Arts & Architecture

The Modern Projection Planetarium and the Cosmos-Culture-Relation as an Interface between the Work(s) of ABY WARBURG and WALTER BENJAMIN: Bringing Together the Two Cultures

The Modern Projection Planetarium and the Cosmos-Culture-Relation as an Interface between the Work(s) of ABY WARBURG and WALTER BENJAMIN: Bringing Together the Two Cultures
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    „ J ENES U NIVERSELLE I NSTITUT “   The  Modern Projection Planetarium and the Cosmos-Culture-Relation as an Interface between the Work(s) of A BY W ARBURG and W ALTER B ENJAMIN : Bringing Together the Two Cultures  by B ORIS G OESL   Contemplation of the sky is the grace and curse of humanity (W ARBURG )  Ideas are to objects as constellations are to stars (B ENJAMIN ) Abstract: This paper traces parallels between W ARBURG ’ s and B ENJAMIN ’s thinking using the example of  the modern planetarium. The last exhibition A BY W ARBURG has prepared was “  Bildersammlung zur Geschichtevon Sternglaube und Sternkunde ” , explaining the history from the magical thinking in terms of star signs( astrology ) to the mathematical-navigational logic of constellations ( astronomy ). After his srcinal plan tointegrate this exhibition into the permanent collection of the  Deutsches Museum Munich ― where also the world’s first permanent planetarium had opened in 1925 ― was rejected, W ARBURG decided in October 1927 tocontribute the collection to the  Hamburg Planetarium which was to open in the old water tower on 15 April1930, half an year after W ARBURG had died. The modern projection planetarium can be considered an interfacebetween the works of W ARBURG and B ENJAMIN ,   and the reflection upon the relations of  culture and cosmos ,similarly emphasizing the crucial psychological role of  distance , is   a connecting link between the thinking of them both.   One question that arises is e.g. if B ENJAMIN ’s short text To the Planetarium (1928) maybe wasinspired by an actual visit of the  Berlin Planetarium (opened: 1926; destroyed in WWII)? Has B ENJAMIN foundstimuli for his ideas on media and aura in the modern planetarium? While he adopted “central terminologies […] from K LAGES ”, who used stars   as paragons of the ‘  Eros of Distance ’, B ENJAMIN ’s aura -definition reveals no “direct traces of its astronomical contextual   srcins” any more (C LAUSBERG 2008, 338). However, it is eminentlyapplicable to the planetarium, which reproduces stellar light dots some meters away: indeed an   “ apparition of adistance however  [  physically ] near it may be ”   (B ENJAMIN in J ENNINGS ,   D OHERTY 2008, 23). This  proximity-distance opposition already appears in To the Planetarium , where B ENJAMIN   diagnosed a historical change in therelation of human culture and cosmos:   „Nothing distinguishes the ancient from the modern man so much as theformer’s absorption in a cosmic experience scarcely known to later periods” (ibid .,   58). He continues that the modern “exclusive emphasis on an optical connection to the universe” consequently alienated from the“knowledge of what is nearest  to us and what is remotest    from us” ( ibid.). Quite comparably, A BY W ARBURG  observed a historical change concerning the psychological importance of the constitutional cultural phenomenon ‘ distance ’ in the context of the human relation to the cosmos. In the same year when the planetarium wasinvented, in 1923, W ARBURG accused the modern media   of being “ominous destroyers of the sense of distance”,and lamented that “Telegram and telephone destroy the cosmos.” He complained about the loss of “the space required for devotion and reflec tion: the distance undone by the instantaneous electric connection.” (W ARBURG  [1923] in P REZIOSI 2009, 188). Now, simulating the ulterior stellar distance s, the planetarium can be thought of as a counteragent against the distance-threatening density of the contemporary modern metropolis. Yet, withregard to his  Bildersammlung   W ARBURG believed that the planetarium could only then become a ‘ powerfulinstrument of self-education ’ if it was supplemented by his contextualizing exhibition (in F LECKNER ,   G ALITZ ,   N ABER &   N ÖLDEKE 1993, 36). He considered a planetarium without  this corresponding exhibition being a ‘ mereamusement  ’ ( „ nur eine Gaudi “ ) (ibid., 47). After the actual opening of the  Hamburg Planetarium   A RTHUR B EER  then criticised one performance from 24 April 1930. He warned that if one did not improve public relations inthe near future the  Hamburg Planetarium ’s ‘new universe’ would also become ‘desert and devoid’ ( “ wüst undleer ” , ibid., 84) just alike a newspaper at that time already wrote about the  Berlin Planetarium ’s declining publicattractiveness. F RITZ S AXL already before elucidated that W ARBURG aimed at constituting the planetarium as aprofound educational establishment  , whereas the public interest in the ingenious (Z EISS -) instrument of theplanetarium (projector) alone seems to expire all too easily (ibid., 112). According to F RITZ S AXL , W ARBURG ’s intention was that the  Hamburg Planetarium in contrast to planetariums of other cities should become not only a scientific (astronomy didactical) but also a  popular humanistic institute for comparative cultural studies ,because only thus united it could represent that ‘ universal institute ’ ( „jenes universelle Institut“ , ibid., 94) whichW ARBURG has stipulated for Hamburg: a sort of  think tank  avant la lettre, incorporating the planetarium, thelibrary, the exhibition, and even a roof-top observatory, hence housing both scientific and cultural educationunder one umbrella, and therefore pooling the Two Cultures even long before C.   P.   S NOW has problematizedtheir schism in 1959. Also H ERTA S CHUBART pointed out that by means of the  fast motion which the planetariumused as a standard feature for showing the circumpolar rotation of the sky, abbreviating years to some minutes,abandoned the necessity for observational  patience and for the specific devoutness towards the sky („ so daßGeduld, Beobachtung,  Hingabe nicht mehr vonnöten sind “ , ibid. 164). Exactly this very “  Hingabe ”, th is devoutness was what also B ENJAMIN described as a lost cultural ability in To the Planetarium : “Nothingdistinguishes the ancient from the modern man so much as the former’s absorption in a cosmic experience [src.:  Hingegebenheit an eine kosmische Erfahrung ] scarcely known to later periods .” ( B ENJAMIN inJ ENNINGS  /D OHERTY 2008, 58).
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