Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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Being There

For Walter Benjamin, the aura of a work of art is a function of two qualities: its presence and its cult value. The aura signifies all that is eliminated when “the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.”Not surprisingly, given the definition of the work of art’s presence as “its unique existence at the place where it happens to be,” the aura is conceptualized in spatial terms as the “unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be.”

Interestingly, the etymology of the word "aura" aligns it, not with the senses of sight or hearing -- the senses that the mechanical reproduction of cultural artifacts is meant to satisfy, but with the senses of touch and smell. In Greek, the word meant "breath" or "breeze," precisely the sort of sensations that frustrate our impulse to copy the world. We can do a good job of capturing the sound of a concert and can even, with enough camera coverage, make it paradoxically more visible than it would be to any individual concert-goer. But we haven't come to close to distilling the feeling of being there: the aroma of smoke, liquor and sweat; the bracing contrast between the packed interior of a venue like Plush and the outdoor patio; or even that waft of cotton that drifts through the air every time a T-shirt is plucked from a box and handed over the merch table. That's what missing in the reproduction and must be imperfectly conjured in words that were not there at the show, but come now, as memory reminds us of what we're missing.

Tags: autobiography, collage, language, music, nostalgia, song, tucson
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