Cinema and Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism)

Cinema and Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism)

Language: English

Pages: 408

ISBN: 0520265602

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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.

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Siegfried—film reviews, 6; Battleship Potemkin, 38, 67, 223, 275; Der Berg des Schicksals, 15–16; Chicago, 71; Der Frauenkönig, 9; The General, 298n34; Der letzte Mann, 13; Man with a Movie Camera, 293n101, 303–4n104, 309n43; Die Männer der Sybill, 9; The Merchant of Venice, 13, 15; The Street, 9–11, 22, 61, 223 Kracauer, Siegfried—girl cult, 71; “Girls and Crisis” (1931), 66; “The Little Shopgirls Go to the Movies” (1927), 54, 59, 62, 278; Tiller Girls, 45, 46, 49, 50, 293n93, 299n45 Kracauer,

the final section before the epilogue. Here he asserts that the huge quantitative increase of “participants” (der Anteilnehmenden) in the cinema has given rise to a qualitatively different mode of reception—collective reception in distraction (Zerstreuung). Like Kracauer a decade earlier, he rehabilitates distraction—as opposed to Sammlung, or concentrated contemplation that traditional art demands of the beholder—against the age-old complaint about the masses’ craving for entertainment and

collective, playful innervation of technology. It would be shortsighted to ignore the political crisis in which Benjamin sought to intervene—and the failure, if not complicity, of intellectuals from right to left in the face of it (see chapter 3, above). The problem was not simply that the decaying aura had come to prolong the cultural privilege of a bourgeoisie. As is often pointed out, Benjamin’s call to demolition was aimed at the technologically enhanced fabrication, from the

painted along with the various objects.47 Just as he is experimenting with hashish and modes of writing about that experience, Benjamin is clearly experimenting with the concept of aura. The insistence that “genuine aura appears in all things” suggests that he initially sought to reinvent aura as an exoteric and materialist concept capable of grasping the realities of the modern everyday. In this spirit he writes as early as 1925 (defending the illustrated magazine Berliner Illustrirte

(and European) right. The “moderns” who dismiss this kind of experience as individual rapture commit a “dangerous error,” he argues, and end up leaving these energies to the enemy. For the desire for ecstatic communion with the cosmos is not only real and powerful but also, above all, communal and ultimately therapeutic. “The ‘Lunaparks’ are a prefiguration of sanatoria” (SW 1:487). Bringing the new collective physis enabled and projected by technology under control may demand as violent a

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