Although Walter Benjamin’s ‘‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’’ is a seminal essay in the study of media history, the work itself gives a surprisingly brief account of one of field’s core subjects: the printing press. Books and literature present only a special case of mechanical reproduction, accord- ing to Benjamin, but the implications of this point remain largely unexplored by scholars. The purpose of this essay is to ask why Benjamin would have considered print to be different or less historically consequential compared to photography and cinema when the revolutionary potential he ascribes to these more recent technol- ogies is also prefigured in his other writings on books and literature. Answering this question helps to create a sharper picture of what matters to Benjamin about new media and also points to figures like Georg Luka ́cs who influenced Benjamin’s account of technology and art. Ultimately, this line of questioning also raises con- cerns about the place of the ‘‘Work of Art’’ essay in the study of media history, a field in which the signal error is to treat new media as unprecedented developments.
Berret, Charles. 2017. “Walter Benjamin and the Question of Print in Media History.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 41 (4): 349–67. https://doi.org/10.1177/0196859917715741.