The Mass Ornament:Weimar Essays

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This book is a celebration of the masses - their tastes, amusements, and everyday lives. Taking up the master themes of modernity, such as isolation and alienation, mass culture and urban experience, and the relation between the group and the individual, Kracauer explores a kaleidoscope of topics: shopping arcades, the cinema, bestsellers and their readers, photography, dance, hotel lobbies, Kafka, the Bible, and boredom. For Kracauer, the most revelatory facets of modern metropolitan life lie on the surface, in the ephemeral and the marginal. Of special fascination to him is the leisure culture associated with the United States (where he eventually settled after fleeing Germany), which he carefully dissects by means of his sensitive, critical, and lyrical sensibility. With these essays, written in the 1920s and early 1930s and edited by the author in 1963, Kracauer was among the first to demonstrate that studying the everyday world of the masses can bring great rewards. The Mass Ornament today remains a refreshing tribute to popular culture, and its impressively interdisciplinary writings continue to shed light not only on Kracauer's later work but also on the ideas of the Frankfurt School, the genealogy of film theory and cultural studies, Weimar cultural politics, and, not least, the exigencies of intellectual exile. In his introduction, Thomas Levin situates Kracauer in a turbulent age, illuminates the intellectual context of his work - including his friendships with Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and other Weimar intellectuals - and provides the philosophical foundation necessary for understanding his ideas.
Publication Date: 
June 30, 1995