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Cinema and Experience

Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno

Miriam Hansen

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism

TItle Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

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 ...

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pp. xix-xx

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). ...


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pp. xxi-xxiv

Part I. Kracauer

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1. Film, Medium of a Disintegrating World

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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) and Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (1960), ...

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2. Curious Americanism

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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 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

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3. Actuality, Antinomies

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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, ...

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4. Aura: The Appropriation of a Concept

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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 ...

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5. Mistaking the Moon for a Ball

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pp. 132-162

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. ...

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6. Micky-Maus

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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 ...

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7. Play-Form of Second Nature

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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, ...

Part III. Adorno

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8. The Question of Film Aesthetics

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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. ...

Part IV. Kracauer in Exile

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9. Theory of Film

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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 “material aesthetics” of film: ...


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pp. 281-356


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pp. 357-378

Further Reading, Production Notes

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pp. 403-406

E-ISBN-13: 9780520950139
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520265592

Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism