I’ve been intermittently concerned, over the last weeks, with questions of repetition, particularly surrounding the scholarly impetus to reread and rewrite. Now I’m replaying those concerns, as I find myself teaching Adorno & Horkheimer’s “The Culture Industry” and Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” for what must be the eighty-fifth time.
There’s not much getting around it — the two essays are sufficiently key to almost any culturalist or materialist approach to media theory that they are a necessary starting point for half of my classes. The catch is that media studies majors here, who generally take more than one class from me, get Frankfurt-schooled in multiple fashion. I don’t think that’s a bad thing — in fact, I exhort my students who have read these essays before to re-read them carefully, with new eyes (figuratively, that is) each time — but there comes a point in my (re-)teaching when I could use a little shot in the arm, a little refresher of my own.
I’m planning to re-read, yes. But I’m afraid I’ve been through the essays so many times that I can’t step back from them enough to see them afresh. So here’s my call for help, for those of you who work with these essays: what’s the most important thing in them that you feel too often gets overlooked? What have I, lo these eighty-four previous sessions, missed?