Benjamin, Walter, (1936). The author as producer. New Left Review, 1/62 (1970).
References and quotes are made from and in relation to the text.
Points to converse about in the conversation.
Benjamin discusses the autonomy of the individual to write whatever they please, within the social and economic frameworks of a given era. Regardless of the era in which the author writes, Benjamin claims that the author may possess a ‘tendency’ to write material useful for the “proletariat in the class struggle”. This appears to be one of the principal underlying factors which I have understood from “The author as producer”.
When approaching any given subject, the author’s writing must not start with ‘isolated and lifeless objects’, but must instead be “situated in the living social context”. My understanding of this, is that the starting point for any discussion in a piece of work, should not start from the author situated outside and looking into the subject area, but rather, from within the area of discussion itself. As Benjamin states, instead of asking “what is the relationship of a work of art to the relationships of production of that time?”, he instead asks, “how does it stand in them?”. Clearly, then, any piece of work must have a relationship within, rather than to, the production of a given period.
On the advent of the newspaper, we can clearly see some examples of this at work when we discuss the area of authorship. As the readership of newspapers was transferred broadly between the bourgeois press to the Soviet Russian press (taking the Soviet Union as an example), the new proletariat reader “is indeed always ready to become a writer”; he is able to gain entrance to authorship. To quote the text, “Literary competence is no longer based on specialized training in academic schools, but on technical and commercial training in trade schools and this becomes common property.” This quote has made me think, if the rise of the power of authorship was so marked as the power of newspaper production was transferred to the proletariat, what would Benjamin make of the freedom of authorship that is now available via the internet? Any author is now able to produce, and freely distribute, their content.
Indeed, Benjamin does discuss whether the author as producer is transferrable to production processes other than writing; on discussing photography, he writes that “What we should demand from Photography is the capacity of giving a print a caption which would tear it away from fashionable cliches and give it a revolutionary usevalue. But we will pose this demand with the greatest insistence if we – writers – take up photography.” Here we see evidence that what Benjamin is actually writing about, could be applied not only to writing, but to any other medium; but the author as producer must engage with that medium, and thus means of production, in order to make this production ‘politically useful’.
Later in the article, Benjamin discusses what he calls the ‘concept of the specialist’, who has a mediated solidarity with the proletariat. As Benjamin is writing principally about the politics of author as producer, there is a constant reference to the proletariat and bourgeois which always has to be made. When discussing transforming the functions of the novel, drama, poetry etc – in aid of the ‘revolutionary struggle’, Benjamin seems to imply that it is the goal of the proletariat to bring on a revolution, and it is to this goal that the author as producer strives. Although the revolutionary intellectual, at first, may appear a traitor to his class, ultimately “the revolutionary struggle does not take place between capitalism and the intellect, but between capitalism and the proletariat”.