The Curious Humanist: Siegfried Kracauer in America

The Curious Humanist: Siegfried Kracauer in America 1056 The Journal of American History March 2018 half of all black Protestants. Nevertheless, Doc- no, Erwin Panofsky, and Meyer Schapiro. Of trine and Race is an important contribution to course, exile was a painful experience of - pre the growing body of scholarship on African cariousness and “extraterritoriality”—a con - American religion and churches. cept that Kracauer liked and frequently used in both his letters and essays—but New Yor - k cer William E. Montgomery tainly was the opposite of an intellectual des - Austin Community College ert and offered a stimulating environment for Austin, Texas his production. A second misunderstanding, doi: 10.1093/jahist/jax508 deeply related to the vision of the isolated and marginal émigré, consists in depicting Kracau - er as a depoliticized scholar: a prisoner of a cer - The Curious Humanist:   Siegfried Kracauer in tain Cold War conformism, far from the M - arx America. By Johannes von Moltke. (Berkeley: ist sympathies of his Weimar years. According University of California Press, 2016. xii, 317 to von Moltke, on the contrary, New Yor - k in pp. Cloth, $70.00. Paper, $34.95.) tellectuals showed affinities with the German Siegfried Kracauer belongs to an outstandin “extraterritorial g ” Left of the 1920s and early 1930s, and despite the “post-ideological fa - constellation of Jewish German scholars that tigue” perceptible in Theory of Film, Kracauer emigrated to New York during World War II never abandoned an emancipatory conception and effected a gigantic cultural transfer from of art and culture. Differently from Adorno— one side of the Atlantic Ocean to the other, who rejected his friend’s fascination with cul - transforming the postwar American scientific tural industry and Hollywood movies, which and intellectual landscape. This existential he perceived as simply expressions of univ - er experience significantly changed his style of sal reification—Kracauer, in von Moltke-’s de thought and writing: he abandoned h-is na scription, was a “curious humanist,” a thinker tive German language and replaced the ironic who stressed the critical and liberating poten - elegance of his Weimar phenomenological tialities of images. Whereas cinematic ontolo - essays with a new, more abstract theoretical gy implies the nonanthropocentric gaze of the approach. This is the common feature of his “camera-reality,” the spectator rescues human American writings, notablFy rom Caligari experience and subjectivity. According to - Kra to Hitler (1947), a “psychological history” cauer, images are more than epistemological of the expressionist movieTheso; ry of Film tools for exploring the kaleidoscopic universe (1960); and History: The Last Things before the of material reality and physical existence; they Last (1969), a philosophical essay published gather the multiple objects of a human world posthumously on the “anteroom,” the i -nter waiting for its “redemption.” The “primacy of mediate realm between the profane and the the optical,” which Adorno criticized as a sur - transcendent worlds. These writings are the render to the universe of commodities, was for object of Johannes von Moltke’s remarkable Kracauer the premise of any emancipator - y ac re appraisal of Kracauer in America. tion, the condition of agency itself. As he ex - He carefully scrutinizes them by exploring plained through an allegorical figure, Perseus their hidden premises made of a mixture of was able to cut off the head of Medusa, thus German legacy, new experiences, and multiple avoiding her petrifying gaze, by watching her intellectual connections. Questioning the com - image reflected in his mirror. monplace understanding of the lonely intellec - tual exile, von Moltke emphasizes the richness, Enzo Traverso vivacity, and complexity of the cultural context Cornell University in which Kracauer inscribed his works, a mi - Ithaca, New York lieu made up of magazines such as Commen- doi: 10.1093/jahist/jax509 tary and Partisan Review, and institutions such as the Film Library of the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), and shaped by a permanent - dia Uprooting Community:  Japanese Mexicans, logue with scholars such as Theodor W. Ador - World War II, and the U.S.-Mexico Border- Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/jah/article-abstract/104/4/1056/4932686 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 16 March 2018 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Journal of American History Oxford University Press

The Curious Humanist: Siegfried Kracauer in America

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Abstract

1056 The Journal of American History March 2018 half of all black Protestants. Nevertheless, Doc- no, Erwin Panofsky, and Meyer Schapiro. Of trine and Race is an important contribution to course, exile was a painful experience of - pre the growing body of scholarship on African cariousness and “extraterritoriality”—a con - American religion and churches. cept that Kracauer liked and frequently used in both his letters and essays—but New Yor - k cer William E. Montgomery tainly was the opposite of an intellectual des - Austin Community College ert and offered a stimulating environment for Austin, Texas his production. A second misunderstanding, doi: 10.1093/jahist/jax508 deeply related to the vision of the isolated and marginal émigré, consists in depicting Kracau - er as a depoliticized scholar: a prisoner of a cer - The Curious Humanist:   Siegfried Kracauer in tain Cold War conformism, far from the M - arx America. By Johannes von Moltke. (Berkeley: ist sympathies of his Weimar years. According University of California Press, 2016. xii, 317 to von Moltke, on the contrary, New Yor - k in pp. Cloth, $70.00. Paper, $34.95.) tellectuals showed affinities with the German Siegfried Kracauer belongs to an outstandin “extraterritorial g ” Left of the 1920s and early 1930s, and despite the “post-ideological fa - constellation of Jewish German scholars that tigue” perceptible in Theory of Film, Kracauer emigrated to New York during World War II never abandoned an emancipatory conception and effected a gigantic cultural transfer from of art and culture. Differently from Adorno— one side of the Atlantic Ocean to the other, who rejected his friend’s fascination with cul - transforming the postwar American scientific tural industry and Hollywood movies, which and intellectual landscape. This existential he perceived as simply expressions of univ - er experience significantly changed his style of sal reification—Kracauer, in von Moltke-’s de thought and writing: he abandoned h-is na scription, was a “curious humanist,” a thinker tive German language and replaced the ironic who stressed the critical and liberating poten - elegance of his Weimar phenomenological tialities of images. Whereas cinematic ontolo - essays with a new, more abstract theoretical gy implies the nonanthropocentric gaze of the approach. This is the common feature of his “camera-reality,” the spectator rescues human American writings, notablFy rom Caligari experience and subjectivity. According to - Kra to Hitler (1947), a “psychological history” cauer, images are more than epistemological of the expressionist movieTheso; ry of Film tools for exploring the kaleidoscopic universe (1960); and History: The Last Things before the of material reality and physical existence; they Last (1969), a philosophical essay published gather the multiple objects of a human world posthumously on the “anteroom,” the i -nter waiting for its “redemption.” The “primacy of mediate realm between the profane and the the optical,” which Adorno criticized as a sur - transcendent worlds. These writings are the render to the universe of commodities, was for object of Johannes von Moltke’s remarkable Kracauer the premise of any emancipator - y ac re appraisal of Kracauer in America. tion, the condition of agency itself. As he ex - He carefully scrutinizes them by exploring plained through an allegorical figure, Perseus their hidden premises made of a mixture of was able to cut off the head of Medusa, thus German legacy, new experiences, and multiple avoiding her petrifying gaze, by watching her intellectual connections. Questioning the com - image reflected in his mirror. monplace understanding of the lonely intellec - tual exile, von Moltke emphasizes the richness, Enzo Traverso vivacity, and complexity of the cultural context Cornell University in which Kracauer inscribed his works, a mi - Ithaca, New York lieu made up of magazines such as Commen- doi: 10.1093/jahist/jax509 tary and Partisan Review, and institutions such as the Film Library of the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), and shaped by a permanent - dia Uprooting Community:  Japanese Mexicans, logue with scholars such as Theodor W. Ador - World War II, and the U.S.-Mexico Border- Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/jah/article-abstract/104/4/1056/4932686 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 16 March 2018

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The Journal of American HistoryOxford University Press

Published: Mar 1, 2018

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