From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Siegfried Kracauer (February 8, 1889, Frankfurt am Main, Germany – November 26, 1966, New York) was a German-American writer, journalist, sociologist, and cultural critic, particularly of media such as film, as well as the urban form. His best-known work is From Caligari to Hitler (1947), which traces the birth of National Socialism via the cinema of the Weimar Republic.
Born to a Jewish family in Frankfurt, Kracauer studied architecture from 1907 to 1913, eventually obtaining a doctorate in engineering in 1914 and working as an architect in Osnabrück, Munich, and Berlin until 1920.
From 1922 to 1933 he worked as the leading film and literature editor of the Frankfurter Zeitung (a leading Frankfurt newspaper) as its correspondent in Berlin, where he worked alongside Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch, among others. Between 1923 and 1925, he wrote an essay entitled Der Detektiv-Roman (The Detective Novel), in which he concerned himself with the everyday life phenomenon of modern civil society.
Kracauer continued this trend over the next few years, building up theoretical methods of analyzing circuses, photography, films, advertising, tourism, city layout, and dance, which he published in 1927 with the work Ornament der Masse (published in English as The Mass Ornament).
In 1930, Kracauer published Die Angestellten (The Salaried Masses), a critical look at the lifestyle and culture of the new class of white-collar employees. Spiritually homeless, and divorced from custom and tradition, these employees sought refuge in the new "distraction industries" of entertainment. Observers note that many of these lower-middle class employees were quick to flee into the arms of Adolf Hitler three years later.
From 1941 to 1943 he worked in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, supported by Guggenheim and Rockefeller scholarships for his work in German film. Eventually, he published From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (1947), which traces the birth of National Socialism from the cinema of the Weimar Republic as well as helping lay the foundation of modern film criticism.
In 1960, he released Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, which argued that realism is the most important function of cinema.
In the last years of his life Kracauer worked as a sociologist for different institutes, amongst them in New York as a director of research for applied social sciences at Columbia University. He died there, in 1966, from the consequences of pneumonia.
His last book is the posthumously published History, the Last Things Before the Last (New York, Oxford University Press, 1969).
Kracauer analyzed and critiqued the phenomena of modern mass culture. He built up a general theories based upon dozens of smaller examples. His attention to detail lends itself to an inductive method. He was one of the first to treat the cinema seriously; in it he saw a mirror of social conditions and desires.
Die Werkausgabe im Suhrkamp-Verlag ist noch nicht abgeschlossen.
- Die Angestellten. Aus dem neuesten Deutschland zuerst 1930, wieder suhrkamp TB 13, Neuausgabe Frankfurt 2004
- Das Ornament der Masse. Essays Nachwort Karsten Witte, ebd. Nr. 371, Frankfurt 1977
- Der Detektiv-Roman. Ein philosophischer Traktat Suhrkamp, Frankfurt ISBN 3-518-27897-5
- Von Caligari zu Hitler. Eine psychologische Geschichte des deutschen Films Übers. Ruth Baumgarten & Karsten Witte. Suhrkamp TB (Reihe: Wissenschaft, 479) Frankfurt 1974 & 2005 ISBN 3-518-28079-1 häufige Auflagen (zuerst: Rowohlt, Reinbek 1958; Übers. Friedrich Walter)
- Theorie des Films - Die Errettung der äusseren Wirklichkeit Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 1964 ISBN 3-518-28146-1
- Geschichte - vor den letzten Dingen ISBN 3-518-57247-4
- Über die Freundschaft ISBN 3-518-01302-5
- In steter Freundschaft. Briefwechsel Leo Löwenthal und Siegfried Kracauer 1922-1966 Einleitung von Martin Jay, Hg. Jansen, Peter E. & Schmidt, Christian. Zu Klampen, Springe 2003 ISBN 3-934920-27-6
- Siegfried Kracauer & Erwin Panofsky: Briefwechsel 1941-1966 Mit einem Anhang: S. K.: Under the spell of the living Warburg tradition Hg. Volker Breidecker. Akademie, Berlin ISBN 3-05-002765-7