Siegfried Kracauer: An Introduction
by Gertrud Koch, translated by Jeremy Gaines
Princeton University Press, 2000, 137 pp., $14.95
Sometime in the early 1990s, while I was a graduate student in Germany, I stumbled across a small paperback at one of the makeshift stands that sellers set up in front of university cafeterias. The book was called Straßen in Berlin and anderswo (Streets in Berlin and Elsewhere) and its author, Siegfried Kracauer, was somebody I knew of only from his psychological history of Weimar cinema, From Caligari to Hitler—written in English and published in America, where he was in exile, in 1947—and from his personal ties to the more renowned members of the Frankfurt School, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Leo Lowenthal, and others. What Streets in Berlin revealed in its assortment of rich, luminous essays, nearly all of them first published as articles in the 1920s, was that Kracauer had in fact enjoyed a very distin- guished career before his flight from Nazi Ger- many in 1933. Throughout the Weimar years, Kracauer published his writing—a kind of Kulturkritik, a philosophical and cultural criticism infused with analytical rigor, elegant style, and heterodox politics—in the left-liberal Frankfurter Zeitung. As a writer and editor for the newspaper’s illustrious arts pages, the so-called feuilleton section, he filed close to two thousand pieces, among them were his serial- ized examination of Weimar Germany’s rising white-collar consumer class, Die Angestellten (“The Office Workers,” 1930). Kracauer’s critique of mass culture in his essays on photography, dance, literature, cinema, and commerce
Thus it came as a surprise to me, after reading the small selection of essays in his “street” book, that so little of Kracauer’s early work seems to have reached the other side of the Atlantic. Neither of his two novels, Ginter (1928) and Georg (1934), has been translated into English; the original English rendition of his social biography of composer Jacques Offenbach, Offenbach and the Paris of his Time (1937), written during Kracauer’s Parisian exile, is long out of print, not to mention incomplete and flawed. And it is only in the past several years that English editions of his writing from the Weimar period have appeared, most notably his anthology of essays The Mass Ornament, put out by Harvard University Press in 1995, and the recent Verso translation of Die Angestellten, published as The Salaried Masses (1998). The English-speaking world is missing an important side of Kracauer. We know the Kracauer who famously unveiled the portents of National Socialism in such classic Weimar films as Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari an...
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