Disclaimer: You are reading one of my early blog posts for a class and will have no context for what I’m about to say. For that, I apologize
I really, really enjoyed the clarification of Benjamin’s article through Berger’s Ways of Seeing episode. The connection between all the art, photography, and film discussed in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and literature is much more apparent to me now.
For instance, our discussion about images changing with setting makes more sense. Pictures have different meanings if you view a part of the painting at exclusion of other elements, or if you attach music or words. The balanced view that Berger took (that this can be either good or bad) made me very happy. Many times, zooming in on particular aspects of art is edifying. We do it with literature, too. We might experiment allowing literature to stand on its own as a work, we might see it as autobiographical, we might see it as a historical piece, we might see it as a psychological allegory: all of these are ways to limit the meaning of the text, but with really rich works, it’s quite useful (and fun!) But I see how this can be manipulated. The part of the video that zoomed in on the Caravaggio painting while playing the Italian opera was a great example. All of a sudden, I imagined all the peaceful figures in the painting to be screaming at one another. And the relatively pleasant Van Gogh of the cornfield seemed ominous after Berger suggested it was his last work. (Although, side note, that turns out probably not to be true. The mythbuster in me got curious and went to the Google.) This reminds me a LOT of my experience with literature and academia–a case in which I echo Berger’s unwillingness to assign the terms “good” or “bad.” Example: it was not long ago that I hated anything by Shakespeare. It all just always seemed like bombastic, overglorified drivel to me. But I had a teacher at my community college who really made Shakespeare come alive for me, and it changed the way I saw Shakespeare in general. Yet, without that context–without a teacher instructing me how to interpret the text, telling me where to look to find the worth–the works are empty to me. I suppose that’s good. It feels good; I mean, I’m an English major, I’m supposed to like Shakespeare. But it’s also is a little unsettling. Those plays are defined by the setting I experience them in. And I am just thinking what experts tell me to think. I’m like a little scholarly parrot.