Original – Copy: Techniques and Aesthetics of Reproduction

Original – Kopie: Techniken und Ästhetiken der Reproduzierbarkeit

This research platform offers an inter- and transdisciplinary context for projects investigating the techniques and aesthetics of reproduction. Our point of departure is the term ‘mechanical reproduction’ (‘technische Reproduzierbarkeit’), which Walter Benjamin coined in his 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. According to Benjamin, the ‘here and now of the original’, in other words its ‘aura’, is lost in the process of ‘mechanical reproduction’. The dialectic flip side of this loss, however, is the ‘mass reproduction’ of the original, which enables ‘the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation’ and to ‘reactivate the object reproduced’. Due to the recent changes in our media landscape, Benjamin’s approach and its media theoretical implications are as actual as ever and can be made fruitful for the current debate in the humanities and cultural studies (e.g. literary studies, art history, film studies, media studies).

Benjamin’s concept is hence ideally suited to form the foundation for a transdisciplinary project dedicated to an investigation of the ‘techniques’ (manual and artistic skills) as well as the ‘aesthetics’ (perceptive processes) of reproduction. The focus of our project is on processes such as copying, reproduction, adaptation, assimilation and appropriation in various epochs (from the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period up to contemporary times) which are studied in connection with a range of artifacts (scripts, epic/dramatic/lyric genres, prints, paintings, sculptures, coins and money, photographs, films, performances, digital representations, hypertexts, etc.). In view of the fact that current digital technologies enable a multiple and potentially endless series of ‘reproductions’, the notions of ‘original’ and ‘copy’ are in need of problematization. In light of serial reproduction, to what extent can these overlapping phenomena remain delimited? Is the relationship between ‘original’ and ‘copy’ still comprehensible as a linear one or does it rather resemble non-linear network structures? In what way can a ‘copy’ retroactively impact the idea of what an ‘original’ is regarded to be? Based on such critical reflections, is it possible to redefine the concepts ‘original’ and ‘copy’? We are convinced that attempts to answer these questions today profit from taking into account models developed in the natural sciences, for example those which describe the copying process of genomes in Molecular Biology. Likewise, juridical aspects such as intellectual property, copyright, plagiarism and forgery are in need of exploration.

Even though our starting point is Walter Benjamin’s notion of ‘mechanical reproduction’, more recent theoretical approaches that engage with ‘practices of the secondary’ (G. Fehrmann/E. Linz/E.  Schumacher/B. Weingart) shall be reflected upon and elaborated. These theoretical approaches include ‘transcriptivity’ (L. Jäger), ‘emergence’ (W. Iser), ‘genetic code’ and its ‘readability’ (E. Schrödinger, H. Blumenberg), ‘organicism’ (C. van Eck), ‘adaptation’ (L. Hutcheon), ‘intermediality’ (L. Elleström, I. Rajewsky, J. Schröter, W. Wolf), ‘substitution’ (A. Nagel and Ch. S. Wood), ‘remediation’ (J. D. Bolter and R. Grusin), and ‘transmedia’/’transmediality’ (H. Jenkins; U. Meyer, R. Simanowski, Ch. Zeller).

On December 15, 2016, the interdisciplinary workshop “Original – Copy: Techniques and Aesthetics of Reproduction” took place at the WBKolleg, University of Bern. Invited speakers were: Prof. Frank Fehrenbach (Hamburg), Prof. Ludwig Jäger (Cologne), Prof. Mariusz Nowacki (Bern), Prof. Cyrill Rigamonti (Bern), Prof. Wolfgang Brückle (Luzern), and Prof. Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford). The workshop addressed current research questions from the perspectives of different disciplines (media theory, art history, literary and cultural studies, law and molecular biology) and discussed fields of future research. Please find below the links to documents that can be downloaded (detailed program, poster as well as a workshop report).

This research platform will continue its work in 2017. We welcome the Bernese musicologist Anselm Gerhard as a new member.


Prof. Dr. Anselm Gerhard, Department of Musicology
Prof. Dr. Christine Göttler, Department of Art History
Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl, Department of English (speaker of the research platform)
Prof. Dr. Peter Schneemann, Department of Art History
Prof. Dr. Michael Stolz, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures


Gabriele Rippl, gabriele.rippl@ens.unibe.ch
Ramon Wiederkehr, ramon.wiederkehr@ens.unibe.ch