The "Aura" of the Book:
One-of-a-Kind Covers

In his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935), the German critic Walter Benjamin coined the concept of the “aura” of a work of art. Benjamin saw the work of art as a unique object existing in time and space. At the time, however, photography was gaining ground, and blurring the distinction between copy and original, threatening the privileged status of art. Why go see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, if you could carry a postcard of it in your pocket?


Benjamin recognized the democratizing potential of photography since it made art accessible to people who could not afford to travel to see the original in a museum. At the same time, the process of mechanical reproduction entailed the loss of the “aura,” the special quality that only the art object was said to possess. Because Cartonera books have unique covers for the same work, in a way, they attempt to restore the “aura” to books, objects that are, invariably, mechanically reproduced. Here we can see a variety of covers corresponding to the same title.