Destruction of Fact vs. Fiction

“Never again will the real have to be produced – this is the vital function of the model in a system of death, or rather of anticipated resurrection which no longer leaves any chance even in the event of death. A hyperreal henceforth sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinction between the real and the imaginary, leaving room only for the orbital recurrence of models and the simulated generation of difference” (Baurdillard).

Both Benjamin and Baurdillard plead strong cases against technological reproduction. Benjamin obsesses over the concept of “authenticity” which he seems to establish as “the here and now of the work of art – its unique existence in a particular place” (21). While Baurdillard explores the “hyperreal” – a place beyond reality in which original art is lost to simulation.

Benjamin explores what it means for a work to be placed within certain contexts of history and how that lends the piece certain meanings and specific social implications. But throughout his elaborate investigation all I can seem to think about is how much placing these works in different contexts can offer to the piece itself and its audience. How much have we gained as a society through reproduction? He does make a clear distinction between technological and manual reproduction, giving manual reproduction the okay by claiming that “technological reproduction is more independent of the original than is manual reproduction” (21). This to me seems to leave his argument stranded in the realm of fear. He has no problem with reproduction itself, merely the means of reproduction – technology. He supports this distinction with the idea that technological reproduction adds to the piece, further distorting it from the original. But are these added abstractions something to be weary of? Isn’t abstraction what post-realism art is all about?

Baurdillard seems to argue the opposite point, claiming that technology offers reproduction so close to the original that we lose sight of the distinction. “Feigning or dissimulating leaves the reality principle intact: the difference is always clear, it is only masked; whereas simulation threatens the difference between ‘true’ and ‘false’, between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’” (Baurdillard). This, of course, seems to be grounded in nothing, as the question of what reality really is has been something of a subjective topic since the beginnings of philosophical thought.

Relying on a very limited definition of reality, Benjamin and Baurdillard are not the first and certainly not the last to criticize technology. But to me, it seems to become increasingly apparent how counter-productive and, frankly, futile it is to try to cling to the dying concept of fact vs. fiction. The blurring of these two extremes seems to be where all creative evolution is born. Perhaps hyper-reproducibility introduces new issues of copyright and intellectual property ownership, but maybe it offers us a chance to expand artistic works in new ways through public ownership and authorship. A preschool lesson in sharing: perhaps these ideas of “mine” and “yours” really don’t matter so much anymore.

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