Walter Benjamin's seminal essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1936) addresses the confluence of representational art and twentieth-century technologies. Specifically, Benjamin sees the intrusion of technological apparatuses into the creation and reception of art as tending toward the alienation of both the creator and the audience. Pynchon's investigation in V. of the aura-divested, mirror-obsessed, decadent and inanimate world of "twentieth-century nightmare" can be read as a fictional treatment of the same concerns–mass production, alienation, loss of aura, fascism and politicized aesthetics. Benjamin concludes his essay by remarking that "Mankind, which in Homer'S time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order." In V., where the inanimate intrudes into and threatens to take over the realm of the animate, such self-alienation lurks behind V's fetishism, Foppl's Siege Party, Rachel's auto-love and Esther's nose job, to mention only a few examples. A focus on image, appearance and materials fills the emptiness caused by the loss of contact with what it means to be human. As Itague says, "'A decadence … is a falling-away from what is human, and the further we fall the less human we become. Because we are less human, we foist off the humanity we have lost on inanimate objects and abstract theories.'" And as Fausto Maijstral confesses, "To have humanism we must first be convinced of our humanity. As we move further into decadence this becomes more difficult" (322).
How to Cite:
Simon, J. P., (1992) “Profane Illuminations: Benny Profane, Herbert Stencil and Walter Benjamin's Flâneur”, Pynchon Notes , p.172-178. doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/pn.240