26 August 2014

Literary License

For centuries a small number of writers were confronted by many thousands of readers. This changed toward the end of the last century. With the increasing extension of the press, which kept placing new political, religious, scientific, professional, and local organs before the readers, an increasing number of readers became writers—at first, occasional ones.

It began with the daily press opening to its readers space for “letters to the editor.” And today there is hardly a gainfully employed [individual] who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional; it may vary from case to case.

At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer. As expert, which he had to become willy-nilly in an extremely specialized work process, even if only in some minor respect, the reader gains access to authorship. In [many instances] work itself is given a voice. To present it verbally is part of a man’s ability to perform the work. Literary license is now founded on polytechnic rather than specialized training and thus becomes common property.

All this can easily be applied to the film, where transitions that in literature took centuries have come about in a decade. . . .

— Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)

Painting: Mir Sayyid Ali, Mughal, A Young Scribe, c. 1550, watercolor and gold on paper