John Ruskin @190 and Siegfried Kracauer @120

British cultural critic John Ruskin (18191900), who I’ve mentioned here[1] would have turned 190 today if such a thing were possible.

By the same token, German cultural critic Siegfried Kracauer (18891966), would have celebrated his 120th birthday. I’ve mentioned him here[2] and here[3].

John and Siegfried were both cultural critics. Ruskin largely dealt with pre-industrial society, Kracauer with modern mass culture.

John Ruskin is best known for his work as an art critic and social critic, but is remembered as an author, poet and artist as well. Ruskin’s essays on art and architecture were extremely influential. He is perhaps best-remembered for the books Modern Painters, The Stones of Venice; the speculations surrounding his sexuality; and the art controversy with James Whistler on Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket.

Siegfried Kracauer 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.

Kracauer analyzed and critiqued the phenomena of modernism‘s 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.

He applied his methods in such works as The Detective Novel, The Mass Ornament, The Salaried Masses, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film and Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality.

From Caligari to Hitler by Kracauer by you.

German edition of From Caligari to Hitler

I like to imagine that From Caligari to Hitler sheds light on the process of desiring-production by Deleuze and Guattari on the one hand and Wilhelm Reich‘s fundamental question — why did the masses desire fascism? on the other.

Desiring-production is a term coined by the French thinkers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their book Anti-Œdipus (1972). They oppose the Freudian conception of unconsciousness as a “theater“, instead favoring a “factory” model: desire is not an imaginary force based on lack, but a real, productive force. They describe the mechanistic nature of desire as a kind of “Desiring-Machine” that functions as a circuit breaker in a larger “circuit” of various other machines to which it is connected.