The Mass Ornament

From Clockworks2
Jump to navigationJump to search

Kracauer, Siegfried. The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays. Essays written 1920s to early 1930s ("Weimar Period), edited and collected by SK 1963. Thomas Y. Levin, editor and translator. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1995. Relevant essay "The Mass Ornament" apparently on line on the Culture section of the Art Theory site, here.[1]

See for what Istvan Csicsery-Ronay and others knowledgeable of the history of the Hollywood movie might think of as the significance of the Busby Berkeley chorus line as a figure for an aspect of high Modernism as The Age of the Machine (as in "Fordism" and, our more usual term, Taylorism).

We quote below an on-line excerpt from section II of "The Mass Ornament" essay.

A change in taste has been taking place quietly in the field of physical culture [...]. It began with the Tiller Girls. [...]

[* * *]

The ornament is an end in itself. In its early stages the ballet also yielded ornaments which moved kaleidoscopically. But even after they had discarded their ritual meaning, they remained still the plastic formation of the erotic life which gave rise to them and determined their traits. In contrast, the synchronized movement of the Girls is devoid of any such connections; it is a linear system which no longer has erotic meaning but at best points to the place where the erotic resides. Nor do the living constellations in the stadiums have the meaning of military demonstrations. [...] The constellations of Girls [...] have no meaning outside of themselves[...]. The training of the units of Girls is intended instead to produce an immense number of parallel lines, and the desired effect is to train the greatest number of people in order to create a pattern of unimaginable dimensions. [...]

Even though the masses bring it about, they do not participate in conceiving the ornament. [...] In this it resembles the aerial photographs of landscapes and cities [...]. Similarly, actors are not aware of stage setting in its totality; yet, they consciously take part in its formation, and in the case of ballet dancers, the pattern is still open to the influence of its performers. The more its composition is reduced to linear design, the further it is removed from the immanent consciousness of those forming it. [...]

[* * *]

The structure of the mass ornament reflects that of the general contemporary situation. Since the principle of the capitalist production process does not stem purely from nature, it must destroy the natural organisms [...]. Personality and national community (Volksgemeinschaft) perish when calculability is demanded; only as a tiny particle of the mass can the individual human being effortlessly [...] service machines. [...] Everyone goes through the necessary motions at the conveyor belt, performs a partial function without knowing the entirety. [...] The hands in the factory correspond to the legs of the Tiller Girls. [...]

See Istvan Csicsery-Ronay's "Busby Berkeley and the "Fascist Aesthetic"."

Cf. and in some cases contrast figuratively (and literally) choreographed movement in METROPOLIS, Zamyatin's We, and H. Ellison's "Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman."

RDE, finishing — with thanks to Istvan Csicsery-Ronay — 17Sep21