Walter Benjamin Kolleg


Original – Copy: Techniques and Aesthetics of Reproduction

Original – Kopie: Techniken und Ästhetiken der Reproduzierbarkeit

This research platform offered an inter- and transdisciplinary context for projects investigating the techniques and aesthetics of reproduction. Our point of departure was 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 was 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 were 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 was 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) were 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).

Kulturwissenschaftliche Zeitschrift 

In June 2020, a special issue of the Kulturwissenschaftliche Zeitschrift (issue 3/2019) appeared. It is entitled "Original and Copy: Techniques and Aesthetics of re/productive deviation".  Contributions:

Editorial (Gabriele Rippl/MIchael Stolz)

1 Einleitung (Hgg. Gabriele Rippl/Michael Stolz)

2 Ludwig Jäger (Linguistik/Medientheorie Köln/Aachen): ›Aura‹ und ›Widerhall‹. Transkriptionstheoretische Überlegungen im Anschluß an die beiden Ideen des ›Originals‹ bei Benjamin

3 Gabriele Rippl (Literaturwissenschaft Bern): Ekphrasis als intermediale Transkriptionstechnik

4 Christine Göttler (Kunstwissenschaft Bern): Doppelgänger / Vielfachgänger: Übertragungsprozesse in der Kunst der Frühen Neuzeit 

5 Christina Thurner (Tanzwissenschaft Bern): Bewegte Referenzen. Bei-/Spiele re-/produktiver Abweichung im Tanz

6 Peter J. Schneemann (Kunstwissenschaft Bern): Bildgewordene Betrachtungen. Die Kopie als zeitgenössische Kulturtechnik der Mittelbarkeit

7 Cyrill P. Rigamonti (Urheberrecht Bern): Original und Kopie aus urheberrechtlicher Perspektive

8 Michael Stolz (Mediävistik/Digital Humanities Bern): Interview mit den Molekularbiologen Christopher Howe (Cambridge) und Mariusz Nowacki (Bern)


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
Prof. Dr. Christina Thurner, Department of Theater Studies


Gabriele Rippl,