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“In Defense of the Poor Image” explores the new dynamic of copied, ripped, bootlegged, content. Steyerl writes:

“The poor image is no longer about the real thing—the originary original. Instead, it is about its own real conditions of existence: about swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities. It is about defiance and appropriation just as it is about conformism and exploitation.

In short: it is about reality.”

I’m very interested in exploring this concept with regard to the following:


  1. Steyerl’s earlier statement that categorizes poor images as “a lumpen proletarian in the class society of appearances”.
  2. Walter Benjamin’s theory of reproduction and the “aura”.


Firstly, I want to consider Steyerl’s categorization of poor images as “lumpen proletarian”.  This terminology would place poor images in a category of disorganization, “lowness”. It demarcates them as having no productional or revolutionary value. I understand this categorization in the sense that poor images are outcasts–images that have been degraded, compressed, squeezed, and reproduced time and time again. But it is hard for me to associate such images with the beggars, slum-dwellers, gangsters, and chronically unemployed individuals to which Marx originally associates the label “lumpen proletariat” in his work.

Moreover, I would argue that poor images, although “lower”, bastardized versions of original art, do have productional and revolutionary value in their reproduction and circulation. Steyerl touches on this in the quote above, claiming that such images have “their own real conditions of existence”. If this is so, than can’t these conditions include being useful and revolutionary in their own sense? Can’t YouTube videos, cult movies, bootlegs, and ripped music create their own, real, revolutions and movements? It seems that Steyerl believes this to be true, and yet, if he does believe in a certain productional and revolutionary value of the poor image, why does he initially label them as “lumpen proletarian”?

I have a similar question with regard to Benjamin’s argument that through the process of reproduction, art loses its “aura”, its authenticity and the “history in the original”. He says that instead, modern art production and reproduction has value in its exhibitionism. While it is true that reproduction often skews and alters the historical referent or original art, can one not argue that each copy, each poor image, is somewhat “original” in its own sense, and thus, has its own authentic place in history? Why can’t each copy or poor image produced possess its own unique aura?

Or, (thinking like Baudrillard) if we exist in a society of simulation in which everything is a “copy of a copy” and historical referents truly cease to exist, do auras exist? If there is not history or original, is there no aura? Or rather, is there a unique aura to each copy made? An aura in each copy that reflects its unique place in time, its unique authenticity that will then be skewed and altered when copied, producing a new copy with a different type of aura, but an aura nonetheless?


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