Informit article: The profane illumination: Reflections from the Benjamin-Adorno debate

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The following study is a critical close reading of Walter Benjamin’s well known essays ‘Surrealism’ and ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, supplemented by a discussion of Theodor W. Adorno’s critical response to these essays, as documented in Adorno’s ‘Letter to Walter Benjamin: 18 March 1936’ and his much larer Aesthetic Theory. Specifically, we will examine Adorno’s dialectical critique of Benjamin’s largely progressive characterization of technological reproducibility in the arts. This will be followed by a critical discussion of Adorno’s defence of ‘modernist’ cultural production (a term which, as we will see, signifies for Adorno both I’art pour I’art and avant-garde cultural production) and a brief analysis of Adorno’s rejection of the Benjaminian attack on ‘aura’ as a wholly negative vestige of late bourgeois culture. The burden of the following essay will be to demonsttate the ongoing validity of Adorno’s critique of ‘The Work of Art’, especially given the contemporary context of postmodernity’s often homologous (and thus shortsighted) celebration of popular culture for its seemingly radical rejection of high-cultural art.

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