The Politics of Distraction
German 490, Fall 1996
Course Description | Course Schedule | Screenings | Papers amd Assignments | Required Texts | Recommended Texts | Grade Breakdown
This seminar focuses on figurations of mass culture and diversion as conceptualized primarily by the first and second generations of the Frankfurt School, by French situationism, and Anglo-American cultural studies. Readings and discussions will engage with the emergence of distraction as a peculiarly modern and often highly gender-coded category of experience; the function of entertainment in the culture industries of Nazi Germany and Hollywood of the 1930s respectively; the situationist critique of the "Society of the Spectacle;" as well as the postmodern reformulation of distraction as ecstasy, nostalgia, and surface-surfing. Readings include texts by Adorno, Baudrillard, Benjamin, Debord, Jameson, Kracauer, and many others. Special attention is given to the organization of pleasure in institutional contexts such as early cinema, radio broadcast, the studio system, museums, or music television. Weekly screenings provide seminar discussion with additional material; screenings include films from the Weimar and Nazi period to the New German Cinema, from Hollywood romantic comedies such as It Happened One Night to recent meta-cinematic allegories such as Unstrung Heroes. All readings and discussions in English; students are encouraged to read, when possible, texts in the original language.
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Papers and Assignments
1. Presentations: Participiants will be asked to provide one in-class presentation on selected material.
2. Seminar Paper: Participants will be asked to compose in the course of the semester either:
a. two essays (5-8 pages), topics will be suggested or may be proposed;
b. one final paper (15-20 pages)
c. fifteen 1-2 page film sequence analyses, due every Thursday.
d. seven 1-2 page sequence analyses & one final essay (8 pages).
3. Film evaluation: Every participant will be asked to complete a film evaluation sheet for each film. This assignment is meant to help you focus on certain aspects of each film and prepare for discussion. The evaluations will be collected every Thursday.
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Most readings (marked "[Rd.]" in the syllabus) will be available in a reader to be purchased at the Bookstore.Top of Page
Adorno, Theodor W., and Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York: Continuum, 1972. Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. New York: Schocken Books, 1969. Petro, Patrice. Joyless Streets: Women and Melodramatic Representation in Weimar Cinema. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.
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Adorno, Theodor W, and Max Horkheimer. Dialektik der Aufklärung. Philosophische Fragmente. Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 1969. Benjamin, Walter. Illuminationen. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1977. Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. 4th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 1993. Kracauer, Siegfried. Das Ornament der Masse: Essays. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1977.
All films are on two-hour reserve in Olin Library.
Asterisks (*) in the course schedule signify recommended readings.
Grade BreakdownSeminar Sessions
Oral participation: 30% In-Class Presentation: 20% Written Work (papers, responses, evaluations): 50%
Tuesdays & Thursdays 2:30-4:00 pm
Tu 4:15-5:30 & Th 1:15 - 2:15
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I. Distraction and the Topographies of Modern Life
Walter Benjamin, "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire"
Vanessa R. Schwartz, "Cinematic Spectatorship before the Apparatus" [Rd.]
Tim Gunning, "An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)Credulous Spectator" [Rd.]
Siegfried Kracauer, "Calico-World" [Rd.]
---, "The Little Shopgirls Go to the Movies" [Rd.]
---, "Film 1928" [Rd.]
---, "Cult of Distraction: On Berlin's Picture Palaces" [Rd.]
Karl Grune, The Street
Miriam Hansen, "Early Silent Cinema: Whose Public Sphere?" [Rd.]
Patrice Petro, Joyless Streets (3-37; *39-78)
Paul Leni/Leopold Jessner, Backstairs
Patrice Petro, Joyless Streets (140-160; 174-189)
Slatan Dudov/Bertolt Brecht, Kuhle Wampe
Marc Silberman, "The Rhetoric of the Image" [Rd.]
II. Culture Industry and the Politics of Pleasure:
Mass Culture and German Fascism
Siegfried Kracauer, "The Mass Ornament" [Rd.]
Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" I
Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" II
Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Lili Marleen
Istvan Szabo, Mephisto
Theodor W. Adorno, "On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening" [Rd.]
*Andreas Huyssen, "Adorno in Reverse: From Hollywood to Richard Wagner" [Rd.]
Theodor W. Adorno, "On popular music" [Rd.]
Theodor W. Adorno/Max Horkheimer, "The Culture Industry" I
Theodor W. Adorno/Max Horkheimer, "The Culture Industry" II
*Peter U. Hohendahl, "Reading Mass Culture" [Rd.]
Frank Capra, It Happened One Night
Paul Martin, Glückskinder
III. Culture Industry Reconsidered
Theodor W. Adorno, "Culture Industry Reconsidered" [Rd.]
Miriam Hansen, "Introduction to Adorno, 'Transparencies on Film'" [Rd.]
Theodor W. Adorno, "Transparencies on Film" [Rd.]
Alexander Kluge, Artists under the Big Top: Perplexed
Alexander Kluge, "On Film and the Public Sphere" [Rd.]
Miriam Hansen, "Reinventing the Nickelodeon: Notes on Kluge and Early Cinema" [Rd.]
Fredric Jameson,"Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture" [Rd.]
Jim Collins, Uncommon Cultures: Popular Culture and Post-Modernism (sel.) [Rd.]
Miriam Hansen, "Mass Culture as 'Hieroglyphic Writing'" [Rd.]
Tania Modleski, "Introduction," Studies in Entertainment [Rd.]
Bernard Gendron, "Theodor Adorno Meets the Cadillacs" [Rd.]
IV. Ecstasy, Nostalgia, Sublimity: Theorizing the Postmodern Spectacle
Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (sel.) [Rd.]
Jean Baudrillard, "The Ecstasy of Communication" [Rd.]
---, "The Precession of Simulacra" [Rd.]
Anne Friedberg, "Cinema and the Postmodern Condition" [Rd.]
Scott Bukatman, "The Artifical Infinite: On Special Effects and the Sublime" [Rd.]
Claudia Springer, "The Pleasures of the Interface" [Rd.]
Wim Wenders, Until the End of the World
Kathryn Bigelow, Strange Days
Andrew Goodwin, Dancing in the Distraction Factory (sel.) [Rd.]
Madonna, The Immaculate Collection
Andreas Huyssen, "Escape from Amnesia: The Museum as Mass Medium" [Rd.]
Rosalind Krauss, "The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum" [Rd.]
Tony Bennett, "The Exhibitionary Complex" [Rd.]
Wim Wenders, Faraway, So Close!
Dianne Keaton, Unstrung Heroes
Text: *James Clifford, "On Collecting Art and Culture" [Rd.]
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Screening sessions take place on Mondays, 7pm, in Ridgley 219.
(Dir. Karl Grune, Germany 1923)
(Dir. Paul Leni & Leopold Jessner, Germany 1921)
Kuhle Wampe or Who Owns the World?
(Dir. Slatan Dudov, Germany 1932)
(Dir. Istvan Szabo, Hungary 1981)
(Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Germany 1981)
It Happened One Night
(Dir. Frank Capra, USA 1934)
(Dir. Paul Martin, Germany 1936)
Artists under the Big Top: Perplexed
(Dir. Alexander Kluge, Germany 1968)
Until the End of the World
(Dir. Wim Wenders, Germany & France 1991)
(Dir. Kathryn Bigelow, USA 1995)
Madonna--The Immaculate Collection
Faraway, So Close!
(Dir. Wim Wenders, Germany 1993)
(Dir. Diane Keaton, USA 1995)
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