Cinema and Experience
Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of California Press
TItle Page, Copyright, Dedication
The question of how “to engage a living thought that is no longer historically current,” raised by Fredric Jameson with regard to Theodor W. Adorno, has a particular urgency when the body of thought revolves around the cinema, especially in today’s rapidly changing media environment.1 ...
Several institutions have generously supported the research and the writing of this book. I have held fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, as well as residential fellowships at the American Academy in Berlin and the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin). ...
Part I. Kracauer
1. Film, Medium of a Disintegrating World
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) and Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (1960), ...
2. Curious Americanism
As we saw in the preceding chapter, Kracauer’s early reflections on film and photography suggest a range of specific meanings that the term modernity might 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, ...
Part II. Benjamin
3. Actuality, Antinomies
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, ...
4. Aura: The Appropriation of a Concept
Benjamin’s first comment on the concept of aura can be found in an unpublished report on one of his hashish experiments, dated March 1930: “Everything I said on the subject [the nature of aura] was directed polemically against the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 ...
5. Mistaking the Moon for a Ball
Designating a mode of adaptation, assimilation, and incorporation of something external and alien to the subject, the neurophysiological concept of innervation seems to belong to a field of reference that couldn’t be further removed from that of aura. And yet, like the latter, the term is essential to Benjamin’s efforts to theorize the conditions of possibility of experience in modernity. ...
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 ...
7. Play-Form of Second Nature
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, ...
Part III. Adorno
8. The Question of Film Aesthetics
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. ...
Part IV. Kracauer in Exile
9. Theory of Film
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 “material aesthetics” of film: ...
Further Reading, Production Notes