- Realism as Protest: Kluge, Schlingensief, Haneke by Tara Forrest
Tara Forrest’s study of the work of Alexander Kluge, Christoph Schlingensief, and Michael Haneke is informed by Kluge’s notion of aesthetic “realism” designed to counter the “reality” created and propagated by the mass media and culture industry. While mass culture employs a “reality principle” that strategically limits the range of interpretations of the narratives and images it presents, Kluge’s “realism” intends to enable viewers to imagine potential realities beyond the status quo.
In this study, Forrest argues that Kluge, Schlingensief, and Haneke all employ the aesthetic of “realism” in this Klugian sense. They cultivate in their audiences what Kluge has referred to as Eigensinn: an obstinate, subjective, and creative construction of reality based in a viewer’s own feelings rather than those prescribed by the predigested works of the culture industry. Forrest demonstrates this process by examining a selection of works ranging from television programs and films to performance art events. Under this rubric, Kluge’s examinations of the “collateral damage” of war, [End Page 677] Schlingensief’s uncomfortable reenactments, and Haneke’s exploration of the “emotional glaciation” of Austria all become relatable to one another in common terms.
The first two chapters are devoted to Alexander Kluge’s work in film and television. Forrest offers a lucid description of a selection of productions ranging from Die Patriotin (1979) to Das Weichziel ist der Mensch (2008), interpreting them in terms of Kluge’s own aesthetic theory. The chapters are effective in helping the reader navigate the often baffling, complex, and comical juxtapositions found in Kluge’s work and critical practice. At the same time, however, Forrest’s own authorial voice disappears behind the explanations Kluge offers about his own work. Ironically, Kluge’s opinions emerge as an authoritative interpretation in these chapters, foreclosing other perspectives that might, for example, suggest ways in which his works fall short of or transcend the aesthetic strategies informing them.
Forrest’s “Klugian” approach to Schlingensief’s work in the next three chapters is more enlightening. Where a casual viewer might have trouble placing the notorious enfant terrible in the context of the critical praxis of the Frankfurt School, Forrest reveals Schlingensief to be working within this very tradition. By reading him alongside the thought of Kluge, Theodor Adorno, and Walter Benjamin, Forrest argues that in his dissonant “atonal reenactments” of familiar television formats, Schlingensief creates an authentic public sphere that allows his viewers the freedom to engage with mass-media simulations of “reality,” not only on an intellectual level but also in Benjamin’s sensual notion of Erfahrung. These three chapters, which cover approximately the same number of pages as those devoted to Kluge, offer convincing critical perspectives on the so-called “Container-Aktion,” Bitte liebt Österreich (already the subject of much scholarship on Schlingensief), Quiz 3000, and Freakstars 3000 (both far less commonly discussed).
The final chapter of the book is devoted to Michael Haneke’s 1994 film 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance. Forrest argues effectively here for what Haneke’s and Kluge’s stylistically quite divergent films have in common: the desire to cultivate in the viewer resistance to the status quo. By reading Haneke’s film alongside Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory and Kluge’s notion of Autorenkino, Forrest demonstrates that while Kluge’s films employ techniques of pastiche and fragmentation to entice viewers to combine and integrate material for themselves, Haneke’s film works with the opposite tact, slowing attention through long takes, allowing viewers the time to activate their critical faculties and form opinions. Haneke’s bleak films are not nihilistic; rather, they employ “negative utopianism” to stimulate the desire for social change.
Forrest’s study is emphatically theoretical throughout. Her aim is not to explain the historical context of the works under discussion but to describe the aesthetic practices they employ in reimagining the public sphere. She therefore offers historical contextualization for the performances and films she interprets only when strictly necessary. This largely ahistorical perspective is an understandable choice, but...