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    Alexander Kluge: An Introduction

    Author(s): Andrew BowieSource: Cultural Critique, No. 4 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 111-118

    Published by: University of Minnesota Press

    Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1354336Accessed: 27-06-2016 15:58 UTC

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    Alexander Kluge: An Introduction

    Andrew Bowie

    Aexander Kluge tends to be known in the English-speaking world

    only as the maker of"avant-garde" films that often create not a lit-

    tle puzzlement among their viewers. The fact is, though, that he is con-

    sidered by many in Germany to be both a major literary figure and a

    major theorist in the tradition of the Frankfurt School. His relative

    obscurity elsewhere is perhaps best explained by the demands his

    work makes on its readers, though as I hope to show and as is evident in

    the speech translated here, there can be little excuse for not paying

    substantial attention to his work. The sheer diversity of the areas in

    which he is active makes him, now Sartre is dead, one of the few Euro-

    pean intellectuals whose work suggests the futility of specialist divi-

    sions in practice as well as in theory.

    Kluge was born in Halberstadt, which is now in the GDR, in 1932.

    In 1945 he was present in Halberstadt when it was bombed by the

    Allies in a raid which led to a fire-storm. He moved with his mother to

    Berlin in 1946, and in 1949 he began studying law, history, and church

    music. T.W. Adorno introduced him to Fritz Lang in 1958, and he as-

    sisted in the making of one of the latter's films. In the sixties Kluge be-

    came involved in the Oberhausen group which laid the foundation for

    the New German Cinema. He was one of those largely responsible for

    the change of the German law on film subsidies and worked together with

    Peter Glotz, a member of the Social Democratic Party and now a lead-

    ing figure in that party, to get the government to subsidize films of ar-

    111

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    2 Andrew Bowie

    tistic merit rather than commercial rubbish (something which the pres-

    ent government in the Federal Republic is now, in the form of Herr

    Zimmermann, trying to reverse). In 1962 he published his first col-

    lection of stories, Lebensliiufe (Life Stories - in German the word also

    means curricula vitae), and two years later the first version of his

    account of the battle of Stalingrad, Schlachtbeschreibung (Description of a

    Battle) appeared. His first major film, Abschied von Gestern (Yesterday's Girl

    is the appropriate English title), won eight prizes at the Venice film

    festival in 1966, the kind of success which he has not repeated, despite

    the excellence of his subsequent films, perhaps because their radical-

    ism is too much for most festival juries. Since then he has produced

    several feature length films, such as Gelegenheitsarbeit einer Sklavin (Occa-

    sional work of a Female Slave) (1975), Der starke Ferdinand (Ferdinand the

    Strong) (1976), Die Patriotin (The Patriot) (1979), and most recently Die

    Macht der Gefihle (The Power ofEmotion) (1983). Kluge was also the main

    moving force behind three collective films made together with Schlon-

    dorff, Fassbinder, and others: Deutschland im Herbst (Germany in Autumn)

    (1978), a film looking at the German situation in the light ofMogadischu,

    the murder of Schleyer, and the still unexplained deaths of members

    of the Baader-Meinhof group of Stammhein prison; Der Kandidat

    (1980), a film about FranzJosef Strauss when he was candidate for the

    chancellorship; and Krieg und Frieden (War and Peace) (1982), perhaps

    the profoundest and funniest anti-nuclear film there is, despite its

    m ajor flaws.

    Kluge's main literary works have been Lemprozesse mit tidlichem

    Ausgang (Learning Processes with Fatal Results) (1973) and Neue Ge-

    schichten: Hefte 1-18 "Unheimlichkeit der Zeit" (New Histories: Notebooks 1-18

    "The Uncanniness of Time'") (1977), after the appearance of which he won

    the Fontane prize for literature. Together with Oskar Negt (Professor

    of Sociology at Hannover University), Kluge has written two major

    theoretical works, Offentlichkeit und Erfahrung (The Public Sphere and Ex-

    perience) (1972) and Geschichte und Eigensinn (History and Willful Meaning)

    (1981). Kluge is in the process of producing a new film, the provisional

    title of which is The Attack of the Present on the Rest of Time, and he has pro-

    duced various collections of literary and theoretical work in conjunc-

    tion with recent films. One does, though, have the impression that a

    new phase of his productivity is about to begin.

    In the face of this kind of diversity of material it is obviously some-

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    Kluge: An Introduction 113

    what dangerous to suggest any kind of "common denominator." If

    one factor is common to all of Kluge's work it is precisely that factor

    which is the negation of overall abstractions: montage. Kluge's work

    constantly pushes the disparateness of the material involved to its lim-

    its, yet at the same time it retains as its central category the notion of

    Zusammenhang (context, connection, that which "hangs together").

    This might seem a kind of aesthetic paradox: radical montage of

    the kind that puzzles the viewers of Kluge's films, where a sequence of

    disparate images from German history - a Caspar David Friedrich

    painting, a print of the Brandenburg gate, soldiers on a snow-covered

    road in Russia, etc. - is followed by a sequence (involving the knee [ ]

    of a soldier who died in Stalingrad) that tries to put the record

    straight, yet does not result in a coherent account of "German

    History." Kluge's point is, of course, that German history is itself even

    more destructive, chaotic, and dangerous than anything he could ever

    put into a film. The potential connections that can be made between

    even the most apparently unconnected aspects of the really disastrous

    history of Germany might turn out to make a lot more sense than the

    unifying images which still dominate the discourse of most historians.

    This approach, which has its roots in aspects of Walter Benjamin's phi-

    losophy of history, can be seen on all levels of Kluge's work.

    This can perhaps best be illustrated by taking a specific example

    which recurs in all the main areas of Kluge's production, that of the air

    raid. The obvious initial point is that Kluge himself was very nearly the

    victim of the raid on his home town. This fact does not play an overt

    role in any of his films, fiction, or theory; it is, though, evidently a fun-

    damental trauma which is mediated in multiple ways in an attempt to

    come to terms with it. Kluge's concern is with the Jetztzeit (now-

    time) that Benjamin sees as being the fundamental aspect of a materi-

    alist view of historical time. As Benjamin says in the Passagenwerk;

    "The history which showed things 'as they really were' was the

    strongest narcotic of the [19th] century;" knowing "what it was like" is

    little use to us now; just repeating a trauma is no way to overcpme it.

    In Die Patriotin the air raid motif recurs in various ways: once in the

    form of the opposition, discussed in the speech printed below, be-

    tween "Strategy from Above," which is the perspective of technology

    and power, seen in sequences that look at the machinery of the raid

    and its effects from a distance, giving it that familiar sense of suspect

    fascination, and "Strategy from Below," which portrays a woman div-

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    4 Andrew Bowie

    ing for cover as the bombs hit and praying for help that will never

    come. In this form, of course, there is no strategy from below; it is al-

    ready too late when the raid starts. For Kluge moder history consists

    of little but strategy from above, as the economy of world governments

    proves. "Strategy from Below" is a central concern of his work and of

    the history we are still producing. Much of the problem has to do with

    the inadequacy of our thinking about the products of history, with the

    images we use to try to comprehend tha