“process reproduction”: on Benjamin and Bush

Though it may not have seemed this way, I think we began to grasp Hayles and her notion of technotext in our last class discussion. I reminded you that a key word for this concept is foreground: a text where the medium and the material/physical reality of the text is brought to the front rather than hidden or left to the background. Another way to put this, as one of you did in class: a text where the process of making the text is somehow revealed and made meaningful; where we see the process, not just the product. We see this surely in a work like “Lexia to Perplexia”–where the source code bleeds into the language, confusing process with product. But also in the artist books she writes about so lovingly. Here is a link to a digital collection of the kinds of books she has in mind (and in hand), Otis College of Art and Design.

Such process (and the processing of art’s product) is a place we can link to Benjamin’s famous essay on “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical (Technical is, I am told, a better translation from the German) Reproduction.” Benjamin has his eye on how technology is changing (he is writing in 1936) traditional notions of the work of art. Specifically, how the reproduction process (most specifically, the reproduction of photographic flim; but also earlier forms of reproduction–he looks back to the technology of the printing press and movable type) changes the aura of the singular work of art. We can talk more about some of his examples with film. A famous example comes up towards the end: how film and its ability to present enlargements and close-ups of reality reveals an ‘unconscious optics.’ There is more to our vision and perception than what we normally see. There is more there. The new art (film or photography or writing influenced by both or other forms of technical reproduction) not only reveals this ‘more,’ this revelation of a process that is normally hidden from view; it reproduces it for future and further use. In other words, it opens the curtain on (its own) artistic process. Thus, as Benjamin implies, anyone can not only be filmed, but become the maker of film. And the reader, as he says (and as I quote him on our home page) is ready to turn into a writer.

Bush and his imagined ‘Memex” certainly connects in at this general level of thinking about how new technologies of reproduction–including photographic technology–can and will and even should alter traditional methods of doing research and producing knowledge. But I am beginning to consider a more specific link, if you will: Bush, too, is thinking about and concerned about ‘something more.’ Concerned about being overwhelmed by the amount of information that one must confront and synthesize in the pursuit of knowledge–of ‘science’ (knowing). And interested, it seems to me, in the ability to recognize the hidden and fluid relations of knowledge. When we research, we ultimately need and even want to find something other than what we set out looking for; we need to grasp “something more.” Bush imagines an instrument that we help us track this, that will reflect and even reproduce the ways that our mind works in its paths of what he calls “associative thinking.” This becomes a hallmark of what will be called a few years later, hypertext.

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