On Cultural Materialism, Comics and Digital Media

Abstract

In 1936,iWalter Benjamin (1892-1940) accounted for the paradigm shift that mechanical reproduction meant for art and politics. For Benjamin, technological change was not merely a sign of uncomplicated, forward-thinking progress; it meant a profound transformation of the realm of human experience. In this account of the era Benjamin witnessed, the German philosopher and collector was also unknowingly predicting a time he personally would not experience: four decades later, these descriptions of his time are illuminating the reality of the present. Benjamin wrote that ‘the cathedral leaves its locale to be received in the studio of a lover of art; the choral production, performed in an auditorium or in the open air, resounds in the drawing room’, but he was not describing digital 3D imaging, Wikipedia, YouTube or Google; he was writing about film photography and the phonograph, forms of technology many now consider ‘obsolete’. The fact we can identify that sense of wonder at technology’s ability to make the absent present and vice versa proves Benjamin’s point: that there is a ‘logic of form’ in art and technology, or, in other words, that the future and the present are also contained in the past, as new technologies and art forms do not simply supersede present and anterior ones, but depend on them. Benjamin's work has proven so influential because, unlike the digital media ‘pundits’ of today, he did not predict the future, but analysed the present.

Keywords

politics, art, Marxist criticism

How to Cite

Priego, E., (2010) “On Cultural Materialism, Comics and Digital Media”, Opticon1826 9.

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Ernesto Priego (UCL)

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