Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Walter Benjamin on readers and writers

It is a truth universally acknowledged, sort of, that we are all writers now. Walter Benjamin’s observations suggest that we were all writers “then,” too:

For centuries the situation in literature was such that a small number of writers faced many thousands of times that number of readers. Then, towards the end of the last century, there came a change. As the press grew in volume, making ever-increasing numbers of new political, religious, scientific, professional and local organs available to its readership, larger and larger sections of that readership (gradually, at first) turned into writers. It began with the daily newspapers opening their ‘correspondence columns’ to such people, and it has now reached a point where few Europeans involved in the labour process could fail, basically, to find some opportunity or other to publish an experience at work, a complaint, a piece of reporting or something similar. The distinction between writer and readership is thus in the process of losing its fundamental character. That distinction is becoming a functional one, assuming a different form from one case to the next. The reader is constantly ready to become a writer.

“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, trans. A.J. Underwood (London: Penguin, 2008), 22–23.
“The reader is constantly ready to become a writer”: as this post attests. Benjamin here, as at so many other points in this essay, is eerily relevant to our time. What he of course could not foresee was that publication itself would become the work of the everyday citizen online.

comments: 1

Crayons said...

Wow, I'm so familiar with that quote, but I'd not read it in about 20 years. Spooky the way it resonates now.