A Real Change

Walter BenjaminRecently I’m rediscovering the absolute genius of Walter Benjamin, including reading some texts I had a hard time with years ago. In “The Task of the Translator” he confirms remarks made in an earlier post about how artworks change over time:
“Even words with fixed meaning can undergo a maturing process. The obvious tendency of a writer’s literary style may in time wither away, only to give rise to immanent tendencies in the literary creation. What sounded fresh once may sound hackneyed later; what what once current may someday sound quaint. To seek the essence of such changes, as well as the equally constant changes of meaning, in the subjectivity of posterity rather than in the very life of language and its works, would mean—even allowing for the crudest psychologism—to confuse the root cause of a thing with its essence. More pertinently, it would mean denying, by an impotence of thought, one of the most powerful and fruitful historical processes.”
To a common-sensical rationalist it might seem over subtle to distinguish between root cause and essence, and to a confirmed post-modernist the very notion of an essence is suspect, but to an artist Benjamin affirms what is evidently real but can’t be proven—changes in reception explain everything but the fact that the artwork has a life of its own.

Frank Stella, La penna di hu 1987–2009

Frank Stella, La penna di hu 1987–2009

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