from Embodying Technesis: Technology Beyond Writing (Michigan, May 2000).

 

Chapter 9

 

On Some Motifs in Benjamin (Re)Embodying Technology as Erlebnis or the Postlinguistic Afterlife of Mimesis

 

 

 

Now that we have grasped the dead end of the systemic semiotic perspective, it remains for me to lay out the model of corporeal mimesis that I propose in its place. To do so, I shall return to the still resonant work of Germany's most important twentieth century literary and cultural critic, Walter Benjamin. By thinking through and beyond Benjamin on the topic of experience and technology, contemporary technocultural critics can, I suggest, begin to disabuse themselves of their ingrained textualist biases in ways that facilitate a fundamental reconceptualization of technology's experiential impact beyond technesis. Pried loose from its own irreducibly political moment and coordinated with the technologies of our postmodern age, Benjamin's rehabilitation of lived experience (Erlebnis) acquires a basic anthro‚pological function: as a hinge articulating embodiment with technologies that facilitate collective experience, Erlebnis forms the medium for our interface with the ever more fragmented and autonomous material world.

 

More than any other twentieth century critic, Benjamin must be credited with problematizing the tyranny of discursive‑representationalist reason and insisting on the irreducibility of an embodied experiential domain. In his work on the nexus linking technology to the structure of experience‚ and particularly in his 1939 essay "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire"óBenjamin refuses to subordinate Erlebnis (literally, "living through), to memorial reflective experience proper (Erfahrung). In appropriating Benjamin's category of Erlebnis as the basis for a theory of experience in the postmodern age, I shall emphasize an aspect of his thought that diverges from his sustained (and well‑excavated) concern with historical redemption‑what one recent critic refers to as his interest in diagnosing our "more equivocal contact with contemporary reality" Cohen 1993, 205). Rather than continuing to focus on Benjamin's peculiar, admittedly fascinating historical moment, I want to ask what Benjamin can offer us in our effort to reconcile experience with the infrastructure of the emergent posthuman world.[1]

 

By articulating the increased centrality of Erlebnis in the modern age with a historical account of what he calls "the mimetic faculty," Benjamin develops an aspect of embodiment absolutely fundamental to my claims concerning technology's molecular impact.Ý In contrast to Bourdieu, whose structural account of mimeticism remains abstract, Benjamin employs mimesis first and foremost as a historical category a category capable of describing the relationship between embodied human beings and the ever charging material domain. This historical conception of mimesis broadens and 'sharpens Hayles's dialectical account of the correlation between tech‚nological change and shifts in embodiment; specifically, Benjamin positions modern technology as the agent behind the fundamental shift in the domi‚nant mode of experience characteristic of modernity‑the shift from Erfahrung to Erlebnis.

 

To appropriate Erlebnis as the basis for a robust account of technological change, we must supplement Benjamin's history of mimesis by introducing a third stage in its evolutionóone in which image replaces text as the basic, medium of experience. Such supplementation in turn requires us to emphasize those aspects of his doctrine of mimesis that depart from his totalizing and hermetic linguistic ontology. By distinguishing a properly lin‚guistIc form of our contact with the material world from a primitive, prelinguistic and embodied one, Benjamin bistoricizes the linguistic (textualist) model of the cosmos as specific to a particular (if particularly long and important) phase in human existence. Viewed in the broader context thus secured, language appears as one vehicle among others for our contact with the cosmos and one whose sway is by no means necessarily infinite. The structural open endedness of his mimetic history leaves room for the introduction of a distinct postlinguistic form of mimesis that would restore a cru‚cial dimension of sensuousity a practical, embodied basis to our contact with the material world.[2]

 

This possibility speaks directly to our contemporary cultural moment. By providing a model for conceptualizing embodied experience without mea‚suring it through an account of metaphoric change or otherwise reducing it to discourse, Benjamin's mimetic theory of experience can guide our efforts to think through two central aspects of the imagistic turn currently under‚way in our culture. In the first place, it furnishes a compelling account of the key experiential consequence of this shift the decline in language's tradi‚tional hermeneutic and ontological function that results from the increasing autonomy of the material world as producer of our contemporary imaginary. In this way, Benjamin's theory fills out the experiential side of the pic‚ture painted by those media and technology critics who stress the autonomy of technological modes of reproduction with respect to the long reigning tyranny of the literary; in particular, Benjamin helps us construct the expe‚riential correlate to what Wlad Godzich, summarizing the work of critics like Baudrillard and Virilio, incisively describes as our culture's incipient return to a curious posthistorical form of preliteracy.

 

We are living in the midst of a prelogical affirmation of the world, in the sense that it takes place before the fact of logos, and it threatens us with an alienation that modern thinkers could barely conceive. For what happens is that immediate (nonmediated) reality becomes the very expression of the imaginary and substitutes itself for it. The imaginary becomes free of the logos since the world speaks itself in its own terms. Such a world is defined without us. It is the world without us, a world altogether other, with coordi‚nates that do not come from us .... We are now inhabited by images that we have not drawn from ourselves, images of external impression that we do not maser and that retain all their agential capability without being mediated by us. (Godzich 1994, 368 69)

 

Despite the vast acceleration of image circulation in the historical interval separating Benjamin's moment from ours, his effort to grapple with the material impact of similar autonomous images remains exemplary: it com‚prises an indispensable model that can guide us in our efforts to forge connections with our alienating, postimaginary material world.

 

With its (at least virtual) call for a shift from semiosis to mimesis as the dominant mode governing our contact with the world, Benjamin's theory helps us to fathom a second aspect of the imagistic turn. By distinguishing between instrumental and representationalist uses of language, Benjamin clarifies how it is that we can, at the same time, speak nonreductively about what is literally unspeakable and avoid reducing technology to an abstrac‚tion indistinguishable from everything else that resists representation. Once we grasp the mimetic basis of our experience of the autonomous, worldly imaginary, the risk of reducing embodiment to language simply falls away; the passage to a mimetic model of experience introduces a more inclusive notion of environment, one in which language loses its categorical privilege and takes up a more humble role as one modality among others of our con‚ tact with the material domain. Affirming the mimetic basis of our experience thus involves both gain and loss: while we acquire the capacity to val‚orize explicitly an experiential domain that can only be bracketed out on any logocentric approach, we must abandon our commitment to a concep‚ tual and/or semiotic mastery of our experienceóits complete translation into languageówhether this takes the form of traditional philosophical foundationalism or of the quasi foundational discursive constructivism cen‚tral to so much of contemporary cultural studies. With John Dewey (fol‚lowing philosopher Richard Shusterman's recent reconstruction), we must embrace the nondiscursive or better, mimetic) basis of our experience, not as the foundation of our conscious knowledge, but as a never fully explica‚ble background whose importance is primarily aesthetic, in the broad sense of conditioning our immediate "felt quality of living" (Shusterman 1994, 136) Such a task, Shusterman makes clear, does not amount to a turn away from language as such but involves a far less grandiose break with the tyranny that discursivity has exercised in twentieth century literary and cultural criticism and in Western philosophy more generally.[3]Ý While language loses its ontological status as a "general equivalent" that sets the boundaries of the interpretable as such (Goux 1990), it acquires a more concrete and humble practical role as one (perhaps locally privileged) means among oth‚ers for our never exhaustive understanding of our lived, somatic, and hence properly unrepresentable experience.

 

Second Nature and Mimesis

 

Not surprisingly, the two central aspects that distinguish Beniamin's account of technology from Deleuze and Guattari's also explain his value as a guide for the contemporary technocultural critic. With his view of tech‚nology as a material force of natural history and his exploration of agency in the technological world on mimetic grounds, Benjamin furnishes what Deleuze and Guattari could not: (1) an account of the real that recognizes the presocial role of technology as agent of material complexification and (2) a (correlative account of becoming (what Benjamin calls "innervation") that foregrounds corporeal or physiological adaptation to the alien rhythms of the contemporary mechanosphere.

 

By embracing Lukacs's notion of "second nature" well beyond its histor‚ical, praxis directed, Hegelian focus, Benjamin articulates a conception of technology that anticipates the function it has acquired (following the analyses of contemporary critics like Lyotard) in the process of material complexification.Ý As Susan Buck Morss argues, while technology trans‚forms nature through social and historical activity, the resulting second nature cannot be reduced, as it is by Lukacs, to an "alienated and reified subjectivity, a world created by humans who did not recognize it as their own"li, (Buck Morss 1989, 70). Rather, explains Buck Morss, material nature for Benjamin ìwas ëotherí than the subject, and this remained true no matter how much human labor had been invested in itî (70). For Benjamin then, as for Lyotard, a specifically technological form of what (for want of a better term) I shall call alienation must be distinguished from the alien‚ation emphasized by our centuryís most significant Hegelian readers of Marx (Lukacs, Adorno, and, more recently, Slavoj Zizek).[4]Ý What fuels such alienation, as I have just argued in the preceding interlude, precisely what Deleuze and Guattari refuse to accept: the technical contamination of mol‚ecular agency or desire itself. Rather than an instrumentalist or socially pro‚grammed axiomatic reducible to capitalism, technology embodies the very contact between humankind and the world on which societal forms are themselves constructed. It thus conditions the movement of desire itself.Ý Accordingly, Benjamin stands at the farthest extreme from Heidegger and the entire tradition of technesis; for Benjamin, technology names the modern form of physis itself , not simply its ontic degradation: ìtechnology is not the mastery of nature but of the relation between nature and man .... In technology a physis is being organized through which mankindís contact with the cosmos takes a new and different form from that which it had in nations and familiesî (Benjamin 1996, 487). Expanding technology's direct link to physis, Buck Morss acutely discerns a bipartite model of natural history at work in Benjamin's understanding of technology: for Benjamin, she contends, "[t]here have been . . . two epochs of nature." She explains, ìThe first evolved slowly over millions of years; the second, our own, began with the industrial revolution, and changes its face dailyî (1989, 70).

 

Benjamin's historical account of mimetic practice forms an experiential correlate to his strongly technological conception of natural history.[5] In a swerve from the Aristotelian tradition as he understood it, Benjamin situates mimesis not as an imitation (or supplement) of nature but as an irreducible, material element of nature itself. "Nature creates similarities," Benjamin contends, citing mimicry as an example. He argues that the human capacity for producing similarities is, however, higher than nature's, since it is rooted in practice and specifically in the practice of becoming-other: "[The human] gift of seeing resemblances is nothing other than a rudiment of the powerful compulsion in former times to become and behave like something else [”hn‚lich zu werden and sick zu verhalten]" (Benjamin 1986b, 331). The sensu‚ous correspondences that formerly governed nature find their true impor‚tance in human beings, whose gift for mimesis they are said by Benjamin to "stimulate and awaken." Consequently, according to Benjamin, the mimetic faculty is a deeply historical human product, one that ìhas changed with historical developmentî (331).

 

Both essays on the mimetic faculty concentrate on the transitional moment in the history of mmimesisóa moment of rupture when the experi‚ence of sensuous correspondences passed over into the experience of non‚sensuous ones. This rupture brings the mimetic capacity of language to the fore and, with it, a certain diminution in our practical command as materi‚ally embodied and situated beings. Benjamin explains: ì. . . our existence no longer includes what once made it possible to speak of this kind of similar‚ity [the nonsensuous]: above all, the ability to produce it. Nevertheless we, too, possess a canon [Kanon] according to which the meaning of nonsensu‚ous similarity can be at least partly clarified. And this canon is languageî (334). According to Benjamin, since language has been informed, "from time immemorial," by the mimetic faculty, the rupture responsible for its modern reign might best be understood as a transformation, one that brings out the latent potentialóand priorityóof language as mimetic medium: "language," Benjamin concludes, "may be seen as the highest level of mimetic behavior and the most complete archive of nonsensuous similarity: a medium into which the earlier powers of mimetic production and com‚prehension have passed without residue" (336; emphasis added).

 

ÝÝÝ Correlative to his increasing interest in technological modernity during the 1930s, the focus of Benjaminís search for correspondences shifted from language to images and ultimately to image technology itself. Together with the major essays of the decade, Benjamin's monumental, unfinished study of modernity, the so called Arcades Project, marks a distinct movement away from his youthful theologically grounded notion of natural correspondence and toward a synthetic notion of correspondence materialized initially as the phantasmagoria of technological culture and later through reproductive technologies functioning as the exteriorized (and collective) embodiments of memory. The postlinguistic, postarchival stage with which I suggest we sup‚plement Benjamin's history of mimesis functions precisely to bring his mimetic account of experience into line with his mature work on techno‚logical modernity. Within this expanded historical frame, the eclipse of lan‚guage as the reigning vehicle of mimesis effectively serves as a prerequisite for the displacement of semiotics heralding the advent of what Gumbrecht (following Bergson) calls the "materialization of the spirit" (1996, 590). Just as technological modernization produces a shift in the mode of experi‚ence, from Erfahrung (typified for Benjamin by the great memorial project of Proust) to Erlebnis (anticipated by the corporeal poetics of Baudelaire), it also brokers a shift in the medium of experience, from nonsensuous linguis‚tic correspondences to embodied and practical mimetic activityówhat one

recent critic aptly calls "contact sensuosity" (Taussig 1993).

 

ÝÝÝÝÝ Supplemented to address the contemporary prelogical, imaginary world, Benjamin's account of mimesis would thus appear to provide the basis for a model of becoming that satisfies the current critical imperative for some positive form of agency, while simultaneously eschewing the machine reduc‚tion of technology in any form, including technesis. Whereas theorists from Aristotle to Heidegger, Lacan, Derrida, and even Deleuze and Guattari can only localize technology (however it is construed) as a supplement to nature (or society), Benjamin not only welcomes technology's modern role as agent of material complexification but also embraces the technological contami‚nation that is its experiential correlate. Applied to our contemporary cultural predicament, Benjamin's account helps us to grasp how technology permeates presubjectified agency as an immediately sensu‚ous force independently of and prior to the subjectifications that are gener‚ated as structural effects of the semiotic system(s) constitutive of late capi‚talism.

 

Erlebnis and Erfahrung

 

Though critics have overwhelmingly tended to view Benjamin as a funda‚mentally nostalgic thinker, his account of the shift from Erfahrung to Erleb‚nis reveals him (also) to be a sober minded material realist. Far from the tragic and irreparable loss it is so often taken to be, the dissolution of memorial, auratic experience holds a profoundly ambivalent status for Ben‚jamin. If the narrowing of the domain of reflective experience (Erfahrung) in technological modernity is inevitable, as Benjamin often suggests it is, the increased prominence he accords Erlebnis would appear to constitute some form of compensation. Insofar as it absorbs infelicitous or alien stimuli that can only be integrated into experience as something lived through rather than reflected on, Erlebnis comprises the experiential modality most appro‚priate for a world in which the experience of shock has become the norm. It renders possible a more robust and pluridimensional form of experience, one that eschews the privilege of mediated interiority in favor of sensory and corporeal immediacy.

 

Given this promise of Erlebnis, it is surprising to find it all but universally dismissed in the critical literature as a degraded mode that must be redeemed, whether historically or messianically, through some resurrection of Erfabrung.[6] A case in point is furnished by Rainer Rochlitz, who simply effaces all traces of Benjamin's ambivalence in order better to promote a blanket dismissal of Erlebnis as, effectively, a fall from grace.

 

[Benjamin] is not unaware that his model of intact experience belongs to an age that has passed. Between this model and the contemporary era, no medi‚ation is possible. Only a messianic perspectiveóaÝ confirmation of the gap existing between the present and a reconciled futureóallows us to imagine a restoration of integral experience. Without ritual and its ceremonies, experi‚er1ce can present itself only in the degraded form of "lived experience" (Erlebnis) which art alone, through a heroic effort, can transform into a true experience (Erfahrung), now confined to literature. (Rochlitz 1996, 210)

 

In the face of such a blanket dismissal, our effort to reconstruct Benjamin's account of Erlebnis calls on us to protect its wholly secular and future ori‚ented perspective from the omnivorous grasp of his earlier formulated meta‚physico theological conception of experience. Far from merely extending and refining an already complete theory of experience, as it is so often taken to do, "On Some Motifs" represents a fundamental turning point in Ben‚jamin's articulation of technology with experience. Read against the grain of Benjamin's famous Artwork essay ("Art in the Age of Mechanical Repro‚duction") and the majority of the secondary literature on it, "On Some Motifs" exposes a startlingly pragmatic Benjaminóone who sees the neces‚sity of accepting the decline of Erfahrung as the precondition for a new and more appropriate conception of experience (Erlebnis) to emerge mimetically from ourÝ sensuous contact with the modern material mechanosphere.

 

The fundamental philosophical refunctionalization to which Benjamin submits the concept of Erlebnis testifies to the specificity of its function in "On Some Motifs." In appropriating Erlebnis as the crux of his inchoate mimetic theory of experience, Benjamin wrests it from the nineteenth cen‚tury hermeneutic tradition out of which it stems; whereas Wilhelm Dilthey employs Erlebnis to expose the narrowness of the neo Kantian and posi‚tivist concept of sensation, Benjamin deploys it against the cognitive monopoly characteristic of Romantic and post Romantic thought. Never‚theless, a profound continuity with certain key elements of the hermeneutic tradition lies behind his critical refunctionalization of the term. In particu‚lar, Benjamin follows Dilthey in drawing on the richness of Erlebnis as a nonconceptual account of experience. Consequently, when he invokes it in "On Some Motifs," Benjamin explicitly means to draw on its potential as a vehicle for broadening the bounds of experience.

 

ÝÝÝÝ Writing on Dilthey in Truth and Method, Gadamer highlights the robust notion of the given developed by Lebensphilosopie.. ìWhat Dilthey tries to grasp, with the concept of ëexperienceí [Erlebnis] is the special nature of the given in the human sciences . . . . Dilthey circumscribes the ideal of con‚structing knowledge from atoms of sensation and offers instead a more sharply defined version of the concept of the given. The unity of experience (and not the psychic elements into which it can be analyzed) represents the true unity of what is givenî (Gadamer 1989, 65 66). Gadamer explains that as a name for this robust concept of the given, Erlebnis resists conceptual determination: "Experience [Erlebnis] has a definite immediacy which eludes every opinion about its meaning .... What we call an Erlebnis in [the] emphatic sense thus means something unforgettable and irreplaceable, something whose meaning cannot be exhausted by conceptual determina‚tion" (67). Erlebnis, Dilthey clarifies, marks the irreducibility of life to lan‚guage, of experience to meaning: it "is a qualitative being, i.e., a reality that cannot be defined through one's inward being, but also reaches down into what is not possessed in a differentiated state."[7]

 

While he draws on this tradition to resist the cognitive monopoly char‚acteristic of modernity, Benjamin nonetheless manages to turn Erlebnis back on itself in the process of refunctionalizing it for the twentieth cen‚tury.[8] By exploiting the division between corporeal experience and the experience of consciousness, Benjamin reinterprets Erlebnis against its Romantic and post Romantic determination as what Gadamer calls a "protest against modern industrial society" (63). Rather than a means of escape from the realities of a mechanistic society, for Benjamin Erlebnis designates the new mode of experience that is itself correlative with the growth of industrial‚ism. The paradigm for such shock experience experience that fails to leave any cognitive tracesóis, of course, the worker on the assembly line. Like the gambler and the flaneur, the worker lives a life of empty, nondifferential repetition. Benjamin explains: "The jolt in the movement of a machine is like the', so called coup in a game of chance. The manipulation of the worker at the machine has no connection with the preceding operation for the very reason that it is its exact repetition .... [E]ach operation at the machine is just as (screened off from the preceding operation as a coup in a game of chance is from the one that preceded it" (Benjamin 1968, 177). By correlat‚ing it with technology's vastly expanded role in structuring the modern life‚ world, Benjamin fundamentally modifies the tenor of Erlebnis. Far from naming what is most enduring in cognitive, memorial experience (as it does for Dilthey), Erlebnis is made to designate what is most fleeting and transi‚toryóthose shocks that impact us immediately and corporeally without entering the psyche, leaving traces, or producing representations. If such shocks: nevertheless stay with us indefinitely, it is not because they are cog‚nitively or psychically unforgettable but rather because they impact us at the deepest level of our embodied experience, prior to the mediation of mem‚ory.

 

MÈmoire Volontaire, MÈmoire Involontaire

 

 

In "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire," Benjamin (1968) links the shift in the economy of experience from Erfahrung to Erlebnis to the modern decline in the role played by interiorizing, or "involuntary," memory (Erinnerung or, in Benjamin's translation, Eingedenken, "being mindful of") and the cor‚relative expansion of technical, or "voluntary," memory (Ged”chtnis). Through a critical reconstruction of the historical evolution of Erlebnis from Dilthey via Bergson and Proust to Freud, Benjamin exposes its mater‚ial connection with the technological exteriorization of memory: just as Erlebnis betokens a displacement of reflective thought as the privileged locus of experience, technological reproducibility marks the eclipse of inte‚rior, associational memory as the privileged mode of storing experience.

 

To liberate voluntary, technically exteriorized memory for its modern role, Benjamin carries out a sustained critique of interiority that should lay to rest doubts concerning his alleged nostalgia, at least as concerns this aspect of his theory of experience. The main target of this critique is the ahistoricism and abstraction of Lebensphilosophie, its deluded effort to discover the "true" experience hidden enea tE~he sur ace of life. Not surpris‚ingly, the first stage of Benjamin's argument takes aim at the abstraction of Dilthey's notion of the given and his focus on poetry: Dilthey's "point of departure," Benjamin argues, "was not man's life in society. What [it] invoked was poetry, preferably nature, and, most recently, the age of myths" (Benjamin 1968, 156). Insofar as he resituates Lebensphilosophie on a firm empirical ground, Bergson marks a second stage in Benjamin's reconstruction. Benjamin writes that Bergson's Matter and Memory "is ori‚ented toward biology." He continues: ìÖit regards the structure of mem‚ory as decisive for the philosophical pattern of experience. Experience is indeed a matter of tradition, in collective existence as well as private life. It is less the product of facts firmly anchored in memory than of a convergence in memory of accumulated and frequently unconscious dataî (157). With Bergson, the analysis of lived experience discovers an entirely new topic‚ósocialÝ memory. For this reason, Bergson's work promises to restore solidar‚ity between individual experience and collective life. Divested of its private character, memory is transformed into a locus where diverse fragments of external experience come together; it brings the individual into immediate or material contact with the external world, independently of any private memorial synthesis. With his collective and materialist conception of mem‚ory, Bergson takes a first step against the determination of the given in Lebensphilosophie as a given for a (private, individual) consciousness.

 

ÝÝÝ While Bergson's work posits a continuum of mind and matter that is essential to Benjamin's corporeal refunctionalization of Erlebnis, it nonethe‚less inherits one major flaw from Diltheyóabstractness. Benjamin argues that because Bergson "rejects any historical determination of memory," his theory must be historicized (in a third critical stage) . Such a task, Benjamin contends, falls to the "poet": "Proust's work A la Recherche du temps perdu may be regarded as an attempt to produce experience synthetically, as Bergson imagines it, under today's conditions, for there is less and less hope that it will come into being naturally" (157). In the process of "put[ting] Bergson's theory of experience to the test," Proust carries out what Ben‚jamin calls an "immanent critique": he rejects the pragmatic voluntarism implicit in Bergson's conception of action. Benjamin argues that in the "inhospitable, blinding age of big scale industrialism," the solidification of matter from out of the continuous flow of things is no longer solely the pre‚rogative of human agents but ever more frequently a result of the workings of sheer chanceóof external, predominately technological forces.

 

Proust . . . does not evade the question [of the contemporary conditions for experience] .... He even introduces a new factor, one that involves an imma‚nent critique of Bergson. Bergson emphasized the antagonism between the vita activa and the specific vita contemplativa which arises from memory. But he leads us to believe that turning to the contemplative actualization of the stream of life is a matter of free choice. From the start Proust indicates his divergent view terminologically. To him, the memoire pure of Bergson's the‚ory becomes a memoire involuntaire. (157 58; emphasis added)

 

By recasting Bergson's voluntarist memory as something that can only be triggered by chance (as the taste of the madeleine famously triggers Marcel's memory of Combray in Proust's novel), Proust confronts what Bergson could not the change in the lifeworld ensuing from large scale industrial‚ism. In a world ever increasingly dominated by the inhuman rhythm of things, the faculty of interiorizing memory (Erinnerung) has lost its privi‚lege. Memory now stands at the mercy of chance and finds its home not in the depths of psychic interiority but in the brute materiality of physical things: the past, Proust claims, is "somewhere beyond the reach of the intel‚lect, and unmistakably present in some material object."[9]

 

To account for the alienation thus produced, Proust introduces the fun‚damental shift in the economy of memory that has taken place with indus‚trialization: as Bergson's mÈmoire pure has become involuntary and ever more marginal as a means of producing experience, what Proust calls "vol‚untary memory" comes to the fore. Benjamin claims that voluntary memory differs from mÈmoire pure on two counts: it is strictly in the service of the intellect, and the information it gives about the past retains no trace of it (158). If involuntary mÈmoire pure involves the recollection of experience that has been safely preserved, voluntary memory links us with the past in a way that does not depend on the faculty of interiorizing thoughtóthat bypasses psychic mediation as such. Consequently, Benjamin concludes, voluntary memory cannot lead to "experience [Erfahrung] in the strict sense of the wordî (159).

 

In the process of expanding the scope and function of voluntary memory beyond the terms of Proust's bourgeois aestheticism, Benjamin recurs to the radical disjunction between memory and materiality explored in my reading of de Man in chapter 5. While Benjamin's two forms of memory coincide conceptually with Hegel's, they expand the purport of the disjunction de Maul installs between them. Involuntary memory (Erinnerung or Einge‚denken) mirrors the symbolic, since the trace of the past that it preserves is not arbitrary (unwillk¸rlich) but natural; voluntary memory (Gedachtnis), however, has only a fleeting and arbitrary (willkurlicb) connection with e past and thus falls on the side of the sign.[10] Insofar as it suspends the syn‚thetic function of (textual) memory, the disjunction between these two forms opens a nonsubjective, material mode of memory (akin to Lacan's notion of materialist consciousness) that forms the theoretical core for Ben‚jamin's alignment of memory with technological reproducibility.[11]

 

While de Man helped to lay out the theoretical stakes of the disjunction, it thus falls to Benjamin to work out its experiential dimension. In stark con‚trast to de Man's rigid formalism, the rationale Benjamin provides to account for the disjunction is irreducibly and concretely historical: whereas de an focuses exclusively on the abstract antihermeneutic consequences stemming from the logical incompatibility of Erinnerung and Ged”chtnis, Benjamin attends above all to the impact of the disjunction (together with its antihermeneutic consequences) on the concrete material conditions of lived experience. When voluntary memory eclipses involuntary memory, it betokens not the definitive self contradiction of theory as such but rather the fundamental alteration of our lived relation to the world.

 

By historicizing memory in this way, Benjamin manages to deploy the disjunction outside of de Man's narrow textualist framework without at the same time falling into Derrida's trap of rehabilitating the thinking subject.[12] Rather than introducing a supplementary juncture that subsumes techno‚logical exteriority (back) into thinking memory, Benjamin assesses the expe‚riential significance of the material shift in the economy of memory. Here we a counter the Bergsonist foundation of his conception of memory: echo‚ing the functionalist distinction between pure matter and pure memory, Benjamin treats involuntary and voluntary memory as two modes through which internal duration either aligns itself or is aligned with external duration.Ý For Benjamin, therefore, the disjunction demarcates two antithetical types of experience: one centered around a reflective, psychic subject whose powers have been markedly diminished with the advent of modernity (Erfahrung); another around a corporeal agency sensitive to the inhuman rhythms of the mechanosphere (Erlebnis).Ý Since voluntary memory takes its standard directly from the rhythm of external duration, of the commodity world itself, its predominance in the modern world yields a fundamental deterritorialization, we cannot confine our critical task to lamentation but must follow the sober-minded Benjamin in attempting to reconceptualize experience as the correlate of the new material reality.

 

Benjaminís Freud

 

My proposal to supplement Benjamin's history of mimesis finds its most sustained textual support in what, with Harold Bloom, we might call his "strong misreading" of Freud (1973). While Beyond the Pleasure Principle had already historicized the cortical layer as an adaptation to modern technology, Benjamin's (Bergsonist) rewriting of Beyond in "On Some Motifs " liberates the cortical layer from its narrow psychic function, reconceiving it as a new experiential faculty correlative to Erlebnis.[13]

 

ÝÝÝ Benjamin initially turns to Freud to radicalize the disjunction of voluntary and involuntary memory beyond the framework of Proust's account, to develop a ìmore substantial definition of what appears in Proust's mÈmoire de intelligenceî (1968, 160). By pressuring Freud's distinction between conscious memory and the unconscious, Benjamin discovers theoretical sup‚port for a dissociation of voluntary memory from the domain of the psyche. With his strong misreading, Benjamin thus sets in motion the archaeological process I sketched in my account of Freud the excavation of a model of corporeal agency, of physical and somatic experience, rooted in the protec‚tive function of the dead cortical layer. Moreover, by correlating such agency with voluntary, technologically exteriorized memory, Benjamin inaugurates a practical use of technological reproducibility; rather than simply mapping or capturing theoretically the inhuman rhythms of the mechanosphere that escape our ken (as Lyotard proposes), technological reproducibility is enlisted as an aid in the corporeal retraining that our sen‚sory modalities must undergo if we are to adapt ourselves to our ever more materialized lifeworld. Not only does Benjamin thereby help us to (re)con‚ceive agency in terms appropriate to our increasingly inhuman world, but he also gives us a practical recipe for adaptation that allows us to preserve our human perspective just at that moment when we might most fear our total marginalization in the face of autonomous cosmological complexification.

 

Benjamin orients his rewriting of Freud around what he calls Freud's "fundamental thought": that "consciousness comes into being in place of the memory trace." By generalizing the "fruitfulness" of this relation to "situations far removed from those which Freud had in mind when he wrote," Benjamin is able to correlate Proust's distinction with Freud's: "only what has not been experienced explicitly and consciously [was nicht ausdr¸cklich and mit Bewusstsein ist ëerlebtí worden], what has not hap‚pened to the subject as experience [was dem Subjekt nicht als ëErlebnisí widerfahren ist], can become a component of the mÈmoire involuntaire" (1601). This same relation of the unconscious to involuntary memory also serves to highlight the singularity of consciousness and to expose its kinship with voluntary memory. Just as it establishes the functionalist homology of involuntary memory and the unconscious, Benjamin's com‚parision of Freud and Proust implies a homology between their respective conceptual pairings: like consciousness, voluntary memory functions to pro‚tect the psyche from shock stimuli.

 

For all of its centrality to Benjamin's theory, the scope of this important homology is limited by an important point of divergence that will mark ever aspect of Benjamin's subsequent discussion of Freud: while voluntary memory is, by definition, located outside the individual psychic system , ness on Freud's account is securely contained within such a system. To resolve this divergence, Benjamin revises Freud's account of the dead cortical layer in an altogether striking way.

 

The acceptance of shocks is facilitated by training in coping with stimuli .... As a rule,... this training devolves upon the wakeful consciousness, located in a part of the cortex which is "so blown out by the effect of the stimulus" that it offers the most favorable situation for the reception of stimuli. That the shock is thus cushioned [abgefangen], parried by consciousness [vom Bewusstsein parriert], would lend the incident that occasions it the character of having been lived in the fullest sense [den Charakter des Erlebnisses im pr”gnanten Sinn]. If it were incorporated directly in the registry of conscious memory [unmittelbar der Registratur der bewussten Erinnerung ibn einver‚leibend], it would sterilize this incident for poetic experience. (162)

 

In thin extremely enigmatic passage, Benjamin appears to reproduce the very same tripartite distinction toward which Freud inchoately gestured in his 1895 Project for a Scientific Psychology. He differentiates two types of con‚sciousness: one (Bewusstsein) that "cushions" or "parries" shock stimuli and another (bewussten Erinnerung) that "incorporates" (vereinleiben) and thereby "sterilizes" such shock. With this key distinction, Benjamin would seem to correlate the introduction of a third experiential agency (perceptual consciousness) with the unprecedented demands of technological moder‚nity: unlike (representational) consciousness and the unconscious, this form of agency is specifically intended to register the corporeal dimension of tech‚nology's experiential impact.

 

As a means of redeeming the unrealized potential of Freud's theory, Ben‚jamin's seemingly ad hoc distinction liberates a corporeal agency of experi‚ence against the imperialism of the psychoanalytic model of experience.[14] >From the outset, Benjamin aligns consciousness proper the "registry of conscious memory" with unconscious memory and dreamwork. Since both consciousness and the unconscious aim to neutralize or sterilize stim‚uli, both belong to a single psycbic system: both are modes of "recollection" (Erinnerung), whose function is, in the words of Paul Valery, to give us "the time for organizing the reception of stimuli which we initially lacked."[15] On Benjamin's account, the Freudian agencies that enable psychic activity (Erinnerung) and constitute experience in the strict sense (Erfabrung) appear to bring about a rarefication of experience: they neutralize immedi‚ate lived experiences (Erlebnisse) by assimilating them into the (linguistic) medium of the psyche, into the space of interior memory (Erinnerung).[16]

 

With its call for a certain constitutive passivity, Benjamin's refashioning of Freud's cortical layer into a presubjective form of agency corresponds to the shift in the economy of experience from Erfahrung to Erlebnis. By vastly expanding the anthropological basis of the dead cortical layer Freud had conceived it, mimetic corporeal agency emerges as our means of adapting to the technologized mechanosphere of modernity and postmodernity.[17] Long before we acquire the ability to engage in any affirmative becoming ý la Deleuze and Guattari, we must train our corporeal, mimetic faculty to reg‚ister the subrepresentational, molecular rhythms of the lifeworld; only in that way will we successfully open the basic contact with the domain of embodiment that forms the prerequisite for any effort to ameliorate or, as Benjamin would put it, to redeem our robust lived experience.[18]

 

 

From Semiosis to Mimesis: Becoming in the Technological Age

 

Benjamin's own willingness to embrace the experiential consequences of modernization, even in their negative aspects, overdetermines his selection of Baudelaire as exemplary modern agent. A poet whose mission it was to live through his own shock experience to the fullest extent and without recourse to psychic accommodation, Baudelaire literally forced himself to experience the inhuman rhythm of the modern industrial mechanosphere. By sacrificing his own internal subjective rhythm, Baudelaire inaugurated the corporeal form of mimetic agency that, I claim, forms such a central component of Benjamin's mature theory of experience.

 

In his first Baudelaire essay, "The Paris of the Second Empire in Baude‚laire," Benjamin cites the experience of the flaneur as an example of passive adaptation to the materiality of exchange capitalism. Submitting himself to a process of becoming beyond his control, the flaneur takes on the social position of the commodity: "The flaneur is someone abandoned in the crowd. In this he shares the situation of the commodity. He is not aware of this special situation, but this does not diminish its effect on him and it per‚meates him blissfully like a narcotic that can compensate him for many humiliations. The intoxication to which the flaneur surrenders is the intox‚ication of the commodity around which surges the stream of customers" (Benjamin 1973, 55; emphasis added). Benjamin noted that the poet (Baudelaire undergoes a similar becoming, emptying himself out to attain the chameleonlike possibility of embodying the commodity's infinite reflectiveness: ìíThe poet enjoys the incomparable privilege of being himself and someone else as he sees fit. Like a roving soul in search of a body, he enters another person whenever he wishes. For him alone, all is open; if cer‚tain places seem closed to him, it is because in his view they are not worth inspecting.í The commodity itself is the speaker here" (55, citing Baude‚laire). Both flaneur and poet forge a compromise with the commodity that differs significantly from the experience of the "poor wretch" who, passing "a slop window containing beautiful and expensive things", confronts that prototypical experience of postauratic, technological modernityóthe fail‚ure of the object to return his gaze. Both flaneur and poet live the break‚down in the aura directly, if in divergent ways. Mistakenly interpreting the protean reflective capacity of the commodity as empathy, the flaneur gives himself over to nihilistic abandon; the less mystified poet assumes the com‚modity's cynical attitude, scrutinizing reality just as the commodity does, with biting disdain.

 

This affiliation of poet and flaneur underlies the constitutive passivity Benjamin ascribes to poetic practice. Role playing, Benjamin suggests, involves a certain antiheroism, cannily appropriate to the fragmentation of identity characteristic not only of technological modernity but of our post‚modernity as well: "Unlike Gautier, Baudelaire found nothing to like about his time, and unlike Leconte de Lisle he was unable to deceive himself about it .... Because he did not have any convictions, he assumed ever new forms himself. Flaneur, apache, dandy and ragpicker were so many roles to him. For the modern hero is no hero; he acts heroes. Heroic modernism turns out to be a tragedy [Trauerspiel] in which the hero's part is available" (97). With this striking refunctionalization of Keatsian negative capability, Ben‚jamin formulates the crux of the mimetic theory of becoming that he artic‚ulates more fully in "On Some Motifs." Understood as passively experi‚enced necessity dictated by the rhythm of the lifeworld, such role playing underscores the shift in the mode of experience at stake in technological modernizationóthe shift from semiotics to mimetics. In Buck Morss's suc‚cinct formulation, the "mastery" of our irreducibly technological relation to nature demands "being receptive to the expressive power of matter, a mimetic, not an instrumental skill" (1989, 70). Only a fundamental invest‚ment in our mimetic faculty will equip us for the kind of passive adaptation Baudelaire's role playing exemplifies; such an investment, Benjamin sug‚gests, makes Baudelaire's experience relevant for humanity's modern (and, we might add, postmodern) predicament.

 

ÝÝÝÝ Not surprisingly, the training of our mimetic faculty is precisely what is at stake in the tactile model of filmic reception Benjamin elaborates in "On Some Motifs." If the mimetic faculty essays place a strong emphasis on lan‚guage's reign as the repository for nonsensuous similarities, Benjamin's tac‚tile model of experience suggests a postlinguistic afterlife of mimesis.[19] In what amounts to a (partial) return to primitive mimesis, this model dis‚places the distinctly theological and scriptural correspondence with nature in favor of a technologically embodied sensuous contact with (a now dis‚tinctly second) nature.[20] Flattening the distance intrinsic to any semiotic, contemporary mimesis places the embodied agent in immediate sensory contact with the rhythmic flux of the mechanosphere. In the aftermath of this shift, what is important, as anthropologist Michael Taussig insists in an inspired reading of Benjamin's One Way Street, is "not what the neon says, but the fiery pool reflecting it in the asphalt; not language, but image; and not just the image but its tactility and the new magic thereof with the trans‚formation of roadway parking lot bitumen into legendary lakes of fire‚ ringed prophecy." Taussig continues: "It is not a question, therefore, of whether or not we can follow de Certeau and combat strategies with every‚ day tactics that fill with personal matter the empty signifiers of postmoder‚nity, because the everyday is a question not of universal semiotics but of capitalist mimetics" (Taussig 1992, 147). The task of affirming such a mimetics requires a break from Benjamin's own conjunction of mimesis with the scriptural aspect of language: "the mimetic element in language can, like a flame, manifest itself only through a kind of bearer. This bearer is the semiotic element. Thus the coherence of words or sentences is the bearer through which, like a flash, similarity appears" (Benjamin 19866, 335). We must bypass the mediation performed by the "semiotic element" of a word or an image in order to engage physically with it. We must treat words and images not as "bearers" for the experience of mimesis but as sources inaugurating mimetic processes of embodiment. By displacing this semiotic bearer in favor of another bearer our own embodied reception of the image as shockówe open a new world, what we might call a tactile unconscious, in which our embodied being in the world itself becomes the ‚material support, the medium, for the "contact sensuousity" restored by modern mimetic machines and, in particular, by the "mimetic powers striven for in the advertising image" (Taussig 1993, 23).

 

The importance of Baudelaire's poetic practice as an exemplar of mod‚ern, molecular agency stems from his unwavering embrace of such mimetic attunement; through it, argues Benjamin, he becomes the lyric poet whose work has "as its basis an experience Erfahrung] for which shock experience [Chockerlebnis] has become the norm." What differentiates Baudelaire from the poor wretch in the street is not some essential quality, as Heideg‚ger might have wished, but a certain bodily capacityóhis higher degree of olerance for shock. Benjamin attributes this capacity to Baudelaire's intense "spiritual and physical" engagement, his mind body integration: because of his bodily attunement, he is simply more able than the rest of us to live the shocks of modern life without recourse to psychological processing.[21] "Baudelaire," Benjamin explains, "made it his business to parry the shocks, no matter where they might come from, with his spiritual and physical self" (Benjamin 1968, 163; emphasis added). Because he parries shocks corpore‚ally, rather than registering them in consciousness or letting them occasion a psychic defense against trauma, Baudelaire manages to transform their corporeal impact into the raw material for his poetry.

 

Indeed, in his role as mimetic shock absorber, Baudelaire furnishes a striking illustration not only of the economic principle of experience that Benjamin appropriates from Freud but of the redemptive possibilities it affords.

 

The greater the share of the shock factor in particular impressions, the more constantly consciousness [or more exactly, the dead cortical layer] has to be alert as a protection against stimuli [Reizschutz]; the more efficiently it does so; the less do these impressions enter experience [Erfahrung], tending to remain in the sphere of lived experience proper [more precisely, "to fulfill the concept of Erlebnis" (erfuellen sie den Begriff des Erlebnisses)]. Perhaps the special achievement of shock defense may be seen in its function of assigning to an incident a precise temporal point [Zeitstelle] in consciousness at the cost of the integrity of its contents. (Benjamin 1968, 163; translation modified)

 

By appropriating Freud's model of shock processing as the basis for his the‚ory of modern experience, Benjamin is able to open a divide in the concep‚tual field of Erlebnis. While the protective function mostly occasions a neu‚tralization of the force impressions derive from their content a neutralization that makes them into already processed, irrevocably past lived experiences it can also function to free their quantitative force from its hitherto necessary correlation with representational/ideational content, in the process transforming it into an energy source for practical "innerva‚tion." Benjamin discerns just such a possibility in Baudelaire's embrace of fright. By leaving himself constantly exposed to stimuli that produce fright, Baudelaire short circuits the reflective neutralization of shock; rather than blocking out the shock stimuli of the external world, he confronts it like a challenger in a duel. Without neutralization, Benjamin suggests, one experi‚ences "nothing but a sudden start, usually the sensation of fright which, according to Freud, confirms the failure of the shock defense." He contin‚ues: "Baudelaire has portrayed this condition in a harsh image. He speaks of a duel in which the artist, just before being beaten, screams in fright. This duel is the creative process itself" (163). Rather than translating an incident into an empty, purely formal past moment (a Zeitstelle) of consciousness, the failure of the shock defense in Baudelaire triggers a frenzy of creative activity that transforms the poet's body into a medium. Through his corpo‚real engagement, Baudelaire inaugurates a new sense of Erlebnis as the channeling of the energy of shock into mimetic, physiologically rooted cre‚ative activity.[22]

 

Technology and Voluntary Memory

 

Using Bergson's terminology, we might say that Baudelaire engages in a combat with the external world that does not begin by imposing the rhythm of human duration on the rhythm of things. In his creative struggle, Baude‚laire sacrifices the informing power of his psychic duration in order to let himself be infiltrated by worldly duration.

 

. . . Baudelaire battled the crowd with the impotent rage of someone fight‚ing the rain or the wind. This is the nature of something lived through [Erlebnis to which Baudelaire has given the weight of an experience [Erfahrun ]. He indicated the price for which the sensation of the modern age [ die Sensation der Moderne] may be had: the disintegration of the aura in the experi‚ence of shock He paid dearly for consenting to this disintegrationóbut it is the law of his poetry.... (Benjamin 1968, 193 94)

 

Itself a reaction to the vast expansion in the corporeal dimension of experi‚ence, Baudelaire's sacrifice anticipates the sweeping incorporation of tech‚nology into the fabric of the lifeworld that our century has witnessed. By employing his body as a mimetic shock absorber, he inaugurates a mode of experience that only attains normative status much later, in the age of full‚blown technical reproducibility. His experience of a crowd that, machine‚like, refused to return is gaze prefigures the still more inanimate camera "eye" that we face daily in the age of technological reproducibility.[23] Through his sacrifice, Baudelaire thus reveals the historical correlation between corporeal mimesis and the ever increasing materialization of vol‚untary memory in technologies of reproduction: insofar as shock replaces reflection as the dominant mode of experience, the physiological aspects of aesthetic reception come to the fore. By operating a progressive exterioriza‚tion of voluntary memory from the human body to the machine, technolog‚ical reproducibility makes this physiological dimension into the object of collective experience. Understood as a homeopathic antidote to the inhu‚manity technology progressively introduces, this exteriorization offers rec‚ompense for the waning of Erfahrung.[24] The mimetic correspondences gen‚erated through technical reproducibility not only provide the raw material for our sensory retraining but also lend a collective dimension to that process; by increasing our physiological receptivity to the expressive power of matter, they open a new space of collective action and, with it, hope that we might gain some control against "the monopoly" that "mediums and the media" hold over "[h]ow we all in our different ways and different walks of life are used today by . . . mimetic excess" (Taussig 1993, 255).

 

Like the situation from which it arises, this hope is unprecedented in the history of human experience. The technologically mediated reinvention of experience does not simply restore what was shattered by modernization, as critics so often suggest. On the contrary, it produces an entirely new form of experience for the technological age and calls for a correlative rearticulation of the task of theory. Accordingly, if we are to capitalize on the noncogni‚tive, mimetic dimension of experience central to modernity and (still more so) to postmodernity, we must embrace technological reproducibility beyond the scope of traditional representationalism. On such a model, film constitutes the site not for a reflective experience of the impact of industrial production but for a tactile experience that functions as an aesthetic ana‚logue to the corporeal impact of the assembly line and the urban crowd, a homeopathic, "virtual experiential space where we can adapt ourselves to the recedented demands of our technologized lifeworld. By soliciting our embodied adaptation to the alien rhythms of montage, film opens a new nature to our experience, what Benjamin calls an "optical unconscious": ìÖit is a different nature that speaks to the camera than to the naked eye‚ different above all because an unconsciously permeated space substitutes for one that is infused with human consciousness [an die Stelle eines vom Men‚schen mit Bewusstsein durchwirkten Raums ein unbewusst durchwirkter tritt]" (1968, 236 37; translation modified). The seductive analogy with Freud notwithstanding, what Benjamin has in mind here is anything but an augmentation of the (Freudian) unconscious; on his model film brokers an expansion of consciousness, a broadening of the empirical (mimetic) faculty that puts us into sensory contact with our world. An earlier text (on which the Artwork essay draws quite heavily) makes just this point: "Film actually gives rise to a new region of consciousness. It is, in a word, the only prism through which man's immediate environment the space in which he lives, conducts his business and takes his leisure readily, meaningfully, and pas‚sionately presents itself to him [sich . . . auseinanderlegen]."[25] The new world opened by film is not an inner, unconscious world, but the very same material world under very different sensory conditions. By "exploding [our] prison world with the dynamite of one tenth seconds," as the Artwork essay puts it, film introduces us into a world formerly untouched by our activity (Benjamin 1968, 236; translation modified). Rather than merely opening yet another new space for further conscious (or unconscious) colo‚nization, it creates an entirely new form of consciousness, a new perceptual faculty that taps into hitherto unexplored mimetic dimensions of experi‚ence. Ý By expanding the scope of voluntary memory well beyond the point of detaching it from the individual psyche, technological reproduction generates a vast fund of mimetically charged collective images that furnish the raw material for our efforts to retrain our sensory capacities: "The tech‚niques basedÝÝÝÝÝÝÝÝÝÝÝ on the use of the camera and of subsequent analogous mechan‚ical devices extend the range of the mÈmoire volontaire;Öthese devicesÖmake it possible for an event at any time to be permanently recorded in terms of sound and sight" (Benjamin 1968, 186). This deterritorialization of memory introduces a fundamental shift in its function; following its meta‚morphosis into reproducibility, memory no longer serves to translate lived experience into the privacy of psychic interiority but mobilizes for collective consumption, in the material, exteriorized form of images, the very rhythm of the mechanosphere itself. Through this collective exteriorization of mem‚ory, technologies of reproduction generate an extensive technical contami‚nation of agency, an infiltration of desiring production unthinkable by Deleuze and Guattari, that truly merits the designation becoming tecbno‚logical.

 

Benjamin traces memory's metamorphosis into reproduction to the "cri‚sis in perception itself" brought on by technological modernization (1968, 187). Unlike previous perceptual crises, such as the introduction of perspec‚tive in the Renaissance, this crisis stems not from a shift in representational form but from the eclipse of representation itself. Accordingly, the retrain‚ing it calls for cannot pursue the goal of cognitive adaptation ý la Jameson but must provide a schooling in passive corporeal becoming, a crash course in how to use our protective cortex in a habitual, nonintentional, and nonpsychic mode. Because it bypasses our normal psychological means of processing external stimuli, such retraining involves our mimetic faculty in the radical corporeal sense I have introduced: the retraining Benjamin has in mind comprises a mimetically instilled formation of embodied habitual response. Grasping this point is crucial if we are to understand the basic refunctionalization film undergoes in "On Some Motifs"; no longer a privi‚leged site for the experience of dialectical images, film instead comes to mark the culminating point in Benjamin's progressive account of the tech‚nological exteriorization of memory.[26]

 

A touch of the [photographer's] finger now sufficed to fix an event [Ereignis] for an unlimited period of time. The camera gave the moment a posthumous shock, as it were. Haptic experiences [Erfahrungen] of this kind were joined by optic ones, such as are supplied by the advertising pages of a newspaper or the traffic of a big city. Moving through such traffic submits the individual to a series of shocks and collisions [bedingt f¸r den einzelnen eine Folge von Chocks and von Kollisionen]. At dangerous intersections, nervous impulses [lnnervationen] flow through him in rapid succession, like shocks [St–sse] from a battery. Thus technology has subjected the human sensorium to a complex kind of training [einem Training]. There came a day when a new and urgent need for stimuli [Reizbed¸rfnis] was met by the film. In a film, perception in the form of shocks [die chockf–rmige Wahrnehmung] was established as a formal principle. That which determines the rhythm of pro‚duction on a conveyor belt is the basis of the rhythm of reception in the film. (175; translation modified)

 

Refunctionalized as the privileged vehicle of a purely tactile, physiological experience, technological reproducibility allows us collectively to share Baudelaire's experience of facing the urban crowd: by depriving us of the abili to reflect, by confronting us with the shock of mimetic excess, our reproductive technologies force us to live through external stimuli without neutralizing them.

 

Innervation: Physiological or Cognitive?

 

 

While' the majority of those (few) critics who actually do appreciate Ben‚jaminís unequivocal affirmation of film's tactile dimension view it as an unfortunate break with his earlier, more activistist understanding of film,[27] to my mind it marks a fundamental and empowering turn in his effort to yoke technology to human practice. By abandoning the intrinsic link between technology and artistic revolution central to the political agenda of the Artwork essay, Benjamin's account in "On Some Motifs" re poses the question concerning humanity's relation to technology along different, vastly more humble lines.[28] Rather than continuing to ask how film can underwrite a revolutionary politicization of aesthetics, he gives voice to a more basic, and arguably more central, concern of his anthropological materialism: how is humanity to establish and maintain (nondestructive) contact with the ever complexifying, technologically driven cosmos?

 

ÝÝÝ In a move that garners critical distance from the Artwork essay, the model of technology Benjamin develops in "On Some Motifs" recurs to an earlier cosmological conception of technology he lays out in "To the Plane‚tarium," the final section of One Way Street (1928). There Benjamin reads World War I as the harbinger of a "new barbarism"óa return of sorts to the communal, ecstatic contact with the cosmos experienced by the ancients.[29] In stark antithesis to Heidegger's later understanding of World

War II as the triumph of instrumental, technical reason, Benjamin actually welcomes World War I as a wake up call to humanity, a reminder of its pro‚foundly, even essentially, technological predicament.[30] Through the sheer horror' of its unprecedented destruction, the war forces humanity to recog‚nize its',, "dangerous error" the error of dismissing the collective experience of the 'cosmos as "unimportant and avoidable" and of "consign[ing] it to the individual as the poetic rapture of starry nights" (Benjamin 1996, 486). In a striking anticipation of Lyotard's momentous coupling of technology and cosmological complexificat Benjamin construes the war as a deed of Nature itself; like Lyotard, he employs the passive voice to suggest an agency' on the part of the technologically infused cosmos.

 

[The collective experience of the cosmos] is not [unimportant and avoidable]; its hour strikes again and again, and then neither nations nor generations can escape it, as was made terribly clear by the last war, which was an attempt at new and unprecedented commingling with the cosmic powers. Human mul‚titudes, gases, electrical forces were hurled [wurden . . . geworfen] into the open country, high frequency currents coursed through the landscape, new constellations rose in the sky, aerial space and ocean depths thundered with propellers, and everywhere sacrificial shafts were dug in Mother earth. This immense wooing of the cosmos was enacted for the first time on a planetary scale that is, in the spirit of technology. (486 87)

 

While Benjamin proceeds to interpret this unprecedented destruction through the narrow lens of his revolutionary political program, ascribing it to the perverting force of capitalism,[31] his analysis nonetheless announces, in no uncertain terms, the urgent issue of his mature theory of technology: mankind's need to establish a felicitous (nondestructive) form of collective communion with the cosmos.[32]

 

ÝÝÝ Benjamin initially takes up this issue in his surrealism essay of 1929, where he develops the notion of a "collective innervation" of mankind's body through technology. Here Benjamin again invokes the new physis that was being organized for mankind by technology and emphasizes the sensu‚ous nature of our collective contact with it: "Only when in technology body and image space [Bildraum] so interpenetrate [so tief durchdringen] that all revolutionary tension becomes bodily collective innervation, and all bodily innervations of the collective become revolutionary discharge, will reality have surpassed itself [sich selbst ¸bertroffen] to the extent demanded by the Communist Manifesto" (Benjamin 1986b, 192; translation modified). The operative vehicles of such innervation are precisely those reproductive tech‚nologies that Benjamin would come to focus on in the 1930s: photography, radio, gramophone, and especially film the very technologies that, as Miriam Hansen puts it, "participate in the historical proliferation of the shock experience and thus escalate the spiral of sensory alienation, phantas‚magoria, and violence" (Hansen 1993, 38). Whatever hope Benjamin saw for establishing a (nondestructive) sensuous mimetic contact with the cos‚mos as second nature had to come from the experiential possibilities that such reproductive technologies facilitated.

 

ÝÝÝÝ Precisely this curious no ion of homeopathic redemption lies behind the privilege Benjamin grants film as the principle agent of the adaptation at issue in his anthropological materialism. Entirely independent of its function as a representational medium (and also as a space for the cognitive processing of dialectical images), film comprises a training ground for a physi‚ological becoming-technological on the cosmological scale: "Film serves to drill [dient . . . xu ¸ben] man in those new apperceptions and reactions caused by interaction with an apparatus [mit einer Apparatur] whose role in his life increases almost daily. To make the tremendous [ungebeuer] techni‚cal apparatus of our time into an object of human innervationóthat is the historical task in whose service film has its true meaning" (Benjamin 1972 89, 1:445).[33] In seeking to unpack this highly provocative claimóand the peculiar mimetic mobilization of film it lays outówe will have to take seriously its profound antihermeneutic consequences. What is ultimately at stake in Benjamin's claim for the tactile dimension of film is the basic nature, as it were, of film's appeal to us. Benjamin's work compels us to ask whether film is a reflective art form that, like art of the past, engages us cognitively or if, rather, it marks a watershed moment in aesthetic history: the advent of a predominately corporeal form of art.

 

Given the profound appeal of his political commitments, it is hardly sur‚prising that Benjamin's critics have consistently emphasized the cognitive dimension of his theory, both within his larger critical project as a whole and within the more general context of film theory. Nonetheless, in adapt‚ing Benjamin's work to analyze contemporary technoculture, we must ask whether and at what cost such an emphasis can be maintained: Has the con‚temporary information revolution so changed the material status of the image that we are forced, as it were, to alter the way we look at Benjamin?[34]

 

ÝÝÝÝ As one of the key catalysts responsible for (re)opening critical interest in Benjamin's conception of innervation, Miriam Hansen's recent work on the topic can serve as a test case to carry out such an interrogation. In her sug‚gestive interpretation of Benjamin's previously cited claim for the tactility of film, Hansen stresses the political stakes of the link Benjamin establishes between innervation and film in order to impose a criterion for adjudicating between the cognitive and the physiological (1993, 38ff.). On her reading, Benjamin's affirmation of the tactile dimension of film flirts with a danger‚ous instability: by insisting on the physiological dimension of our mimetic contact with technology, Hansen argues, Benjamin would seem to license effects that cannot be contained by nor channeled through cognition. To neutralize this risk or, rather, to insulate Benjamin from itóHansen asserts the priority within Benjamin's oeuvre of a cognitive, emancipatory form of innervation over a purely physiological, merely reactive one. In sup‚port, she cites Benjamin's invocation of Mickey Mouse in the Artwork essay; under Benjamin's critical eye, Mickey Mouse is transformed into a cognitively dissonant "figure" for a "historical imbrication of nature and technology" that points to the "utopian potential of technology for reorga‚nizing the relations between human beings and nature."[35]

 

The priority Hansen claims for the cognitive function of innervation itself depends on a closely related understanding of shock as a fundamentally inert force, one that depends on some external element for its determina‚tion. Hansen explains that technology can be alternatively destructive and empowering, depending on how it converts shock into innervation: ". . . Benjamin indeed envisioned the process of innervation, like the notion of shock, in rather neurological, electrodynamic terms. In that sense, the para‚lyzing and destructive effects of technology are only the flip side of tensions, currents, and forces which, under different relations of production and reception, could have a mobilizing and empowering effect" (38 39). Despite this seemingly explicit acknowledgment of its root physiological reality, Hansen proceeds immediately to subordinate innervation to the social. By expanding this reciprocity into a full fledged distinction between two forms of innervationóa "defensive adaptation to technology" and a "mimetic, cognitive one" (38)óHansen effectively asserts the categorical priority of social construction over technology and its contamination of (presubjectified) agency. Not unlike Deleuze and Guattari, her ultimate aim is to enlist technological innervation inn tie service of social emancipation: by rendering innervation a function of "relations of production and recep‚tion," Hansen subordinates it in a way that guarantees at least poten‚tially its redeployment toward affirmative social ends.

 

To grasp what is at stake in this reading and in the more general decision to privilege the cognitive, we need to open a larger issue that I suggest is nec‚essarily raised by Benjamin's introduction of the tactile dimension of film: the possibility that the physiological basis of innervation might actually resist all efforts to bind it to the content of a dialectical image. The claims Benjamin makes for film require us to pose questions that Miriam Hansen does not find it necessary to ask. Can we really account for innervation as the effect of a figure that acquires its redemptive function by placing nature and technology into jarring, indeed cognitively dissonant, juxtaposition? Or is the alignment of innervation with image content the hallmark of Ben‚jamin's surrealist phase ultimately irreconcilable with his mature under‚standing of shock, with his apparent valorization, in "On Some Motifs," of a physiological model of shock over a dialectical, cognitive one?

 

These questions broach the profound ambivalence that inhabits Ben‚jamin's understanding of shock. Benjamin, it would seem, has two largely antithetical theories of shock that come to the fore, alternately, as a function of critical context. In the context of arguments focusing on the task of his‚torico political redemption, he employs shock to name the cognitive experi‚ence of dissonance that dialectical images provoke; in the context of argu‚ments focusing on the shift in the economy of experience, by contrast, he uses shock to designate the corporeal impact of a vastly accelerated life‚ world on the physiology and neurology of individuals. Despite the clearóand, I suggest, decisiveódistinction between them, these two notions of shock happen to remain mutually consistent as long as Benjamin's approach to technological reproducibility stays focused onóand contained withinóthe image. When he shifts his sights to the aesthetic properties of the medium itself, however, his use of shock loses its dialectical basis and its cognitive content. Once he turns from a photographic to a filmic aesthetic, Benjamin begins to employ shock exclusively to designate a purely physio‚logical, sensuous, and (in the broad sense) aesthetic response to mechanical stimuli, a response that can no longer make common cause with his earlier dialectical and image centered conception.

 

In moving from a cognitive to a purely physiological model of shock, Benjamin effectively submits his basic understanding of technological repro‚ducibility to a fundamental revision; leaving behind all traces of his earlier, surrealist inspired program of dialectical awakening, he chooses to focus instead on technology's mediating role in the more basic task of forging a root sensuous contact between the alienated human individual and the con‚stantly complexifying cosmos. In accord with the shift in his understanding of shock, the model of film presented in "On Some Motifs" loses the ambivalence that had characterized it in "The Work of Art"; in the later essay, film assumes its consummate role as the catalyst for a type of inner‚vation aimed at restoring our basic mimetic contact with the external world. Such innervation results not from the cognitive processing of dialectical dis‚sonance but rather from the purely physiological absorption of mechanical shocks.[36] As Susan Buck Morss has recently suggested, it involves a reori‚entation of perception from the perceived object to the perceptual process itself, a turning back of perception on itself: ìIn this situation of `crisis in perception,' it is no longer a question of educating the crude ear to hear music, but of giving it back hearing. It is no longer a question of training the eye to see beauty, but of restoring ëperceptibilityíî (Buck Morss 1992, 18). As the aesthetic analogue to the shock rhythm of the lifeworld, film is what makes such a reorientation possible.

 

Appreciating this shift in focus is, I think, absolutely crucial for our con‚temporary efforts to profit from Benjamin's example. Given the vast increase in humankind's technological alienation in the sixty years that have elapsed since his death, the task of securing contact with the cosmos has become all the more urgent. With the ever increasing importance of tech‚nologies as what orient us in the practical lifeworld, our extensive depen‚dence on them has never been more central or more deserving of sustained critical attention. Indeed, since this dependence forms the very basis for our agency in the technologically mediated lifeworld, developing some under‚standing of and command over it forms the prerequisite for any subsequent practical project and must accordingly be considered the central concern of contemporary technocultural criticism.

 

ÝÝÝ With this in mind, we can now clearly grasp the reduction that Hansen's reading imposes; bluntly put, it reflects a deeply rootedóand, I suggest, fundamentally defensiveócritical desire to retain control over the physiological force unleashed by technological shock stimuli, even at the cost of bracket‚ing out some indeed a large part of technology's impact. In asking how to "distinguish . . . a film practice that `breaks through the numbing shield of consciousness' [from] one that ëmerely provides a "drill" for the strength of its defenses"' (1993, 38, citing Buck Morss), Hansen follows Buck‚-Morss in homogenizing shock, rendering it a neutral, purely quantitative effect that can be qualified Ýin better and worse ways.[37] This critical alle‚giance allows her to foreground the content of film as the key determinant of how shock will be deployed and, more specifically, to construe as the embodiment of a utopian possibility for collective innervation the particular "historical, cultural and political place" that Benjamin assigns Mickey Mouse (Hansen 1993, 39). By opening a third realm where humankindís body and technology can meet, beyond the subjective and the objective, Mickey Mouse performs what Hansen describes as a collective version of the "profane illumination" championed by the surrealists: ". . . Mickey Mouse prefigures the utopian interpenetration of body and image space which Benjamin delineates at the end of his essay on surrealism. What the surrealists have understood on an individual basis, Mickey accomplishes in the arena of mass reception: by generating in the sphere of the image, through techniques of ëprofane illumination,í the reality of a ëcollective physisí (Kollektivleib)" (46). In line with the general tenor of the Artwork essay, the figure of Mickey Mouse owes its force as a dialectical image to a certain flexibilityóMickeyís capacity for bodily metamorphosisóthat facil‚itates the presentation of alternate, hidden possibilities for the social con‚struction of humankind's relation with technology.[38] Just as the Artwork essay ascribes an intrinsic emancipatory potential to technological repro‚ducibility, a potential to denaturalize particular ideological configurations by opening an "optical unconscious," the Mickey Mouse fragments show us

how we can live our self alienation in the face of technology in a productive way, one that need not coincide with the fascist hardening of the body so prevalent as a theme of cultural criticism and art in the interwar period. Hansen argues that by engaging technology as the internal principle of their own construction, as what she tellingly calls a "hidden figure," the Mickey Mouse films "hyperbolize the historical imbrication of nature and technology through humor and parody," allowing us to experience collec‚tive innervation in the form of an "aesthetic self sublation" that loosens technology's bonds to actual society and frees it for emancipatory uses (42).[39]

 

By mapping the two types of film practice onto the distinction between a collective profane illumination centered on the figure of Mickey Mouse and a fascist hardening of the body, Hansen makes a strong case that shock experience requires cognitive redemption if it is to yield anything affirma‚tive. Her account suggests, in no uncertain terms, that our best (and only?) hope of avoiding (techno)fascism consists in embracing a surrealist inspired politicization of the aesthetic: an aesthetic mobilization of shock experience toward an emancipatory end. The analogy with surrealism suggests, more‚over, an allegiance of "mimetic, cognitive" film practice with a restoration of Erfahrung.[40] Just as the surrealists sought to mobilize shock in order to open a third domain capable of restoring the unity of experience in a new form, a domain of "inconceivable analogies and connections between events" (Benjamin 1986b, 183),[41] in Hansen's account film marshals shock toward a similar opening a revolutionary moment of dialectical awaken‚ing in which Erfahrung would be restored, again in a new form, as the col‚lective innervation linking humans with the cosmos.[42]

 

 

 

A Plea for the Autonomy of the Physiological

 

 

 

However strong its appeal, such an aesthetico political program is substan‚tially undercut by the concrete realities of our contemporary situation and specifically, as postmodern critics have persuasively demonstrated, by the dissolution of any monological form of culture together with the market's neutralization of the aesthetic avant garde (see, e.g., Huyssen 1986). In the wake of these concrete realities, whatever hopes we may indeed have of establishing and maintaining mimetic contact with an ever increasingly technological second nature would seem to require us to follow something like Benjamin's own obscure and halting trajectory from a theory of profane illumination to one of physiological mimesis. If we hope to adapt Benjamin's project to our world, we must refuse to compromise the fundamen‚tal heterogeneity he maintains between the root physiological reality of innervation and the (secondary) cognitive grounding he gives it in the Artwork and Surrealism essays. Only in this way, I suggest, will we be able to avoid subordinating the physiological basis of shock to a (narrow) social circumscription of it, a circumscription that ultimately reproduces the very same (sociological) version of the machine reduction we discovered in Deleuze and Guattari.

 

ÝÝÝ To fathom and adapt to our culture's ever expanding commitment to the image, we need in particular to embrace four key elements of Benjamin's position in "On Some Motifs" that demarcate it from his earlier work: (1) his insistence on the tactile dimension of film, (2) his effort to disarticulate the physiological dimension of shock from any discursive and/or dialectical content, (3) his shift of focus from image content to medium as the locus of the image's mimetic impact; and (4) his affirmation of Erlebnis as an autonomous and potentially empowering mode of experience. Articulated together, these motifs furnish the theoretical rudiments of a model of cor‚poreal mimesis capable ofÝ locating technology's impact at the level of ourembodied experience and of undoing the long standing tendency, on the part of Benjamin's readers and of technocultural critics more generally, to collapse such embodied impact into the discursive. By rooting the notion of mimetic innervation in the irreducibly physiological experience of tactile shock stimulated by film, "On Some Motifs" posits a posthermeneutic ana‚lytical model that not only refuses to contain the physiological dimension of shock within the dialectical space of the image [Bildraum]óto reduce it to the content of a dialectical imageóbut also positively insists on grappling with the conversion of the imagistic into the affective. In "On Some Motifs," in short, Benjamin proposes a fundamental refunctionalization of his theory of the image that can help us adapt it to the digital age.[43]

 

In suggesting that Benjamin's tactile model of film involves a certain turn away from the image, Norbert Bolz grasps the fundamental tenet of this refunctionalization.

 

. . . film's methods of technical reproduction simply no longer produce images in the strict sense. In film, the sequence of what has already happened determines the assimilation of the following frames, and through the shock effect created by the succession of images [Bildfolgen] the predominance of tactility over filmic opticality comes to light. With the shocks from its onslaught of images [Bilderst–sse], film corresponds to a pressing demand of modernity: to blast open all developmental continuity and to tear apart homogeneous becoming....The modern machine world prepares the human sensorium for film. As the five senses are trained, opticality loses its priority to tactility. In the cinema, man learns to parry discontinuities in a mode of deconcentration. Reception has come to mean the routinizing of shocks. (Bolz 1990, 87)

 

Reading Benjamin as an interface between the Guttenberg galaxy and the new media age, Bolz here suggests an inversion in the trajectory of the image: rather than tie ultimate point of convergence that sparks, by means of cognitive shock, a profane illumination, the filmic image comprises the initial point in a process of embodied receptionóof reception as embodi‚mentóthat culminates in a nonrepresentational experience of embodied physiological sensation.

 

ÝÝÝÝ Within the history of technology, the crucial moment informing this reversal in the image's trajectory is the shift from photography to cinema, from the static to the (mechanically) moving image. If Benjamin's work on photography chips away at the linguistic subordination of the image char‚acteristic of the Guttenberg galaxy, it nevertheless retains the general prior‚ity of opticality and the image's specifically literary function of "letting man read what was never written."[44] With his turn to film, by contrast, Ben‚jamin's understanding of the image crosses the threshold into the informa‚tion age. As Bolz puts it, Benjamin's media technical understanding refunc‚tionalizes language, transforming it from a bearer of experience [Erfahrungstr”ger] into an instrument of communication [Verkehrsmittel]" (71). Expanding Bolz, we can ascribe the singularity of filmic tactility to its radical postsemiotic openness: while the photographic linguistic model fetishizes the image's internal articulation as a form capable of capturing our contact with the cosmos, film's extraction of the shock impact of images institutes an open ended circuit of communication that, in moving from image to affect, effectively produces this contact as physiological innerva‚tion.

 

ÝÝÝÝ Through its emphasis on the tactile dimension of film, a media technical interpretation thus brings out what is truly singular and remarkable about Benjamin's position in "On Some Motifs": his refusal to subordinate the lived experience (Erlebnis) of technology to any semiotic of experience, including the visual semiotic of the dialectical (photographic) image. By reorienting the trajectory of the image toward a culminating production of physiological shock, the media technical interpretation furnishes a sketch of how corporeal mimesis functions: as the bearer of the mimetic magic of images, technological shocks become embodied through a process of mimetic absorption that yields a purely physiological innervation with no directly corresponding cognitive or representational content. True in this respect to its psychoanalytic heritage,[45] such innervation fulfills the task of Benjamin's theory of technology as he first proposed it in One Way Street: it enacts a sensuous (if no longer ecstatic) contact with the cosmos that functions homeopathically, as it were, as our best means of insuring against a repetition of world destruction on the order of our century's great and hor‚rible world wars.

 

ÝÝÝ Without calling for the abolition of (bourgeois) culture as such pre‚cisely the goal of the "new barbarism" of "Experience and Poverty"ócorporeal mimeticism promotes a form of embodiment centeres in the "tiny, fragile human body. "[46] As a mode of adaptation that embraces the frag‚menting and alienating impact of technology, corporeal mimeticism remains profoundly antithetical to the fascist hardening of the body; rather than defensively rejecting the "tripartite splitting of experience" into agency, object, and observer that underlies fascist subjectification (Buck Morss 1992, 30ff.), it responds to this splitting by adjusting our experiential capac‚ities to address the material realities of our technological lifeworld. And though it eschews the project of formulating a viable "cognitive discourse" on experience, corporeal mimesis does not simply amount to "a behaviorist adaptation to the present";[47] rather, it calls for a fundamental revaluation of our priorities as cultural critics and as embodied practical agents. If we hope to fathom the technological becoming that we are always in the process of undergoing, we will simply have to face the reality of our desire for embodied contact with the cosmos. Precisely such contact forms the object of the mimetic sensuousity imparted by our now miniaturized and thoroughly commodified technologies and the desire motivating it is what gives late capitalismóand ultimately culture itselfóits power over us. Whatever hope we might have of negotiating change in our cultural com‚mitments, even those as basic as our collective addiction to violence and the confusion of death and play characteristic of contemporary popular enter‚tainment, can only come through a deepening of our mimetic command over this properly unrepresentable and noncognitive experiential dimen‚sion. Ultimately, then, if we are to follow the Benjamin of "On Some Motifs," we must subordinate all "self reflective, anamnestic, and figura‚tive" efforts to "politicize the aesthetics of technology" (Hansen 1993, 41, 54) to the more basic task of establishing contact with our ever increasingly autonomous, automatized, and (in Godzich's sense) "imaginary" world. In calling on us to tailor our critical ambitions to the contemporary realities of cosmological complexification, Benjamin's example helps us recognize precisely bottom line: that to increase our command over the very medium of capitalism's extensive mimetic poweróits ministration to our basic desire for cosmological contactówe have to abandon the long standing cognitive privilege that, in the process of (allegedly) protecting us from capitulation to a new barbarism of technological inhumanity, has blinded us to the reality of our dependence on technologies.

 

 

By answering the question concerning technology with a sensuous mimetic account of presubjective embodied agency, Benjamin opens a path that can help technocultural critics dispel their residual (and, as I have argued, largely unthematized) commitment to representationalism. His example can help us develop more concrete, locally attuned deployments of reproductive technologies as mimetic vehicles to make our lived experience in the post‚modern age more bearable, if not, in some significant sense, more empowered. In a word, Benjamin points us beyond the impasse of technesis. By refusing to collapse the technological real into representation and by linking it to embodiment, he shows us that we can make sense of technology's dif‚fuse, amorphous corporeal impact without filtering it through language, without linking it to changes in our discursive practices. And he urges us to focus on our own embodiment as the material siteóthe beareróof technol‚ogy's otherwise wholly inhuman impact. Accordingly, Benjamin's example can help us construct the analytical tools we will need to resist the seduc‚tions of disembodiment projected by contemporary reproductive and virtual technologies, and in so doing, can guide us in investigating the experien‚tial changes that are currently revolutionizing our culture. If we can succeed in emulating Benjamin's sober responsibility to the technological real, we will begin the crucial task of (re)claiming a distinctly human perspective in the face of material and technological forces that for so many today portend the inevitable dawn of a new, radically posthuman epoch.



[1] Accordingly, my intention is not to present a full picture of Benjamin's star‚tlingly complex and sophisticated career or even to focus primarily on an exegesis of a particular dimension of Benjamin's thought. For that, I urge you to consult the many admirable studies of Benjamin's work as a whole, including Eagleton 1981, Rochlitz 1996, Scholem 1981, Witte 1991, and Wolin 1994, and also more focused studies, including Buck Morss 1989, Cadava 1997, Cohen 1993, Jennings 1987, and Nagele 1991.

 

[2] In my opinion, then, Benjamin's critics are too hasty in their assimilation of the mimetic faculty essays to the earlier theory of language he develops in such essays as ìOn the Language as Such and on the Language of Man" (1916) and "The Task of the Translator" (1 21). Though it is not without a certain degree of textual support, such assimilation has the stifling effect of effacing all of the ambivalence and tension animating Benjamin's shift to the concept of mimesis ambivalence and tension that must, ultimately, be situated in the context of Benjamin's evolving thought and that concerns the divide between his earlier hermetic linguistic theory of the cosmos and his emergent materialist convictions. For examples of this assimila‚tion, see Cadava 1997, 26 28; Cohen 1993, 39ff.; Wolin 1994, 244ff.

 

[3] See Shusterman's account of the role language plays in clarifying and focus‚ing conscious attention in ways that can improve "qualitative" (i.e., unconscious) nondiscursive experience: "Such an improved habit, even if it functions uncon‚sciously, can also enhance our conscious thought, since better breathing can mean better awareness and more steady concentration. We must recall, however, that conscious attention was required to improve this unconscious functioning; and so, by the way, is language as a means for designating body parts, movements, and feel‚ings on which we are instructed to concentrate" (1994, 138; emphasis added).

 

ÝÝÝÝÝ [4] To reflect the stress Benjamin places on the material impact of technology, Buck Morss suggests the term new nature in place of the Marxist term productive forces: "Benjamin meant by [productive forces] not just industrial technology but the entire world of matter (including human beings) as it has been transformed by that technology" (1989, 70).Ý Adorno's meditations on technology, by contrast, are marked by a profound resistance to the breakdown of the nature technology divide.Ý His notion of mimesis requires a concept of the primordial, the uncontaminatedóin short,Ý a concept of nature that can be dialectically opposed to the instrumental ratio‚nality of modern capitalist society.

 

[5] Benjamin addresses the mimetic faculty in two essays from 1933, "On the Mimetic Faculty" and "Die Lehre von Ahnlichkeit" (The doctrine of the similar). An English translation of the former is contained in Benjamin 1986b; the German of both texts can be found in Benjamin 1972 89, II, 210 13 and 204 10, respectively.

 

[6] Very fewóif anyóof Benjamin's critics have focused any positive attention on the motif of Erlebnis. Accounts that do more than simply dismiss it include Buck‚-Morss 1992 and Nagele 1996. For a general discussion of the various senses of expe‚rience in Benjamin, see L–wy 1983, 632ff.

 

[7] Dilthey, Gessammelte Werke, Musarios ed., VII, 230, cited in Gadamer 1989, 67 n. 126.

 

[8] For a further account of this inversion, see Nagele 1996, 122 24.

 

[9] Proust, Combray, cited in Benjamin 1968, 158.

 

ÝÝÝÝ [10] The terminological distinctions I have followed are complicated on at least two counts: first, Theodor Reik, on whom Benjamin draws, inverts the standard ter‚minological uses, employing Ged”chtnis for interiorizing memory and Erinnerung for artificial memory; second, Benjamin himself uses the term Eingedenken (ìbeing mindful of," "bearing in mind," as in being mindful of the dead) rather than Erin‚nerung to capture how Proustian involuntary memory is "closer to forgetting than to what is usually called memory" (1968, 202). See McCole 1993, 266ff., for an evaluation of Eingedenken as a translation for Proust's memoire pure; see also Wohlfarth 1978, 164ff.

 

[11] Bolz (1990, 72) draws a link between Lacan's notion of materialist con‚sciousness (from Seminar 11) and Benjamin's theory of technological reproducibility.

 

[12] In a mesmerizing meditation on the interrelation of Benjamin's understand‚ing of history with photography, Eduardo Cadava makes a strong case for a Der‚ridean interpretation of Benjamin as a critic keenly attuned to the technical dimen‚sion of thought. In the process, Cadava foregrounds the very link of thought with memory (mÈmoire involuntaire) against which I have argued so strongly: "[The phrase ëTheses on the Photography of History'] calls forth what Benjamin under‚stands to be the technical dimension of thought. Indicating the convergence of a thinking of history and a thinking of photography, it suggests an irreducible link between thought as memory and the technical dimension of memorization, the techniques of material inscription" (Cadava 1997, xviii). Insofar as photography (and technology more generally) is deployed as the precondition for the emergence of a thinking of history, such an allegiance cannot be avoided, as Cadava concludes ("That photographic technology belongs to the physiognomy of historical thought means that there can be no thinking of history that is not at the same time a think‚ing of photography" [xviii]). If, however, it is taken as the basis for a theory of tech‚nology (rather than a theory of history) in Benjamin, it cannot but appear reductive, for the figuration of technology as the relative exteriority of thought obscures just that material dimension that Benjamin introduces in his distinction of cinema from photography. For an account of the importance of this distinction in Benjamin's the‚ory of technology, see Bolz 1990, 95ff. I address Bolz's argument later in this chap‚ter.

 

[13] My commitment to Benjamin as a keen critic of Freud pits me against two camps of critics: those who reject Benjamin's appeal to Freud as a weak and mis‚guided move and those who fail to appreciate Benjamin's significant departure from Freud. Rodney Livingstone, Perry Anderson, and Francis Mulhern illustrate the first position; in their presentation of the Adorno Benjamin debate in Aesthetics and Pol‚itics (Bloch et al. 1977), they single out Benjamin's recourse to Freud in "On Some Motifs" as indicative of a general falling off from the earlier Baudelaire essay: ". . . Freud was centrally introduced [in "On Some Motifs"] through extensive adoption of his notion of ëshock' from Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Unfortunately, this was to select one of the least successful of Freud's later metapsychological works, and Benjamin's use of it resulted only in a thinner and weaker variant of the original manuscript" (105). In his account of Benjamin's "materialist theory of experience," Richard Wolin exemplifies the second position. After correctly identifying the importance of Benjamin's reference to Freud, Wolin entirely fails to distinguish reception from protection. Ultimately, this leads him to claim reductively, by my reading that the protective function of the cortical layer (to parry shocks) broadens the role of conscious registration: ". . . in modern life, . . . the matter of fact preser‚vation of memory traces has given way to their disintegration in consciousness in order for them to be assimilated by consciousness and thus stored .... Only by virtue of this mutilating process of censorship and preformation can experience register in consciousness and thus in the strict sense be said to have been ëlived"' (1994, 228 29). Other critics who discuss Benjamin's Freud reading include Buck Morss (1992), Eagleton (1981), and Nagele (1991, 1996).

 

ÝÝÝÝÝ [14] Because he retools the cortex as an opening to the outside or, equivalently, as a radical exteriorization of the psyche, Benjamin's revision differs fundamentally from superficially similar refunctionalizations that, for all their radicality, do not dis‚turb the priority Freud grants the psychic system. Psychoanalyst Nicolas Abraham's "transphenomenal" or "anasemic" account of the psyche furnishes a case in point. By rooting his theory of the anasemic construction of the psyche in the relation between two psychic structuresóthe shell (Ècorce) and the kernel (noyau)óAbraham dissociates the cortex from consciousness in a manner that appears to parallel Benjamin's own inchoate interpretation of it as a third corporeal agency. Specifically, Abraham's concept of the shell appears to recognize the important dis‚tinction between the protective and receptive functions of the cortex. Abraham pre‚sents "the image of the Ego fighting on two fronts: turned toward the outside, mod‚erating appeals and assaults, turned toward the inside, channeling excessive and incongruous impulses." He argues that "Freud conceived of this agency as a protec‚tive layer, an ectoderm, a cerebral cortex, a shell." In actual fact, however, Abraham foregrounds the dependence of the shell (cortex) on the kernel and thus privileges the endogenous function of the system: "the shell," he observes, is "itself . . . marked by what it shelters; that which it encloses is disclosed within it" (1979, 17). Since Abra‚ham introduces the cortex level experience of the external world only insofar as it enters into the nucleic peripheral levels of the psyche, he reproduces Freud's bias: he, too, treats the cortex essentially as a filtering or screening mechanism.

 

[15] Paul Valery, Analecta, cited in Benjamin 1968, 161 62.

 

[16] In connecting the protective function to modernity's destruction of auratic experience, Terry Eagleton points toward an overcoming of Freudian psychism: "Living an event with full awareness, parrying the shocks of stimuli rather than allowing them to penetrate, is therefore inimical to the aura .... Freud's theory of memory traces allows Benjamin to press the scandal of the Trauerspiel, in which ëexperience' is subordinated to the ecriture of emblem, to even greater lengths for now writing has rudely invaded the inmost sanctum of experience itself, whose pro‚ductive mechanism lies exposed as nothing more than a set of inscriptions" (1981, 35).

 

[17] In his work on body techniques Richard Shusterman suggests a kind of logic to the contemporary value placed on the body: as an antidote to the ephemerality and fragmentation of media images of (false) unity, the body furnishes a strong site for the investment of contemporary selfhood. The merit of Shusterman's work as contrasted with the majority of work by contemporary cultural critics who focus on the body (e.g., Anne Balsamo's work on body building and cosmetic surgery) is its refusal to collapse the bodily back into the representational. Indeed, when he speaks of "muscle memory," Shusterman strikes a very Benjaminian tone: "The muscle memory of bodily habit provides an organic enduring presence that outlasts the frag‚mentary moments of media bytes and cannot be erased as easily as a data file" (1997b, 43).

 

[18] Through his creative expansion of Freud, Benjamin is able to exteriorize agency in a manner far more radical than what is envisioned by contemporary crit‚ics of postmodernity. While the likes of Jameson, Baudrillard, and David Harvey gesture toward the corporeal dimension of experience correlative to the "space time compression" of postmodernity (Harvey 1990), none is willing as is Benjamin to accept the fundamental shift in the economy of experience it involves: the ensuing eclipse of representation as the tribunal for experience A case in point is furnished by Jameson, who provocatively suggests that postmodern hyperspace "has finally succeeded in transcending the capacities of the individual human body to locate itself" but who then invokes, by way of solution, what amounts to the restoration of some form of cognitive command over the real what he famously calls "cognitive mapping" (1991, 38).

 

[19] While several critics have noted the debt of "On Some Motifs" to the earlier essays on the mimetic faculty, they have done so predominately to underscore the metaphysical subtext of the later essay. Thus, for example, Richard Wolin cites the mimetic faculty essay as the "germ cell" behind the correspondences developed under the tutelage of mÈmoire involuntaire in "On Some Motifs" (Wolin 1994). Such a reading ignores the centrality accorded voluntary memory in that essay, a centrality that requires the very supplementation of the history of the mimetic fac‚ulty that I propose.

 

ÝÝÝÝ [20] Several of Benjamin's critics have made gestures toward recognizing a basic break between linguistic and postsignifying mimesis, though none (with the possible exception of Taussig and, at certain moments, Bolz) has developed it in terms of a distinction between an intellectualist mimetic redemption and a corporeal mimetic becoming. Buck Morss furnishes a case in point: "Benjamin suggests that what appears in the ësignworId (Merkwelt) of modern man' to be the ëdecay of this capac‚ity' of mimesis, may be, rather, a new stage in ëits transformation.' He holds open the possibility of a future development of mimetic expression, the potentialities for which are far from exhausted. Nor are they limited to verbal language as the new technologies of camera and film clearly demonstrate" (1989, 267).

 

[21] This point raises a potential confusion that we must guard against: despite what my language sometimes suggests, the representation embodiment distinction must absolutely not be conflated with that of mind and body. My notion of corpo‚real mimesis as a faculty distinct from psychic consciousness does not imagine the body to be separable from the mind; rather, following Varela, Thompson, and Rosch's (1991) notion of the embodied mind, it is meant to designate our irreducible embodiment an experiential dimension that cannot be separated from the mental, even if it is strongly nonpsychic (in the specifically Freudian sense of the term).

 

ÝÝÝÝÝ [22] The corporeal dimension of Baudelaire's poetic production can be discerned most clearly, Beniamin suggests, in his own self portrait. As if to confirm the mimetic relation involved, Benjamin describes the physiognomic and corporeal impact of shock with the metaphor of contagion: "Since he is himself exposed to fright, it is not unusual for Baudelaire to occasion fright. Valles tells us about his eccentric gri‚maces; . . . Pontmartin establishes Baudelaire's alarming appearance; Claudel stresses the cutting quality he could give to his speech; Gautier speaks of the italiciz‚ing Baudelaire indulged in when reciting poetry; Nadar describes his jerky gait" (1968, 163). The causal trigger linking Baudelaire's shock experience to his phys‚iognomy is, like the automatic reaction of the pedestrian or machine worker, irre‚ducibly physiological. Correlative with the corporeality of his self portrait, Baude‚laire understands creative activity not as a process of reflectively drawing forth images from a mental storehouse but, on the contrary, as a physical struggle for imagesóa struggle he has brought to life with the figure of the fencer (in his poem "Le Soleil"). In Baudelaire's self depiction as fencer, Benjamin discerns a hidden connection between shock experience and the poetic process: the creative duel shares a common background with shock experience. Just as the fencer battles the crowd, parrying its blows, so, too, the poet combats language: Baudelaire struggles with what Benjamin calls "the phantom crowd of the words, the fragments, the begin‚nings of fines from which the poet, in the deserted streets, wrests the poetic booty" (165). For Baudelaire, poetic elements (words, poetic lines, images, etc.) possess more than semiotic significance; they are so shot through with experience (Erlebnis) that they acquire mimetic content the "booty" that can only be wrested from them by the dueling poet. Only by cutting through their semiotic connections the seam‚less interconnection so central to the symbolist ideology of metaphorical expan‚sion can the poet encounter their mimetic content as the experience of shock.

 

ÝÝÝÝ [23] On this point, see Weber 1996, 100ff.

 

[24] In understanding technological reproducibility as a form of recompense for the alienation technology brings, I am anticipated by certain of Benjamin's critics. In her own coupling of mimesis and mechanical reproduction, for example, Buck‚Morss argues that technological reproduction compensates for the effects of techno‚logical production: ". . . technological reproduction gives back to humanity that capacity for experience which technological production threatens to take away." In contrast to my emphasis on the tactile dimension of this compensating role played by film (especially in "On Some Motifs"), Buck Morss stresses its cognitive dimen‚sion, arguing that whereas the industrialization of production accelerates time and fragments space, film "shows a healing potential by slowing down time and, through montage, constructing ësynthetic realities' as new spatio temporal orders wherein the `fragmented images' are brought together ëaccording to a new law."' On Buck-‚Morss's model, film thus furnishes a "new capacity to study . . . reflectively" the shift to a corporeal form of mimetic experience; Buck Morss argues that film not only teaches us how to use the mimetic faculty effectively as a "defense against the trauma of industrialization" but, more importantly, provides a "means of reconstructing the capacity for experience that had been shattered by the process" (1989, 268).

 

[25] . "Erwiderung an Oscar A. H. Schmitz," in Benjamin 1972 89, 11.2, 752. I owe this reference to Miriam Hansen (1993).

 

[26] It does so, moreover, through its difference from previous forms of techno‚logical reproducibility, specifically from photography.

 

[27] Cf., for example, Rochlitz's evaluation of "On Some Motifs": "Benjamin attributes the return to barbarism to modern technology and, among other things, to those techniques of reproduction such as photography and film that he had earlier celebrated as factors favoring the secularization of the aura and as the means allow‚ing for the satisfaction of the legitimate aspirations of the masses .... In `The Work of Art,' [the] acceleration due to the development of reproduction techniques appears as a salutary exercise allowing modern humanity to adapt to a dangerous environment. Benjamin's new evaluation of technology leads him to underscore only the aspect that is destructive, deadly, to experience in general" (1996, 212). Rochlitz goes on to read Benjamin's references to ritual in "On Some Motifs" as advocating a return to the aura. Such a reading misconstrues what Benjamin literally says, namely, that Baudelaire's contact with a now archaic ritual domain is what allows him to discern so clearly the shift in the economy of experience (see Benjamin 1968, 181 82). It is also extremely hard to reconcile with the conclusion of Benjamin's essay: that Baudelaire embraced the "disintegration of the aura in the experience of shock" (194). Wolin (1994, 225) makes a similar claim in his reading of the essay. The prevalence of this position among recent critics attests to the enormous influence of Adorno's criticism of Benjamin (see Bloch et al. 1977, 100 141).

 

[28] Wolin gives an account of this shift: ". . . in `The Storyteller' (as well as his 1939 work, `On Some Motifs in Baudelaire') Benjamin rejects the position of `The Work of Art' essay insofar as he comes to realize that the application of technologi‚cal advances to the sphere of art will not necessarily in and of itself result in the transformation of art along progressive and emancipatory lines" (1994, 225).

 

[29] Several critics view this "new barbarism" the explicit topic of Benjamin's "Experience and Poverty" (1933) as the crux of Benjamin's efforts to grapple with technology in the 1930s. See Hansen 1993, 40ff.; Bolz 1990, 100ff.; Lindner 1978.

 

ÝÝÝÝÝ [30] Unlike Heidegger, Benjamin views technology as antithetical to the modern scientific attitude. The communal embrace of the cosmos, itself possible only through technology, represents a break with modern astronomy's "exclusive empha‚sis on an optical connection to the universe" and more generally with the detached stance of modernÝ science/instrumental reason (Benjamin 1996, 486). On this point, see Bolz 1990, 100. For comparisons of Benjamin with Heidegger, see A. Benjamin 1994; Caygill 1994; Weber 1996.

 

[31] Benjamin writes, "because the lust for profit of the ruling class sought satis‚faction through it, technology betrayed man and turned the bridal bed into a blood‚bath" (1996, 487).

 

[32] In his commentary on this passage, Bolz describes this task in similar terms: "what alone can save us from the frenzy of annihilation [Vernichtungstaumel] would be a successful cosmic communication through the technical organization of humanity's collective body [in der technischen Organisation des Menschheitsleibes]î (1990, 100).

 

[33] This is a passage from the first version of Benjamin's Artwork essay, in which Benjamin more clearly develops the theme of innervation (Benjamin 1972 89, 1.2, 431 69). The German text on which the standard English translation is based is the second version of the essay (Benjamin 1972 89,1.2, 471 S08). A corrected form of this second version appears in Benjamin 1972 89, VIL1, 350 84. See Hansen 1993, 29 30, and the editorial apparatus in Benjamin 1972 89, VII.2, for a discussion of the various versions of the Artwork essay.

 

[34] Nichols 1988 begins the process of reconsidering Benjamin's contribution within a digital environment.

 

[35] Focusing on references to Mickey Mouse in Benjamin's work (and especially in the various versions of the Artwork essay), Hansen develops a utopian dimension of innervation ". . . Mickey Mouse does not fully merge with the ëdestructive char‚acter,' but retains some of fairy tale appeal that Benjamin had noted in 1931 (ëthe motif of one who set out to learn fear'). To people ëtired' of experience, ëfed up' with ëKulturí and ëthe human being,' the existence of Mickey Mouse is `a dream that compensates for the sadness and discouragement of the day' and shows them that `simple and quite magnificent existence which waking they lack the energy to real‚ize.' . . . Benjamin reads [the bodily metamorphoses of Mickey Mouse] as figures of innervation, anticipating an emancipatory incorporation of technology .... [T]he Mickey Mouse films engage technology not as an external force, in a literal or for‚mal rendering of `mechanization,' but as a `hidden figure': they hyperbolize the his‚torical imbrication of nature and technology through humor and parody .... This aesthetic self sublation of technology not only condenses the supplementary, home‚opathic relation between the technical media and other technologies; it also prefigures the utopian potential of technology for reorganizing the relations between human beings and nature" (1993, 41 42).

 

ÝÝÝÝÝ [36] This physiological function of film was already present in the Artwork essay, where it was explicitly connected to the technology of the cinematic medium: "By means of its technical structure [technische Strukture], the film has taken the physi‚cal shock effect out of the wrappers [Emballage] in which Dadaism has, as it were, kept it inside the moral shock effect" (Benjamin 1968, 238; in the German version, the entire passage is in italics [1972 89,1.2, 503]).

 

ÝÝÝÝÝ [37] To legitimate the subordination of the neurological to the social, Hansen explicitly follows Susan Buck Morss's recent effort to utilize Benjamin's Freud read‚ing in order to distinguish a proper sense of innervationóìa mimetic reception of the external world . . . that is empowering" from a purely defensive mimetic capac‚ity, a form of mimesis as "defensive reflex" (Buck Morss 1992, 17). Yet in doing so, Hansen also perpetuates the collapse of the two distinct senses of shock that Buck‚-Morss's reading operates: to insure the emanctpatory potential of innervation, both Hansen and Buck Morss put physiological shock into the (exclusive) service of image generated, cognitive shock. Since it develops an opposition between good and bad mimetic modalities that hinges on the deployment of shock, the distinction Buck Morss foregrounds relies on a thoroughly homogenous notion of shock: as a neutral, purely quantitative effect that can be qualified in better and worse ways, shock possesses no autonomy whatsoever from the social construction of experi‚ence. By enlisting Freud's theory of shock experience as the exemplar of a negative deployment of shock for purely defensive purposes, moreover, Buck Morss miscon‚strues the role Freud plays for Benjamin. From her perspective, Benjamin appropri‚ates Freud's theory of shock defense solely in order to describe the (entirely negative) shift in aesthetic experience witnessed by our modernity: as she understands it, the Freudian cortical layer forms an organic counterpart to a larger cultural shift from aesthetics to "anaesthetics,î from a robust sensory contact with the world to a gen‚eral numbness and withdrawal from it. Buck Morss thereby narrows the value of Freud's insight and of Benjamin's fruitful misreading of it. Rather than forming the basis for an entirely new mode of experience, the dead cortical layer simply com‚pounds the waning of experience so often lamented by (the nostalgic) Benjamin; more precisely, it serves as the negative counterpoint to what Buck Morss conceives of as Benjamin's positive conception of an empowering mimetic adaptation ("inner‚vation" proper).

 

[38] See, on this point, Hansen's comparison of Mickey Mouse with Haraway's mythic figure of the cyborg (Hansen 1993, 50 51).

 

[39] This understanding of technology as a "hidden figure" leads Hansen to posit a representationalist account of the redemptive or curative potential of reproductive technolgies: "the aesthetic self sublation of technology," as she puts it, "condenses the supplementary, homeopathic relation between the technical media and other technologies" (1993, 42). Hansen understands this redemptive function of repro‚ductive technologies as a restoration of our cognitive handle on technology, as a sal‚vation of the "discourse of experience" in the sense of Erfahrung: "The expropria‚tion of the human senses that culminates in Imperialist warfare and fascism can be countered only on the terrain of technology itself, by means of perceptual technolo‚gies that allow for a figurative, mimetic engagement with technology at large, as a productive force and social reality. In other words, the technical media would have to set into play their metonymic relationship with other technologies, so as to func‚tion as a supplement or pharmakon to the latter, to provide a discourse of experience that would allow for a collective adaptation of and to technology" (38; emphasis added).

 

ÝÝÝÝ [40] Correlative to her reduction of the physiological dimension of shock, Buck-Morss likewise retains a distinct investment in the cognitive dimension of experience and the restoration of its proper sense as Erfahrung. To interpret the redemptive, empowering dimension of mimesis as something categorically distinct from its merely adaptive dimension, Buck Morss must accord to the former a qualitative and representational cognitive dimension (a content) that is lacking in the latter: Buck‚-Morss argues that if mere adaptation "destroys the human organism's power to respond politically," it does so because it substitutes a blocking out of reality for "a cognitive mode of being ëin touch' with it" (1992, 18). As we discovered earlier, however, Benjamin's strong misreading expunges precisely such a binarism from Freud's text: his Bergsonist refunctionalization of the cortical layer as an emergent experiential faculty shows us that we do not need a cognitive representational medi‚ation to establish and maintain contact with material reality that, in other words, perception without psychic content (in the Freudian sense) opens an entirely new and empowering arena for experience. By thus uncovering a qualitative dimension to sensory perception that is neither cognitively mediated nor representational and that is not merely defensive, Benjamin's refunctionalization of Freud establishes the mimetic capability facilitating our adaptation to the "conditions of modern shock" that, as Buck Morss herself suggests, have made "response to stimuli without think‚ing . . . necessary for survival" (16).

 

ÝÝÝÝÝ [41] For a reading of surrealist practice as a restoration of Erfahrung, see Cohen 1993, 186 95.

 

ÝÝÝÝÝ [42] Samuel Weber reads this restorative drive as the crux of the fascist use of film to offer the masses an integral form of self expression. See Weber 1996, 102ff. By transforming aura into an intrinsic function of presentation as such, Weber, as it were, builds into Benjamin's theory a protection against fascism's fantasy of unification. ". . . the ëdecline' or ëfall'óderÝ Verfallóof the aura would not be something that simply befalls it, as it were, from without. The aura would from the start be marked by an irreducible element of taking leave, of departure, of separation. Were this to be the case, however, then the narrative, sequential, `historical' aspect of the aura, expressed in a movement of decline and fall, might well turn out to be part and parcel of its mode of being. So understood, aura would name the unde‚pictable de piction of distancing and separation" (86 87). By attributing the shift in the artwork's relation to its environment exclusively to the work itself (and to the system of presentation it instantiates), such an interpretation trivializes the opening to environment and to technological materiality that comprises such an important aspect of Benjamin's theory of experience.

 

ÝÝÝÝÝ [43] For an interesting updating of Benjamin's Artwork essay along somewhat different lines, see Nichols 1988.

 

ÝÝÝÝÝ [44] Bolz 1990, 87. In a similar vein, Haverkamp aligns the dialectical image with the text: 'Dialectical images become readable at a critical moment; legibility is their dialectical qualification at that moment. For only insofar and inasmuch as the image is read (ëgelesenes Bild'), the dialectic renders what is read as an ëimage' in the strong sense (ëechtes Bild'). ëLegibility' is what cuts it off from mere imagerie and mere imagination and turns it, dialectically, from what it contains, fossil like, into the schema of what this fossil, flash like, reveals. What it shows . . . is textual evidence of a complicated sort. The dialectical image is a text and depends in all its ëdialecti‚calí as well as ëschematicí qualifications on the readability of texts, even if those texts eventually come as pictures" (1992, 74; emphasis added). For a different reading of the dialectical image that stresses the role of fascination, see Abbas 1989. Cadava expands the textual function of the image to the domain of the photographic as such when he interprets the photographic image as the very condition of possibility for the appearance of the event: "Rather than reproducing, faithfully and perfectly, the photographed as such, the photographic image conjures up its death . . . . Read against the grain of a certain faith in the mimetic capacity of photography, the pho‚tographic event reproduces, according to its own faithful and rigorous deathbring‚ing manner, the posthumous character of our lived experience" (1997, 7 8).

 

[45] As Hansen notes (following Laplanche and Pontalis), the term innervation is a psychoanalytic one designating a " ëphysiological process: the transmission, enes ally in an efferent direction, of energy along a nerve pathway,' possibly produced by the `conversion of psychical into nervous energy"' (1993, xxx n. 24, citing Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis [1973]). Reformulated by Benjamin, the term innervation describes the conversion of an image content or an image series into a physiological effect As Hansen puts it, Benjamin "must have found [the term innervation] useful for conceptualizing historical transformation as a process of converting images into somatic and collective reality" (loc. cit.).

 

[46] These are the terms with which Benjamin describes man's encounter with technology in World War I (See "Erfahrung and Armut," in Benjamin 1972 89, 11.1:215 18).

 

[47] The citation is from Hansen 1993. Working with the opposition between a content laden, cognitive form of innervation and a purely physiological one, Hansen can only understand such a shift in the economy of experience as capitulation to sheer behaviorism. Reading Benjamin's work of the 1930s (including "On Some Motifs") as an attempt "to keep both irrevocable disintegration and the need for a refiguration of experience in view," Hansen allies the abandonment of Erfahrung with a capitulation to fascism: ". . . fascism had brought home the vulnerability of a collective lacking a discourse on technological modernization, lacking a public hori‚zon that would enable human beings to recognize and negotiate the effects of his‚torical fragmentation, rupture and loss, of collective yet privatized self alienation. Without the self reflective, anamnestic, and figurative dimension of experience, Ben‚jamin knew, collective innervation would mean nothing but a behaviorist adaptation to the present" (41).