Siegfried Kracauer: An Introduction

By Gertrud Koch; Jeremy Gaines | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
The Early Days:
A Biographical Sketch

SIEGFRIED KRACAUER is one of those authors to whom that sad saying applies: his fame is nothing more than “the sum of errors” connected with his name. Under his name we would find Harold Bloom's fictitious “map of misreading” with all the possible contradictory but also productive interpretations and with all the unproductive misunderstandings that have tended to get in the way. Most prominent among these are some theorists of film who wish to do their best to punish the name Kracauer for having produced a naive apology for realism, without actually having understood the philosophical construction on which his phenomenology of film rests.

As a consequence, cycles of readings have come and gone. The reception of Kracauer still stands on unsteady feet, to the extent that it stands at all. And things are made difficult by the fact that his name has been entered on various topographical maps. Kracauer exists either as a film theorist or as a distant relative of the Frankfurt School, either as a journalist or as a philosopher, either as an essay-writer or as a novelist. In ironic desperation, Kracauer therefore once asked in a letter penned on the occasion of a preface that was to be attached to one of his books, not to be presented as a “film man,” but instead as “a philosopher of culture, or also as a sociologist, and as a poet…. With regard to film, it has always only been a hobby I pursued in order to make certain sociological and philosophical statements.” 1

Seen from a distance, we can discern a pattern in the various maps readers have made of the author's work and the divergent interpretations they have come up with. The pattern, although it has a shape of its own, can be understood as an extension of his work—or as a “constitutive surface,” to use Kracauer's own concept.

If we assume that the “constitutive surface” of Kracauer's oeuvre is a structure in its own right, then we will find it easier to comprehend the internal fissures and outstanding characteristics of the individual

-3-

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