In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin writes that mechanical reproduction “detaches the reproduced object [i.e the piece of art] from the sphere of tradition” and “substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence” that ultimately undermines the “aura” of the original artwork. By “aura”, Benjamin is referring to the authentic “here and now” aspect of the physically- and historically-embedded piece of work, which Benjamin thinks gives it authority and impact. With this in mind, I wonder what Benjamin would make of digital technologies and the Internet. These technologies seem to radically extend the disconnecting logics of e.g. the film camera that Benjamin was reacting to — making it even easier to create “reproductions”, as well as to rapidly copy and distribute them around the world.

Relatedly, what would Benjamin make of digital art, produced on a computer and never realized in physical form? Unlike the conventional art in Benjamin’s analysis, digital art never inhabits some “particular place”, with some “unique existence” that “bears the mark of … history”. Digital art, in Benjamin’s terms, has no “aura” to be degraded. The current moment of surging interest in NFTs and digital ownership is perhaps an odd inversion of Benjamin: an attempt—through an amalgam of technological and social arrangements—to imbue digital creations with a form of the uniqueness, provenance, and authenticity (in short: “aura”) that Benjamin describes the loss of in conventional art. What does Benjamin’s lens suggest for how we might analyze/critique/understand these new approaches?