Siegfried Kracauer and Weimar Cinema: The Possibilities of Archival Criticism
Anton Kaes has written several books in English and German on film history and theory. He has taught at Berkeley since 1981 and offers a variety of courses on silent film, the history of German cinema, and American film noir. He also offers courses in film theory and critical theory. In 1985 he co-founded the bi-annual German Film Institute and has given lectures and workshops all over the world. He is the co-editor of the book series “Weimar and Now: German Critical History.”
This paper claims that archival research into the prehistory of a published work provides a genealogy of possible works, of roads not taken. Early drafts and alternative versions dissolve the finality of the finished work and enrich its reading. Archival criticism, or critique génétique, is a timely mode of inquiry given the explosive growth of historical sources in today’s media environment. As a case study, I explore the genesis of Siegfried Kracauer’s influential book “From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film,“ which was written in American exile at the end of World War II. Drawing upon newly available archival materials (especially his correspondence with his publisher), I focus on early versions of Kracauer’s project, which haunt the published text.