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Spectacle

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Edited By Jennifer Creech and Thomas O. Haakenson

How does the visual nature of spectacle inform the citizenry, destabilize the political, challenge aesthetic convention and celebrate cultural creativity? What are the limits – aesthetic, political, social, cultural, economic – of spectacle? How do we explain the inherently exclusionary, revolutionary, dehumanizing and utopian elements of spectacle?
In this book, authors from the fields of cultural studies, cinema studies, history and art history examine the concept of spectacle in the German context across various media forms, historical periods and institutional divides. Drawing on theoretical models of spectacle by Guy Debord, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Jonathan Crary and Michel Foucault, the contributors to this volume suggest that a decidedly German concept of spectacle can be gleaned from critical interventions into exhibitions, architectural milestones, audiovisual materials and cinematic and photographic images emerging out of German culture from the Baroque to the contemporary.
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Opening a Window to the Devil: Religious Ritual as Baroque Spectacle in Early Modern Germany

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Was there a specifically “German” concept of spectacle in the early modern period? The primary challenge to answering this question is that modern theorists tend to view spectacle as a phenomenon of modernity.1 In these readings, analysis of spectacle assumes the modern nation-state as the normative mode of political organization, capitalist production as the normative economic mode, and modern (i.e. post-Enlightenment) science as the given epistemological starting point. In addition to these basic structural assumptions, a decidedly modernist understanding of subjectivity as an atomized, rational consumer-citizen underpins these analyses. Spectacle as the site of interaction between modern subjects and structures exhibits three basic characteristics: 1) the spectacle has a two-fold ideological function, simultaneously projecting the hierarchical representation of society envisioned by authorities while coercing and discouraging spectators from critical reflection on that representation; 2) the efficacy of spectacle in modernity is in part related to its massive scale and reproducibility, made possible by capitalist economies; 3) the subjective experience of spectacle is articulated in language derived from modern scientific discourse, and ← 13 | 14 → correspondingly conveys modern empiricist assumptions about the role of perception in this experience.

In the early modern period, the structures and kind of subjectivity supporting modern theorists’ accounts of spectacle were either non-existent or nascent. How then are we to come to terms with spectacle in this period? Although most of his work focuses on spectacle in modern Western capitalist society, Guy Debord offers the beginnings of an answer. In a few brief...

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