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MiriamHansen KrakauerTeoria.docx
  1 With Skin and Hair : Kracauer's Theory of Film, Marseille 1940 Miriam Hansen Miriam Hansen is professor of English at the University of Chicago where she also directs the Film Studies Center. Her most recent book is  Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (1991 ). She is cur-rently working on a study of the Frankfurt School's debates on film and mass culture. Critical Inquiry 19 (Spring 1993) S1993 by The University of Chicago. 0093-1896/93/1903-00035$01.00. All rights reserved. The research for this essay was made possible by the support of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung. I am grateful to the Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach am Neckar, for granting me access to and permission to quote from the Kracauer Papers, with special thanks to Dr. Ingrid Belke for her generous advice and invaluable help in deciphering Kracauer's beautiful gothic script. For critical readings and discussions I also wish to thank Mark Anderson, Lauren Berlant, Eileen Bowser, Michael Geyer, Tom Mitchell, and the members of the Seminar on Cinema and Interdisciplinary Interpretation at Columbia University. All translations are mine unless otherwise noted. (PAGE 437) The turn to photography is the go-for-broke game of history. -SIEGFRIED KRACAUER, Photography (1 927) The face counts for nothing in film unless it includes the death's-head beneath. Danse macabre. To which end? That remains to be seen. -KRACAUER, notes toward a book on film aesthetics (1940) Kracauer's late work, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (1960), has enjoyed a long and varied history of critical rejection, from Pauline Kael's smug polemics against the author's German pedantry (1962); through Dudley Andrew's indictment of the  book for its normative ontology (1976) and naive realism (1984) and similar charges raised from a semiotic perspective in the pages of Screen ; to the standard German argument of the sixties and seventies that, with the shift in emphasis to physical reality, Kracauer had abandoned his earlier preoccupation with (PAGE 438) the cinema's relation to social and  political reality.' 1  No doubt Theory of Film is an irritating book-with its pretense of academic systematicity, its liberal-humanist sentiment and bland universalism, and its grandfatherly and assimilationist diction, to say nothing of the disagreements one might have with its approach to film-yet it's anything but utterly transparent or direct, as Andrew calls it, nor is it a huge homogeneous block of realist theory. 2  On the contrary, much as Theory of Film strives toward systematicity and transparency, the text remains uneven, opaque, and contradictory in many places, defying the attempt to deduce from it any coherent, singular position. The elided trauma that disfigures Theory of Film is that around which Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler (1947) still revolved in a more direct way: the  political, philosophical, and world-historical impact of the Holocaust. As Gertrud Koch and Heide Schliipmann have pointed out, the object of Theory of Film is neither film in general nor film as a phenomenon of late capitalism but, more specifically, the question of film after Auschwitz. Although Kracauer mentions the death camps as a filmic topic only briefly, in the section entitled The Head of the Medusa, Koch and Schliipmann contend that the impossibility of representing mass death  –  and yet the stubborn hope that film might be just the medium to register that horror   –   constitutes the epistemic and ethical vanishing point of the book. 3  1.   See Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (New York, 1960); hereafter abbreviated T; Pauline Kael, Is There a Cure for Film Criticism? Or, Some Unhappy Thoughts on Siegfried Kracauer's Nature of Film,   2 Sight and Sound 31 (Spring 1962): 56-64, rpt. in Kael, I Lost It at the Movies (Boston, 1965), pp. 269-92; J. Dudley Andrew, The Major Film Theories: An Introduction (New York, 1976), chap. 5, and Concepts in Film Theory (Oxford, 1984), p. 19. On the German reception of Theory of Film, see Helmut Lethen, Sichtbarkeit: Kracauers Liebeslehre, in Siegfried Kracauer: Neue Interpretationen, ed. Michael Kessler and Thomas Y. Levin (Tiibingen, 1990), pp. 195-228. 2.   Andrew, The Major Film Theories, p. 106. 3. Gertrud Koch, 'Not Yet Accepted Anywhere': Exile, Memory, and Image in Kracauer's Conception of History, trans. Jeremy Gaines, New German Critique, no. 54 (Fall 1991): 95-109; Heide Schliipmann, The Subject of Survival: On Kracauer's Theory of Film, trans. Gaines, New German Critique, no. 54 (Fall 1991): 111-26. Kael, Koch, and Schlfipmann all have a point, and their arguments are, in a complicated way, interrelated. This link, however, cannot be established solely on the basis of the book was published in 1960. Rather, it emerges from a body of texts that call into question the very status of that (PAGE 439) version: two decades worth of drafts, outlines, and notes that are far more interesting and important than the final product. Indeed, I will argue, the significance of Kracauer's Theory of Film can only be grasped in the tension  between the early drafts and the later book, in the process of endless rewriting, systematization, and elimination. This process can be traced, tentatively, in the vast amount of material relating to Theory of Film that Kracauer bequeathed, along with his other papers, to the Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach am Neckar. The earliest outline for a book on film aesthetics, comprised of three fat notebooks, is dated 16 November 1940, and was written during those months, as Kracauer told Theodor W. Adorno in a later letter, that we spent in anguish and misery in Marseille (fig. 1). 4  Accompanying the notebooks are handwritten and typed outlines in varying degrees of elaboration and drafts for a chapter on film and theater. Kracauer did not return to the project until November 1948, after his narrow escape to the United States, after difficult years of settling in New York, after the publication of the Caligari book. Sources relating to this phase of the project include a Preliminary Statement on a Study of Film Aesthetics in English (6 November 1948), a mixed German-English summary from the Marseille notebooks (8-12 May 1949), and a typed Tentative Outline dated 8 September 1949, with marginalia recording critical comments by Rudolf Arnheim, Adorno, and Robert Warshow. Kracauer signed an advance contract with Oxford University Press in August 1949. The first full-length draft of the book, 192 typed pages, was probably written in 1954, when Kracauer received another grant. While this lengthy essay contains some of the basic arguments of the later book, it still lacks the attempt to generalize them into systematic oppositions (such as the realistic versus formative tendencies). Kracauer did not try to systematize his thoughts in this manner until 1955, in response to readings from film historian Arthur Knight and Oxford University Press editor Eric Larrabee. Only then did he begin to organize and reorganize the material in what he referred to as his syllabus, of which there are three draft versions and several schematic synopses. During this last phase, the process of revision assumes an anxious if not obsessive quality that contrasts with the final text's aspiration to a cool, Olympian vision and its display of the well-turned, idiomatic phrase.5 4. Kracauer, letter to Theodor W. Adorno, 12 Feb. 1949, in Siegfried Kracauer, 1889-1966, ed. Ingrid Belke and Irina Renz, Marbacher Magazin 47 (1988): 107.  3 5. This impression is confirmed by Kracauer's correspondence with Adorno, Leo Lowenthal, and Rudolf Arnheim, found in the Kracauer Papers, Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach am Neckar.   What made Kracauer engage in such contortions? What was censured in the process of making the book into a painful caricature of the German (PAGE 442) scholarly mind in exile? What in turn is the point of expanding the textual basis of Theory of Film? These questions pertain to the larger project of historicizing film theory, that is, theories of film, cinema, and mass culture that are no longer current yet are somehow expected to refer to the same phenomena in our time. The word historicize in this context has come to mean a number of things. For instance, alongside the boom of new film theory that  propelled the development of cinema studies during the seventies and early eighties, there have been revisionist debates on classical film theorists such as Sergei Eisenstein and Andre Bazin, attempts to reread canonical texts in their contexts of srcin and reception and to confront them with contemporary questions. 6  Likewise, there have been efforts to unearth and reprint unknown writings on film and cinema from earlier periods by a wide range of authors including filmmakers, artists, literary and cultural critics, philosophers, and social theorists. 7  Beyond the archaeological interest, the historical significance of these writings emerges from their oblique relation to the development of cinema as an institution, and to dominant modes of representation and reception. For writings of a more theoretical, speculative, and polemical nature tend to do more than merely explicate and ratify the logic of institutional development; they also give us a sense of the diverse and diverging  possibilities once associated with the new medium, of roads not taken, of virtual histories that may hibernate into the present. 8  Whether dealing with canonical or archival texts, historicizing film theory requires  both reconstructing a historical horizon for the text  –  the circumstances of its production, its genealogy and address, the discourses in which it might have intervened  –   and suggesting constellations in which it raises questions relevant to current concerns. Methodologically, the two approaches cannot be separated. Reconstructing a historical horizon is in the end only another form of constructing constellations, in Walter Benjamin's sense of juxtaposing historical images from the perspective of the present. By the same token, this perspective cannot be foreshortened to a discussion of an earlier theory's current use-value. The point is 6. See for instance David Bordwell, Eisenstein's Epistemological Shift, Screen 15 (Winter 1974-75): 29-46; Eisenstein Revisited: A Collection of Essays, ed. Lirs Kleberg and Hakan Lövgren (Stockholm, 1987); and the special issue on Andre Bazin, Wide Angle, ed. Andrew, 9 (1987). 7. The journal Framework, for instance, carried a section called Towards an Archeol-ogy of Film Theory beginning with no. 13 (1980), reprinting, with commentary, texts by Georg Lukics, Vaclav Tille, and Vladimir Mayakovsky, among others. See also Kino- Debatte: Texte zum Verhiiltnis von Literatur und Film, 1909-1929, ed. Anton Kaes (Tiibingen, 1978), and French Film Theory and Criticism: A History/Anthology, 1907-1939, ed. Richard Abel, 2 vols. (Princeton, N.J., 1988). 8. For a different emphasis see Bordwell, Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema (Cambridge, Mass., 1989).  4 (PAGE 443) rather to enlist its historical distance and contingency, its very historicity, in the effort to defamiliarize our own thinking on film and mass culture, to help us formulate questions that will not merely confirm what we already know. Historicizing Kracauer's Theory of Film involves not only reconstituting the history of the text, as a process rather than product, but also restoring the dimension of history in the text, as a missing term underlying key concepts and arguments. To some extent, Kracauer's impulse to eliminate that dimension comes with the territory, the genre of theory, or at least the kind of theory that pitches its hypotheses at a level presumably above historical variability. One factor contributing to the repression of history in Theory of Film may have  been Kracauer's acceptance, late in his life, of the increased institutional division of labor among film critics, historians, and theorists. If his early writings on film and mass culture are distinguished by the attempt to mediate between these approaches (which is one aspect of his affinity with the Frankfurt School), his later works seem to resign themselves to their dissociation. The history that Kracauer tried to bracket from his film theory returns as the elusive subject of the book he considered the culmination of his work, the posthumously  published History: The Last Things before the Last   (1969). 9 Let me briefly delineate some of the more specific implications of historicizing Theory of Film : 1. The unpublished material furnishes a bridge between Kracauer's earliest writings on film and his later film theory, a link that is systematically repressed in the book. I am referring here to the hundreds of articles and reviews that Kracauer published in the Frankfurter Zeitung during the early twenties, when he attempted to theorize the cinema from a historicophilosophical perspective informed by radical Jewish messianism and gnosticism. 10  I am setting off this strand of Kracauer's early film theory from the critique of ideology (roughly Marxist though early on anti-Stalinist) that came to dominate his writings in the late twenties and early thirties and that culminated in his psychological history of German film 9. On the relationship between Kracauer's History and his film theory, see D. N. Rodowick, The Last Things before the Last: Kracauer and History, New German Critique, no. 41 (Spring-Summer 1987): 109-39, and Inka Mülder-Bach, History as Autobiography: The Last Things before the Last, trans. Gail Finney, New German Critique, no. 54 (Fall 1991): 139-57. 10. See Levin, Siegfried Kracauer: Eine Bibliographie seiner Schriften (Marbach am  Neckar, 1989). The majority of Kracauer's articles from the Frankfurter Zeitung, many of which were published under pseudonyms or even anonymously, can be found in his own scrapbooks in the Kracauer Papers; many of these are reprinted in Kracauer, vol. 5, pts. 1 and 2 of Schriften, ed. Miülder-Bach (Frankfurt am Main, 1990). See also Miriam Hansen, Decentric Perspectives: Kracauer's Early Writings on Film and Mass Culture, New Ger-man Critique, no. 54 (Fall 1991): 47-76. PAGE 444) written in exile,  From Caligari to Hitler  . The link between the unpublished material from the forties and early fifties and Kracauer's earliest writings on film suggests that even in the book in 1960 he approaches the cinema from the problematic of the  subject  , as both a practical critique of bourgeois fictions of self-identity and a discourse for articulating the historical state of human self-alienation [Selbstentfremdung]. (ONLY FOR THIS PERSP. OF THE SUBJECT?)This perspective complicates the habitual charge against

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