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Reading his reviews for the Frankfurter Zeitung of some 70 years ago, one would expect Siegfried Kracauer to seem more of his time than he sometimes does. That's the first salutary shock in The Mass Ornament...Here's a German Marxist writing about Franz Kafka and Max Weber and Martin Buber hot off the press; or giving an on-set report to Fritz Lang's Metropolis. And yet, when he writes about the fashion for biography, or the crisis of the novel, or of science, he seems to be elaborating arguments that mean more today than ever before.
— Mark Sinker
To those familiar with Kracauer only as the analyst and theorist of film, capable of sustained argument linking film to history, to cultural philosophy, to myth and to popular imagination, The Mass Ornament will come as a revelation. The feuilleton provided the opportunity to range across a multitude of subjects from arcades to boredom, from Max Weber to the Tiller Girls. He emerges as an outstandingly sharp-sighted witness to the cultural diversity of the Weimar Republic and to the loss of value that underlay what he calls the 'surface-level expressions' of that culture.
— Philip Brady
Thanks to Thomas Levin, we have an invaluable collection of Siegfried Kracauer's more 'occasional' Weimar essays, available in a beautiful English-language translation...Following both the selection and the order for a collection of essays chosen by Kracauer himself, The Mass Ornament only now begins to make the magnitude of its effect felt. Anyone part of a film-theory class or German cultural-history seminar in the last two years will agree that this earlier and more biting Kracauer has become de rigueur for any analysis of cultural products and practices, whether located in the Weimar Republic or more generally associated with Western capitalist culture.
— Jeffrey S. Timon
Kracauer's free-associational curiosity is brilliantly displayed in the 24 essays gathered in the long overdue English translation of The Mass Ornament. The volume's idiosyncratic glosses on Paris street maps and hotel lobbies, on best-sellers and popular biographies, are supple, at times lyrical, meditations on cultural transition, respectful of the enigmatic meanings and turbulent emotions elicited by the mass-produced and the marginal...Like Benjamin, Kracauer saw himself as a brainy secret agent, a cultural provocateur: The Mass Ornament decodes the surface meanings of the new, finding, in their hypnotic shallowness, personal and political significance...Among the first to assess popular culture on its own terms, with a mind open to the tumble of new ideas set rolling by the technology and communications avalanche, Kracauer articulated an impressionistic critique of popular culture that's as provocative today as it was 70 years ago...The Mass Ornament dreams wild dreams about the ultimate meaning of the banal and the beautiful.
— Bill Marx
Adorno's tutor in philosophy, Walter Benjamin's editor, friend of Ernst Bloch and Leo Lowenthal, Siegfried Kracauer played a pivotal role in the early development of the so-called Frankfurt School, but his own reputation has never been securely established...The publication of The Mass Ornament, a collection of Kracauer's essays from the 1920s first issued in Germany in 1963, should go some distance towards rectifying that situation, and renewing interest in one of the leading figures in the Weimar debates about cultural criticism and modernity...The essays collected in The Mass Ornament range from observations on boredom and bullfights, dance crazes and detective novels, to reviews of sociology ('Georg Simmel'); theology ('Catholicism and Relativism'); and Biblical translation (on the Martin Buber-Franz Rosenzweig recasting of the Hebrew text)...The Mass Ornament offers a unique opportunity to reflect historically on the prose of cultural studies, the idiomatic difficulties of coordinating theoretical or philosophical propositions ('academic discourse') with the passing flux of fashion and the inexorable demands of quotidian accessibility ('journalism')...As a report from the past, [The Mass Ornament] holds a distant mirror up to the dilemmas facing cultural analysis, and invites us to renewed reflection on the relation between theory and history, fashion and tradition...[Kracauer's] edgy and restlessly incisive relation to the entire range of cultural phenomena...offers an exhilarating instance of critical intelligence at work.
— Robert Eric Livingston
Kracauer himself chose the 24 pieces collected in this volume...They reflect a sharp analytical interest in a wide spectrum of cultural themes and social phenomena, extending from the new entertainment industries to more arcane subjects: Martin Buber's Bible translation, the philosophy of Georg Simmel, Kafka's prose. They all focus on the forces that propel historical change and produce a new culture—i.e., the mass culture of a secular and fragmented democracy. Levin's edition is exemplary in every respect: his translations have adapted themselves accurately and smoothly to the varying styles of the original, his introduction is perceptive, his notes and documentation are precise and to the point. A book most highly recommended.
— M. Winkler
Practitioners of cultural studies generally, and particularly in the field of modern architecture, are rushing, it seems, to read The Mass Ornament...With two dozen essays and excerpts in The Mass Ornament—admirably translated and accompanied by a substantial introduction and forty-five pages of additional notes—anglophone scholars in the field of cultural studies can now explore Kracauer's Weimar essays for themselves.
— Juliet Koss
Introduction by Thomas Y. Levin
Lead-In: Natural Geometry
Lad and Bull
Analysis of a City Map
External and Internal Objects
Travel and Dance
The Mass Ornament
On Bestsellers and Their Audience
The Biography as an Art Form of the New Bourgeoisie
Revolt of the Middle Classes
Those Who Wait
The Group as Bearer of Ideas
The Hotel Lobby
The Bible in German
Catholicism and Relativism
The Crisis of Science
On the Writings of Walter Benjamin
The Little Shopgirls Go to the Movies
Cult of Distraction
Fadeaway: Toward the Vanishing Point
Farewell to the Linden Arcade