AURA AS COMMODITY

History is not monolithic, it is not a Science governed by laws, society is not electronic and culture does not evolve. The political and industrial developments of the bourgeois revolution took place differently at different times in different European nations. If we subscribe to Burger's periodisation of a sacred followed by a courtly art function, then it is with the understanding that these "functions" did not simply disappear when superseded, The sacred function of art and the courtly function of the arts continued in their original forms within the Church, the monarchy and the aristocracy. The critical point is that the sacred and the courtly function were also integrated syncretically into bourgeois Art.
The development of bourgeois capitalism and the accession of the bourgeoisie as the ruling class radically transformed the culture of the nobility , but it did not replace it.
As Taylor notes:

'The revolutionary class, through whose activity came about the normalisation of bourgoise social relations (eg. wage labour,the labour market, the ownership of the means of production) and which contains persons having status on the basis of the older feudal set up , in it's aspiration to be the ruling class has the aspiration to take over the life of the ruling class" 53

The feudal arts that the bourgeoisie acquired were handicrafts. 54 The alienation of the worker from the product of their labour, the fragmentation of the assembly line, standardisation, automation and the other key innovations of bourgeois capitalism could not be adopted in Art without the elimination of the sacred and the noble function of Art. The bourgeoisie aspired to both sanctity and nobility, and so Art became the fetishized bourgeois ideal of pre-industrial production 55. Moreover, whilst the market economy developed Art as a commodity, it did not eliminate the bourgeois aspiration to become the noble patron and commissioner of Art.
The autonomisation of Art is also then, a process of separation from mass industrial production, to the point where Art is defined by it's unique authenticity, by it's manual creation. In his radical 1936 essay 'The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction' 56 Walter Benjamin proposes that the authenticity of an Art object, it's unique material history, the viewer's perception of their distance from the work, could be termed theaura of a work. Benjamin locates the origin of the aura in the sacred function of Art:

'We know that the earliest art works originated in the service of a ritual- first the magical, then the religious kind. It is significant that the existence of the work of art is never entirely separated from it's ritual function. In other words, the unique value of the "authentic" work of art has it's basis in ritual, the location of it's original use value. This ritualistic basis, however remote is still recognizable as secularised ritual even in the most profane forms of the cult of beauty. ' 57

For Benjamin lithography, photography, cinema and the other techniques of mechanical reproduction had the potential to destroy the aura of Art and liberate humanity from the oppression of ritual and tradition. Mechanical reproduction could make Art accessible to the masses, and penetrate and reveal a demystified modern reality.
Benjamin's prose is exhilarating but he is betrayed by a fatal misconception of Art and by the resiliency and immunity of bourgeois culture to subversion.
The bourgeoisie developed Art as a means to gain sacred and aristocratic power, in this way the definition of bourgeois Art is those objects which are sacred, which are unique and authentic, which have aura. Mechanical reproduction has obviously transformed 20th century culture, but it has not destroyed the aura of the work of Art, on the contrary Art has re-defined itself as that which is not mechanically reproducible. Moreover even Benjamin, in his notes at the end of his essay, acknowledges that without mechanical reproduction authenticity cannot become fetishized as the aura .

'Precisely because authenticity is not reproducible, the intensive penetration of certain (mechanical) processes of reproduction was instrumental in differentiating and grading authenticity.
To develop such differentiations was an important function of the trade in the work of art. '
58

To put it another way. As the bourgeoisie assumes economic power in the 19th century they aspire to the sacred and aristocratic arts of the ruling class.
The introduction into these arts of the industrial techniques of bourgeois capitalism (mechanical reproduction, the assembly line, the mass market) cannot supply the aspirations of the bourgeois market, because the commodity sought by the market is the aura . There can be no aura until the development of bourgeois capitalism, aura is the value of Art. This paradox has several irresistible consequences. Since the production of aura, is the production of the pre-industrial sacred and aristocratic function of the arts, the production process cannot be industrialised. So, whilst the progress of capitalism transformed the social relations and industrial techniques of modern culture, Art has remained an autonomous realm of elitism and ritual.
The ever increasing sophistication and efficiency of mechanical reproduction has not eliminated the aura, it has valorised it as an auratic hierarchy, at the top of which is the 'real' unique authentic 'work' of Art, and below is an ever descending scale of copies each of which has diminishing economic (auratic) value according to it's historical and material distance from the Artist.
This auratic hierarchy functions across all art forms, from 'designer' furniture to the movement for Mozart played on an authentic 18th century piano. Hence a mass produced novel is more valuable as a first edition and more valuable still if signed by the author. But above all the hierarchy of aura has eternalised Art (painting and sculpture) as the paragon of unique authentic objects, for they cannot be reproduced and even to attempt to do so is a crime; forgery.

The revolutions which brought the bourgeoisie to power were revolutions against the divine authority of the Church and the aristocracy, moreover the scientific rationalism of the 19th century increasingly revealed the irrationality of both the Christian god and the hereditary power of the monarchy and the nobles. The bourgeoisie adopted the revolutionary demands for democracy and equality in their rise to power, but these demands if taken to there logical conclusion threatened the basic ideological legitimacy of a social hierarchy, without which the bourgeoisie had no right to rule. The bourgeoisie as it acquired power had to develop the means to legitimise that power. This was the problem addressed by Saint-Simon; Who were to be the lords and the priests of the new society ? What was to be the new religion ? Who would lead the way ? It was to be Art.

Since the social hierarchy of the West had been structured by God and nobility for over a thousand years, and since the bourgeoisie actually aspired to this feudal hierarchy, so bourgeois Art syncreticised the hierarchical aristocratic and sacred 'function' of the arts into the capitalist economy. The aura as commodity is the desire of the bourgeois for aristocratic and theocratic power and it is also their fear that they will never possess it.
As the aura is the fetish of nobility and sanctity so in it's presence the bourgeois contemplates in awe the traditions of divine and hereditary authority.
Democracy and equality are antithetical to Art, the value of aura is it's scarcity.

The auratic value of ancient 'art' works which actually once had a sacred or courtly function is prodigious, but for the bourgeois, also tainted by their very functionality. The bourgeois Artist of the 20th century has removed the taint of function, they have discovered how to produce pure aura.

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