Cinema and Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno

Cinema and Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno

Cinema and Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno

Cinema and Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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. If that ongoing future increasingly became one of the concerns ticking in the background of this study, it also made me more keenly aware of the specific historicity of the writings discussed— less in the sense of their loss of “currency” than in their contemporaneity with key junctures in the history of the cinema and the social and political histories of the twentieth century. Much as they illuminate those junctures, they often do so from an untimely angle, which lends them a different kind of actuality in the present.

At the same time, I couldn’t fail to realize the extent to which this project was bound up with my own history, a history that entailed switching countries, languages, and fields—from Germany to the United States, from German to English, from the study of literary modernism and the avant-garde to the study of film. When I began to read my way into American cinema studies around 1980, the field was dominated by psychoanalytic-semiotic film theory, with its grounding in Lacan and Freud, Althusserian Marxism, and feminism, which had taken Anglophone shape in the British journals Screen and Edinburgh Magazine and the then-Berkeley-based Camera Obscura. This hegemony soon waned, challenged by the competing and asymmetrical paradigms of, on the one hand, cultural studies and, on the other, neoformalism or historical poetics and cognitivism. Yet the intellectual energy that had made psychoanalytic-semiotic theory a magnet for . . .

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