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Siegfried Kracauer’s Collected Works

Unified at last

Munich, 08/16/2012

Journalist, critic, sociologist: Siegfried Kracauer was one of the leading intellectuals in the Weimar Republic, and among those later forced into exile. LMU‘s Inka Mülder-Bach has reassembled his multifaceted oeuvre.

Siegfried Kracauer (Photo: Suhrkamp-Verlag)
Siegfried Kracauer (Photo: Suhrkamp-Verlag)

An acquaintance remembered seeing “our friend S. Kracauer sitting outside a cafe, assiduously scribbling” in Marseille, in August 1940. German troops had already occupied Paris, and many Jews who had fled Nazi Germany were trying to make their way from the South of France to Spain, and from there to America. Among those who were stranded in Marseille in the summer of 1940, waiting for the documents that would enable them to leave France, were several leading German intellectuals, including Siegfried Kracauer and Walter Benjamin. Our source continues: “Before we moved on, I asked Kracauer: ‘Whatever will become of us, Krac?’ And, without as much as a pause for thought, he emphatically replied: ‘Soma, we will all have to kill ourselves.’”

And with that, Kracauer returned to his writing; the conversation was at an end. However, we also have Walter Benjamin’s reply to a similar query: “It’s not easy to foresee what will happen to us. But one thing is certain. Our friend Kracauer is not going to kill himself. He has got to finish his Encyclopedia of the Cinema, and for that he will need a long life.”

Final volumes are now out
As it happens, Benjamin was right. Kracauer would devote 16 years to the writing of his “Theory of Film”, and every word in the book was carefully considered, as LMU literary historian Inka Mülder-Bach remarks of “the finest essayist of the 1920s”. That book is his opus magnum, and the complete text is now available for the first time as part of Kracauer’s Collected Works, edited by Inka Mülder-Bach and Ingrid Belke, with financial support from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. With the appearance of the last two volumes of the new edition, which include “From Caligari to Hitler”, another of his major contributions, the richness of Kracauer’s unique legacy can finally be appreciated.

The editors and their research assistants had to search long and hard to locate and collate all of Kracauer’s literary and sociological texts, as well as almost all of his journalism. The volumes devoted to “Essays, Features and Reviews” as well as the “Short Texts on Films” are among the central elements of the edition. According to Mülder-Bach: “The essential coherence of Kracauer’s work”, which “consists of a number of apparently heterogeneous complexes”, becomes manifest only when it is seen in a chronological context.

Kracauer wrote novels, essays, sociological studies, and classics of media theory and cultural criticism. To learn more about what survives of the extensive oeuvre of one of the most significant intellectuals in the period of the Weimar Republic, and how its deceptively disparate threads form a coherent tapestry of his time, read the article by Maximilian G. Burkhart (from which this excerpt is taken) in LMU’s Research Quarterly “Insights” (pdf, 655kb, in German).


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