The Rapture of Circulation
Beauty is either the end result of a parallelogram of forces, or it does not exist at all.
Theodor W. Adorno, Funktionalismus Heute
On 11 March 1932, the Frankfurter Zeitung published a sketch by Siegfried Kracauer of a gloomy railway underpass near the Charlottenburg Station in Berlin. The ceiling, constructed of countless riveted iron girders, appears to the author to sink gradually deeper and deeper into the earth, prompting comparison to a nightmare. Pedestrians passing through the tunnel seemed gripped in permanent displeasure. A few chronic inhabitants—a baker in white, a beggar with a harmonica, an old woman—are reduced to reliefs against sooty brick walls, absorbed into the functionality of the underpass while others, bent on their individual courses, lacking the purposefulness of a crowd, quicken their steps. 1 Why does this cellarlike passage made of bricks, iron, and concrete horrify the observer, although its usefulness is not in question? “Probably the contradiction between the closed, immovable construction system and the streaming human chaos produces the horror, ” Kracauer speculates. What strikes him is the junction of the compact functional structure and the fragmented crowd, the systematicity of dead material and living chaos, the claim the underpass itself stakes on brute endurance, in contrast to the transience of generations passing through it. Sixty-five years later it is still there, as a trip to Stuttgarter Platz will confirm.
Kracauer's sensitivity might point to a bad case of claustrophobia if the philosophical element in the sketch were not also evident. As a symbol of the “sovereign indifference of actual history toward the demands
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Publication information: Book title: Cool Conduct: The Culture of Distance in Weimar Germany. Contributors: Helmut Lethen - Author, Don Reneau - Translator. Publisher: University of California Press. Place of publication: Berkeley, CA. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 21.
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