The definition of “aura” has been one that has been bugging me for a while. It was the first reading in a class I took this semester and since then it has come back into my mind several times. Most recently it was by reading an excerpt from a collection of postmodern writings called Storming the Reality Studio, which has a selection from Don DeLillo’s White Noise. In this the narrator is talking about going up to the Most Photographed Barn in America and seeing all of the people there taking pictures of this barn and of a man selling postcards and prints. One of the characters says “We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura.”
So I guess this does go along with the idea of aura that Benjamin puts forth. The images and reproduction of said images causes the original to gain worth. The characters ask “What was the barn like before it was photographed?” Good question. Physically the same, but I guess that it had no metaphysical existence or meaning. I’m not sure so I’m going to leave that up to you, dear reader, to question yourself. Maybe you have a better answer.
However, what happens when the barn is demolished or its support frames rot away from water damage? Where does the aura go? Is it transferred to the ground on which it once stood? The signs leading up the road to the Most Photographed Barn in America might remain. There is still the physical site, just nothing of photographic interest. Or does the aura then go to the image? I don’t know what Benjamin would argue, but I would think that maybe he could agree that it would go to the first print of the first photograph of the barn. Thus, is aura anything more than value itself? The most valuable item then has the aura? If that first print gets reproduced then it is the base image I would guess.
But that’s just a barn. Let’s take a look at a different case. One that isn’t as hypothetical. What about the twin towers? The space that they occupied still has a great amount of aura I think. Having been there, I think that the aura is still intact. The meaning isn’t the same, but the aura has stayed. Or is the aura in the images that remain from the media frenzy that occurred in the hours of the 9/11 attacks and the days afterward? Do these images have aura? They conjure thoughts of fear and insecurity or of loved ones affected. They were all reproduced millions of times since the time of the attack. Where does the aura go? Or does it at all?
OK…I’m going to step back a bit from all of that and talk more about Benjamin. I don’t really like his ideas about aura. I can’t tell whether he is just pointing out aura’s existence or trying to promote it. I understand it’s existence, but I really have no idea why anyone would ever want it to exist. Sure, it’s a wonderful experience to be able to go the Sistine Chapel and look up the ceiling, but the reproduction of images has allowed everyone with internet access to see it as well. Maybe that does enforce it aura itself, leading me to believe that aura is inescapable. It does fuck with our perception of truth, but it allows to perceive something at least. We aren’t constricted in our abilities of perception with reproduction. So what if it adds value to the original. Burn the original. Well, maybe that is too far…especially if that aura just gets transferred to another item or image.
Well, there it is.