Haloes and Auras

10.07.2012

Marx and Engels point out that capitalism has stripped off the halo of the doctor, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, and the man of science.[1] These occupations are no longer put on a pedestal the way they were. The removal of these haloes brings all people to the same plane of being — which is why there is a defensive tendency to introduce new divides and gulfs between human beings.

Walter Benjamin was perhaps thinking about this when he wrote the influential essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and developed the concept of aura. He writes

We define the aura [...] as the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be. If, while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, of that branch.[2]

So the aura may be thought of as an emanation from something distant as well as a kind of fingerprint. The aura of a thing is then connect with its uniqueness. Reproducible works of art like films are obviously not unique, not one of a kind. Yet each film plays a role in the world, transformative or not, that is specific. The same may be said of each person and occupation.

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[1] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, ch. I, http://www.marxists.org/
archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm#007
.
[2] Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, sec. III, http://
www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm
.