Siegfried Kracauer

Siegfried Kracauer: An Introduction

Gertrud Koch
Translated by Jeremy Gaines
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 200
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rk32
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Siegfried Kracauer
    Book Description:

    Siegfried Kracauer has been misunderstood as a naïve realist, appreciated as an astute critic of early German film, and noticed as the interesting exile who exchanged letters with Erwin Panofsky. But he is most widely thought of as the odd uncle of famed Frankfurt School critical theorists Jürgen Habermas, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Max Horkheimer. Recently, however, scholars have rediscovered in Kracauer's writings a philosopher, sociologist, and film theorist important beyond his associations--and perhaps one of the most significant cultural critics of the twentieth century. Gertrud Koch advances this Kracauer renaissance with the first-ever critical assessment of his entire body of work.

    Koch's analysis, which is concise without sacrificing thoroughness or sophistication, covers both Kracauer's best-known publications (e.g., From Caligari to Hitler, in which he gleans the roots of National Socialism in the films of the Weimar Republic) and previously underexamined texts, including two newly discovered autobiographical novels. Because Kracauer's wide-ranging works emerge from no rigidly unified approach, instead always remaining open to unusual and highly individual perspectives, Koch resists the temptation to force generalization. She does, however, identify recurring tropes in Kracauer's lifetime effort to perceive the basic posture and composition of particular cultures through their visual surfaces. Koch also finds in Kracauer a surprisingly contemporary cultural commentator, whose ideas speak directly to current discussions on film, urban modernity, feminism, cultural representation, violence, and other themes.

    This book was long-awaited in Germany, as well as widely and well reviewed. Now translated into English for the first time, it will fuel already growing interest in the United States, where Kracauer lived and wrote from 1941 until his death in 1966. It will attract the attention of students and scholars working in Film Studies, German Studies, Comparative Literature, Critical Theory, Cultural Studies, Philosophy, and History.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2364-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Time Line of Kracauer’s Life
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. CHAPTER 1 The Early Days: A Biographical Sketch
    (pp. 3-10)

    Siegfried Kracauer is one of those authors to whom that sad saying applies: his fame is nothing more than “the sum of errors” connected with his name. Under his name we would find Harold Bloom’s fictitious “map of misreading” with all the possible contradictory but also productive interpretations and with all the unproductive misunderstandings that have tended to get in the way. Most prominent among these are some theorists of film who wish to do their best to punish the name Kracauer for having produced a naive apology for realism, without actually having understood the philosophical construction on which his...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Early Phenomenology of Modernity and Mass Culture: Of Hotel Lobbies and Detective Novels
    (pp. 11-25)

    Commentators tend to regard Kracauer’s notion of the “surface” as the key theme in his thinking. If we follow this thread in his thought, we soon see that the concept is again by no means univocal. It is fair to say that the “surfaces” Kracauer describes exhibit innate breaking points, built into them at the theoretical level by the phenomenology of his approach. He does not construe the surface as an objective reality in the sense of the reality the natural sciences claim to describe. Instead, the surface confronts the transcendental subject of epistemology as a “reality stripped of meaning.”...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Surface and Self-Representation: “The Mass Ornament” and Die Angestellten
    (pp. 26-47)

    The concept of the mass as has been used since the end of the nineteenth century, above all in cultural criticism,* can be quite straightforwardly derived from its prior use: originally, mind and matter, the unformed and creation, were polar dyads related to each other initially mythologically, and then scientifically. “Mass” possibly stems from the Hebrew “mazza,” as in “matzoh” or unleavened bread, and entered Greek and Latin as the word denotingbread dough or lumps of dough. These origins are still to be sensed in the theological debate on the material nature of the bread used in ritual to symbolize...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Autobiography and Social Biography: Ginster, Georg, and Offenbach
    (pp. 48-74)

    Kracauer’s two novels,GinsterandGeorg, are among his most successful works. Although they clearly reveal autobiographical traits, we cannot interpret them as romans à clefs. And like so many of Kracauer’s works, the two novels have a complex publication history full of obstacles and pitfalls.Georg, completed in 1934, was in fact not published until 1973—as part of the KracauerSchriften(Collected Works). It definitely takes up whereGinsterleft off, the latter having been published by S. Fischer and announced anonymously as “Ginster, written by himself.” Both novels can be regarded as reflections on Kracauer’s own life...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Continuity and Mentality: “From Caligari to Hitler”
    (pp. 75-94)

    Alongside Béla Balázs and Rudolf Arnheim, Kracauer was the third major film critic of the Weimar Republic to be forced into exile. We can quite unabashedly term him one of the founders of film theory, who, in his essays of the 1920s, had already foreseen with great perspicacity many of the later cultural developments traced inThe Mass Ornament. In a manner that went well beyond what one would expect from a newspaper film critic in terms of aesthetic or other value judgments, Kracauer detected in individual films a new culture that arose with cinema. In this context, he was...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Space, Time, and Apparatus: The Optical Medium “Theory of Film”
    (pp. 95-113)

    We have seen thatFrom Caligari to Hitleris not just a book that refers to the history of film. It is likewise the outline of an implicit history of the decline of the individual (on which the new masses are based) and the subject’s regression into subordination. This development, Kracauer believes, causes Modernity to break off, having only half fulfilled its potential. It therefore comes as no surprise thatTheory of Filmis equally not just what its title suggests, but also an irritating statement on the visibility of the world as well as the resulting cognitive and moral...

  11. CHAPTER 7 At the End: A Philosophy of History and Historiography
    (pp. 114-120)

    Kracauer’sTheory of Filmwas followed byHistory: The Last Things before the Last, Kracauer’s last book. For him, the difference between the two subjects was marginal. He considers his defense of historiography against the truth claims made by philosophy, on the one hand, and the mathematical sciences, on the other, to be an approach similar to that used in his defense of film, a medium that, in the eyes of the phenomenologists, should remain as distant from formal art as from mere instrumentalization geared to external purposes. For, in Kracauer’s view, historiography and photography furthermore have privileged access to...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 121-130)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 131-132)
  14. Index
    (pp. 133-137)