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Cinema and Experience

Cinema and Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno

Miriam Bratu Hansen
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Cinema and Experience
    Book Description:

    Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno—affiliated through friendship, professional ties, and argument—developed an astute philosophical critique of modernity in which technological media played a key role. This book explores in depth their reflections on cinema and photography from the Weimar period up to the 1960s. Miriam Bratu Hansen brings to life an impressive archive of known and, in the case of Kracauer, less known materials and reveals surprising perspectives on canonic texts, including Benjamin’s artwork essay. Her lucid analysis extrapolates from these writings the contours of a theory of cinema and experience that speaks to questions being posed anew as moving image culture evolves in response to digital technology.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95013-9
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. ii-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xx)
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)

    • 1 Film, Medium of a Disintegrating World
      (pp. 3-39)

      Among the first generation of Critical Theorists, Siegfried Kracauer rightly ranks as the only one who had significant expertise in matters of cinema. This reputation rests largely on his two later books written in English,From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film(1947) andTheory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality(1960), and his collection of Weimar essays translated asThe Mass Ornament(1963; 1995), while the bulk of his early writings on film remains unknown in English-language contexts.¹ It would be shortsighted, however, to restrict an account of Kracauer’s early film theory to writings...

    • 2 Curious Americanism
      (pp. 40-72)

      As we saw in the preceding chapter, Kracauer’s early reflections on film and photography suggest a range of specific meanings that the termmodernitymight have for film theory and film history. These reflections in turn contribute to the archive of modernist aesthetics insofar as they expand the canon of aesthetic modernism to include the technological media, not just with experimental film and photography but also with the vernacular practices of commercial cinema. In this chapter, I reverse emphasis to focus on the significance Kracauer ascribed to cinema and other new entertainment forms as indices of the direction(s) of twentieth-century...


    • 3 Actuality, Antinomies
      (pp. 75-103)

      While Kracauer’s early writings on film, mass culture, and modernity have barely entered English-language debates, Benjamin’s presence in these debates seems hopelessly overdetermined. During the past three decades, his famous essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” (1936) may have been quoted more often than any other single source, in areas ranging from new-left theory to cultural studies, from film and art history to visual culture, from the postmodern art scene to debates on the fate of art, including film, in the digital world. In the context of these invocations, the essay has not become...

    • 4 Aura: The Appropriation of a Concept
      (pp. 104-131)

      Benjamin’s first comment on the concept of aura can be found in an unpublished report on one of his hashish experiments, dated March 1930: “Everything I said on the subject [the nature of aura] was directed polemically against the theosophists, whose inexperience and ignorance I find highly repugnant. . . . First, genuine aura appears in all things, not just in certain things, as people imagine.”¹ This assertion contrasts sharply with the common understanding of Benjamin’s aura as a primarily aesthetic category—as shorthand for the particular qualities of traditional art that he observed waning in modernity, associated with the...

    • 5 Mistaking the Moon for a Ball
      (pp. 132-162)

      Designating a mode of adaptation, assimilation, and incorporation of something external and alien to the subject, the neurophysiological concept ofinnervationseems to belong to a field of reference that couldn’t be further removed from that ofaura. And yet, like the latter, the term is essential to Benjamin’s efforts to theorize the conditions of possibility of experience in modernity. As I argue in chapter 3, his engagement with the technological media was fueled by the insight that, notwithstanding the irrevocable decline and obsolescence of experience in its premodern and bourgeois forms, it was imperative to conceptualize some contemporary equivalent...

    • 6 Micky-Maus
      (pp. 163-182)

      Benjamin’s reflections on film and mass culture repeatedly revolved around Disney, in particular early Mickey Mouse cartoons and Silly Symphonies.¹ Adorno took issue with Benjamin’s investment in Disney, both in direct correspondence and, implicitly, in his writings on jazz and, after his friend’s death, in the analysis of the Culture Industry in his and Horkheimer’sDialectic of Enlightenment. These scattered references to Disney engaged central questions concerning the politics of mass culture, the historical relations with technology and nature, the body and sexuality. They demonstrate, in an exemplary way, a mode of thinking that sought to crystallize observations on mass-cultural...

    • 7 Play-Form of Second Nature
      (pp. 183-204)

      The artwork essay’s rhetorical staging of a crisis that culminates in the epilogue, I argue in chapter 3, imposes a dichotomous structure upon the essay’s argument.¹ It does so by pitting aura and the masses, as the subject of technological reproducibility, against each other in a binary opposition, and by aligning key concepts, such as distance and nearness, uniqueness and multiplicity/repeatability, and contemplation and distraction, with that opposition. However, just as other important concepts, in particular the optical unconscious and the notion of a simultaneously tactile and optical reception, elude this dichotomization, even the concept of aura is not entirely...


    • 8 The Question of Film Aesthetics
      (pp. 207-250)

      Adorno’s stance on mass culture, in particular technologically produced and circulated media such as film, has often enough been dismissed as mandarin, conservative, and myopic. From the new left to cultural studies, he came to figure as a bad object in theory canons that enthroned Benjamin as a bourgeois intellectual who could nonetheless envision progressive, utopian dimensions of such media. This dismissal was largely based on the theory of the “culture industry,” as it was articulated in his and Horkheimer’sDialectic of Enlightenment(1947), written in American exile between 1941 and 1944.¹ There, to recall, the authors excoriated the culture...


    • 9 Theory of Film
      (pp. 253-280)

      Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality(1960) could not place itself more squarely within the paradigm that seeks to derive the salient features of film from its being grounded in photographic, analog representation. In the preface to that book, Kracauer famously sums up the guiding assumption of his “materialaesthetics” of film: “that film is essentially an extension of photography and therefore shares with this medium a marked affinity with the visible world around us” (Txlix).¹ This assumption not only circumscribes the nature of photography; it also delimits the medium of film by its dependence on photochemical...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 281-356)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 357-378)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 379-382)