Scraps: Needs of an Age

Honoré Daumier by Nadar
Honoré Daumier by Nadar

I have opened this category within this site to attempt some more or less frequent postings that may take the form of brief updates, random thoughts, research notes, quotes, whatever else that does not fit elsewhere.  I am not sure I will be able to keep the flow going periodically, so I am not making any promises.

For some years now I have been returning almost obsessively to the figures of Eduard Fuchs and Honoré Daumier, via Walter Benjamin. “Eduard Fuchs, Collector and Historian” (1937) seems to me to be an essential essay if one is to understand better Benjamin’s ideas on the reproducibility of art in specific and on historical materialism in general. It seems to me that those interested in the history of technology, the history of art, and specifically the history of caricature and comics, for example, could benefit enormously from revising this short but complex piece.

Benjamin cites some lines from Fuchs’ notes on Daumier:

“Every age has very specific techniques of reproduction corresponding to it. These represent the prevailing standard of technological development and are… the result of a specific need of that age. For this reason, it is not surprising that any historical upheaval which brings to power… classes other than those currently ruling… regularly goes hand in hand with changes in techniques of pictorial reproduction.”

One cannot but point out that the current political and intellectual upheaval (a word that Fuchs uses too) around open access publishing is indeed the result of specific developments in the techniques of reproduction (online publishing). Fuchs was referring to the reproduction of pictorial art (Fuchs was writing in 1927; Benjamin ten years later) but one should be able to transfer the motif to the Web as the almost all-encompassing multi-media platform of our times. It should be obvious that in many ways the Web has acquired (if definitely not everywhere at least in many places) a defining role in everyday life and therefore it is indeed one of the most singificant features (platform, medium, tool, symbolic space) of our “age”.

The tensions and frictions in what is developing to be a fierce battle over the nuances of open access publishing are indeed technological, which is to say they are also political. The same developments could lead to either a reinforcement of the status quo or to the possibility of a more or less radical transformation of the prevailing standards of scholarly communication.