aura A term used initially by Walter Benjamin (1970b) in the essay 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' to denote the uniqueness of a work of art and the mystical value attached to it through its association with tradition and ritual. This quality, Benjamin argued, was endangered by the processes of mechanical reproduction. He did not see this as having entirely negative consequences, however, since the newer mass arts of photography and especially cinema introduced a new radicalizing, collective dimension; an argument connected in his work with their allegorical rather than symbolic nature.

Theodor Adorno, Benjamin's contemporary, and a leading figure of the School of Social Research with which Benjamin was associated, shared an interest in technology and art but disagreed about the potential of the commercial arts of mass reproduction. In a direct reply to Benjamin's argument, he defended the autonomy of art and was critical of Benjamin's attribution exclusively of the 'bourgeois' attributes of a magical or spiritual aura to it. This, said Adorno, ignored the internal, dialectical juxtaposition within autonomous art of both magical aura and a contrary 'mark of freedom'. (1992: 52).

The aesthetic and cultural status of original works of art remains a matter of debate. In recent times, certainly, original works of art, especially paintings, have risen enormously in commercial value (see Bourdieu 1984): thus, in a vulgarization of Benjamin's meaning, their 'aura' has increased, not diminished. At the same time, the expanded processes of technical reproduction have reinforced Benjamin's point. Fredric Jameson, for example, suggests that along with 'the ideology of the unique self', the original art work is a thing of the past (Brooker [ed.] 1992: 168). This loss of uniqueness, an attendant loss of distinction between high and mass or popular culture and a resulting stylistic ECLECTICISM are taken to be common features of postmodernism. [from: Brooker, 1999]