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.
Bauhaus Spectacles, Bauhaus Specters
The “society of the spectacle” described in Guy Debord’s 1967 volume of the same name is one in which the dominant social relationships – including religion and all aspects of authentic “being” – that shaped life prior to the conditions of modern production have, through the ever-increasing domination of the economy over social life, been replaced with mere “appearing.”1 In short, according to Debord’s diagnosis, “in societies where modern conditions of production prevail” that which was previously “directly lived” has been reduced to mere representation.2 Debord critiques the fundamental assumptions of cultural progress: “the spectacle inherits all the weaknesses of the Western philosophical project which undertook to comprehend activity in terms of the categories of seeing: furthermore, it is based on the incessant spread of the precise technical rationality which grew out of this thought.”3 For Debord, this spectacularization of culture is both a harbinger and a mechanism of the total domination of capitalism’s commodity fetishism. Its attendant technologies and media reduce citizens to hypnotized consumers whose communal bonds have been dissolved and whose critical faculties have atrophied completely.4
Historians of art and visual culture most often locate the emergence of the society of the spectacle and the concurrent foreclosure on the ← 41 | 42 → avant-garde’s ability to fulfill its critical function in relation to Debord and his contemporaries’ postwar era.5 But Debord himself would later state specifically that this phenomenon had already come to the fore prior to the 1920s.6 Indeed, the 1910s and 1920s saw...
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