The Cult of the New and the Work of the Critic

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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
Stream: Arts Theory and Criticism
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: The Cult of the New and the Work of Critique


Dr. Angeliki Spiropoulou

Lecturer in Modern European Literature and Theory, Theatre Studies Department, The University of the Peloponnese
Nafplio, Greece

ΑNGELIKI SPIROPOULOU holds a BA in English from the University of Athens; an MA in Critical Theory and a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Sussex, UK. She is a Lecturer in Modern European Literature and Theory at the University of the Peloponnese. She has also taught at Athens University (2006-08) and, since 2001, she has been teaching European Literary History at the Hellenic Open University. Her research interests focus on literary and cultural theory, and 19th - 20th C European literature, especially modernism. She has published numerous articles in both Greek and English in various refereed journals and collective editions,she is a regular book reviewer in the Greek press and she has edited 4 collective volumes, the most recent of which are: 'Culture Agonistes; Debating Culture, Rereading Texts' (co-edited, Peter Lang: Bern, 2002) και 'Walter Benjamin; Images and Myths of Modernity' (Alexandreia Publ.: Αthens, 2007). She has recently co-authored 'History of European Literature, 18th-20thC' published by the Hellenic Open University,2009 and her monograph, entitled 'Virginia Woolf, Modernity and History: Constellations with Walter Benjamin', is under printing by Palgrave-Macmillan (London and Νew York).

Ref: A09P0753