The Cult of the New and the Work of the Critic
This paper explores the cult of the new, which has replaced the artwork’s auratic tradition in modernity, in relation to the work of the critic in the service of a reflexive critique that would do justice to the specific conjunction of the intelligible and the sensory that each artwork constitutionally effects. The reflexive critique suggested by Walter Benjamin equally avoids the pitfalls of empiricism and formalism and allows for the concern of the relationship between specific art forms and criticism to become the focus of attention rather than either a too generalised description of art or to too hasty a slide between technical innovation and novelty which results in the ‘banality of the new’. Benjamin’s critical model proposes a relationship of mutual transformation between the work and its criticism. Immanent criticism transforms its object by selecting each time to activate certain of its potentialities latent in the work while in the process it becomes itself reflexively transformed by the specific work imposing its own criteria of criticism. This is a type of criticism that acknowledges the surplus of historical experience inscribed in the work, thus opening the work to potential future critiques as well as the past ones that constitute tradition. The ‘newness’ of the artwork then is related with the activation of its past and future potentialities in the moment of criticism rather than simply with the application of the external criterion of technical novelty which is concomitant with the myth of progress modernity propagates, in turn conflated with the rapid turnover of evernew commodities. Criticism is therefore not so much about ‘judging’ the work as about knowledge and understanding, liking the world of language with that of specific spatio-temporal existence inscribed in the work.
Keywords: The New, Walter Benjamin, The Work of Critique
Dr. Angeliki Spiropoulou
Lecturer in Modern European Literature and Theory, Theatre Studies Department, The University of the Peloponnese