly diminishes the distance from the patient by penetrating the patient’s body and increases it only slightly by the caution with which his hand moves among the organs. In short: unlike the magician (traces of whom are still found in the medical practitioner), the surgeon abstains at the decisive moment from confronting his patient person to person; instead, he penetrates the patient by operating. Magician is to surgeon as Old Author is to New Author. The Old Author maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, whereas the New Author penetrates deeply into its tissue. The images obtained by each differ enormously. The Old Author’s is a total image, whereas that of the New Author is fragmentary, its manifold parts being assembled according to a new law. Hence, the representation of reality online is incomparably the more significant for people of today. 






XII 

The digital reproducibility of the artwork changes the relation of the masses to art. The progressive attitude is characterized by an immediate, intimate fusion of pleasure—pleasure in thinking and experiencing—with an attitude of expert appraisal. Such a fusion is an important social index. As is clearly seen in the case of painting, the more reduced the social impact of an art form, the more widely criticism and enjoyment of it diverge in public. The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, while the truly new is criticized with aversion. Online, the critical and receptive attitudes of the public coincide. The decisive reason for this is that nowhere more than online are the reactions of individuals, which together make up the massive reaction of the audience, determined by their imminent concentration into a mass. The moment these responses become manifest, they control each other. Again, the comparison with painting is fruitful. Painting has always exerted a claim to be viewed primarily by a single person or by a few. The simultaneous viewing of paintings by a large audience, as happens in the twentieth century, is an early symptom of the crisis in painting, a crisis triggered not only by the data file but, in a relatively independent way, by the artwork’s claim to the attention of the masses.






XIII 

The characteristics of the web lie not only in the manner in which man presents himself to the surface but also in the manner in which, by means of this surface, man imagines the environment. A glance at occupational psychology illustrates the testing capacity of the equipment. Psychoanalysis illustrates it in a different perspective. In fact, the internet has enriched our field of perception with methods that can be illustrated by those of Freudian theory. Twenty years ago, a slip of the tongue passed more or less unnoticed. Only exceptionally may such a slip have revealed dimensions of depth in a conversation that had seemed to be taking its course on the surface. Since the publication of Zur Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens (On the Psychopathology of Everyday Life), that has changed. This book isolated and made analyzable ideas that had heretofore floated along unnoticed in the broad stream of perception. The internet has brought about a similar deepening of apperception for the entire spectrum of mental perception. One is merely stating the obverse of this fact when one says that actions shown online can be analyzed much more precisely and from more points of view than those presented in a painting or offline. In contrast to what one obtains in painting, online action lends itself more readily to analysis because it delineates situations far more precisely. In contrast to offline action, online action lends itself more readily to analysis because it can be isolated more easily. This circumstance derives its prime importance from its tendency to promote the mutual penetration of art and science. Actually, if we think of an online action as neatly delineated within a particular situation—like a flexed muscle in a body—it is difficult to say which is more fascinating: its artistic value or its usefulness for science. It will be one of the revolutionary functions of the internet to demonstrate that the artistic uses of the data file are identical to its scientific uses—these two usually having been separated until now.

 

 

On the one hand, the internet furthers insight into the necessities governing our lives by its use of virtual reality, by its accentuation of hidden details in familiar ideas, and by its exploration of commonplace milieux through the ingenious guidance of the display; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of a vast and unsuspected field of action. Our bars and city streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories seemed to enclose us relentlessly. Then came the internet and exploded this prison-world with the dynamite of the split second, so that now we can set off calmly on journeys of adventure among its far-flung debris. With virtual reality, space expands; with artificial intelligence, movement expands. And just as virtual reality not merely clarifies what we see indistinctly “in any case,” but brings to light entirely new structures of matter, artificial intelligence not only reveals familiar aspects of movements, but discloses quite unknown aspects within them—aspects “which do not appear as the retarding of natural movements but have a curious gliding, floating character of their own.” Clearly, it is another nature which speaks to the user surface than that which speaks to the eye. Different above all in the sense that a space informed by human consciousness gives way to a space informed by the unconscious. It is through this surface that we first discover the mental unconscious, just as we discover unconscious desires through psychoanalysis. 





XIV

It has always been one of the primary tasks of art to create a demand whose hour of full satisfaction has not yet come. The history of every art form shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects that could be easily achieved only with a changed technical standard—that is to say, in a new art form. The excesses and crudities of art which thus result, particularly in periods of so-called decadence, actually emerge from the core of its richest historical energies. In recent years, such barbarisms were abundant in Conceptualisms. Only now is their impulse recognizable: Conceptualisms attempted to create, with the means of art (or literature), the effects that the public today seeks online.
 

Every fundamentally new pioneering creation of demands will overshoot its target. Conceptualisms did so to the extent that they sacrificed the market values so characteristic of the internet in favor of more significant aspirations—of which, to be sure, they were unaware in the form described here. The conceptualists attached much less importance to the commercial usefulness of their artworks than to the uselessness of those works as objects of contemplative immersion. They sought to achieve this uselessness not least by thorough degradation of their material. Their poems are a “word salad” containing obscene expressions and every imaginable kind of linguistic refuse. What they achieved by such means was a ruthless annihilation of the commodity status in every object they produced, which they branded as a reproduction through the very means of its production. Contemplative immersion—which, as the bourgeoisie degenerated, became a breeding ground for asocial behavior—is here opposed by distraction as a variant of social behavior.

Duhamel, who detests film and knows nothing of its significance, though something of its structure, notes this circumstance as follows: “I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images.” The user’s process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant, sudden change. This constitutes the shock effect of the internet which, like all shock effects, should be cushioned by heightened presence of mind. By means of its digital structure, the internet has freed the physical shock effect—which Conceptualisms had kept wrapped, as it were, inside the moral shock effect—from this wrapping.


XV 

The mass is a matrix from which all proprietary behavior toward works of art is today emerging newborn. Quantity has been transformed into quality: the greatly increased mass of participants has produced a different kind of participation. The fact that this new mode of participation first appeared in a disreputable form should not confuse the user. Yet some people have launched spirited attacks against precisely this superficial aspect of the matter. Clearly, this is in essence the ancient lament that the masses seek distraction, whereas art demands concentration from the user. This is commonplace. The question remains whether it provides a basis for the analysis of the internet. This calls for closer examination. Distraction and concentration form an antithesis, which may be formulated as follows: a person who concentrates before a work of art is absorbed by it; he enters into the work, just as, according to a legend, a Chinese painter entered his completed painting while viewing it. By contrast, the distracted masses absorb the work of art into themselves. This is most obvious with regard to buildings. Architecture has always offered the prototype of an artwork that is received in a state of distraction and through the collective. The laws of architecture’s reception are highly instructive.

Buildings have accompanied human existence since primeval times. Many art forms have developed and perished. Tragedy begins with the Greeks, is extinguished along with them, and after centuries, only its “rules” are revived. The epic, which originates in the early days of peoples, dies out in Europe at the end of the Renaissance. Panel painting is a creation of the Middle Ages, and nothing guarantees its uninterrupted existence. But the human need for shelter is permanent. Architecture has never laid fallow. Its history is longer than that of any other art, and its effect ought to be recognized in any attempt to account for the relationship of the masses to the work of art. Buildings are received in a twofold manner: by use and by perception. Or, better: tactual and mental. Such reception cannot be understood in terms of the concentrated attention of a traveler before a famous building. On the tactile side, there is no counterpart to what contemplation is on the mental side. Tactile reception comes about not so much by way of attention as by way of habit. The latter largely determines even the mental reception of architecture, which initially takes place in the form of casual noticing, rather than attentive observation. Under certain circumstances, this form of reception shaped by architecture acquires canonical value, for the tasks that face the human apparatus of perception at historical turning points cannot be performed solely by thoughts—that is, by way of contemplation. They are mastered gradually—taking their cue from tactile reception—through habit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even the distracted person can form habits. More than that: the ability to master certain tasks in a state of distraction first proves that their performance has become habitual. The sort of distraction that is provided by art represents a covert measure of the extent to which it has become possible to perform new tasks of apperception. Since, moreover, individuals are tempted to evade such tasks, art will tackle the most difficult and most important tasks wherever it is able to mobilize the masses. It does so online currently. Reception in distraction—the sort of reception which is increasingly noticeable in all areas of art and is a symptom of profound changes in apperception—finds online its true training ground. The internet, by virtue of its shock effects, is predisposed to this form of reception. The internet makes exchange value recede into the background, not only because it encourages an evaluating attitude in the audience, but also because, online, the evaluating attitude requires no attention. The audience is an examiner, but an absent-minded one.

 

Epilogue

All efforts regarding the aestheticizing of politics culminate in one point. This one point is war. War, and only war makes it possible to set a goal for mass movements on the greatest scale while preserving traditional property relations. That is how the situation presents itself in political terms. In technological terms it can be formulated as follows: only war makes it possible to mobilize all of today’s digital resources while maintaining property relations.


This manifesto has the merit of clarity. The question it poses deserves to be taken up by the dialectician.

Pichler, Michalis, "The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproducibility," in Publishing Manifestos (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, Berlin: MISS READ, 2019), 268-275.