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  • On Negt and KlugeAuthor(s): Fredric JamesonSource: October, Vol. 46, Alexander Kluge: Theoretical Writings, Stories, and an Interview(Autumn, 1988), pp. 151-177Published by: The MIT PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/778684Accessed: 08/07/2009 09:47

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  • On Negt and Kluge


    Nine years separate Offentlichkeit und Erfahrung and Geschichte und Eigen- sinn, the two collaborative works of Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge.' What first strikes the "materialist" reader (the reader of physical books, rather than of "ideas") is the evidence they exhibit of the typographic revolution that-along with the postmodern, the end of the '60s, and the defeat of the Left -intervenes between them. The first of the two clearly suffers under the constraints of classical discursive form. Its six official chapters, which set out to establish a theory of the "proletarian" public sphere, find themselves forced against their will to produce instead the rudiments of a theory of the bourgeois public sphere. Here everything has already begun to flee into the footnotes and appendices: three "excurses" and some twenty separate "commentaries" now fill up a third of a five-hundred-page volume, into which already a few illustrations begin to emerge.

    Elsewhere in the various theoretical zones of the "First World," new ideolo- gies of the heterogeneous and of Difference have begun to inspire "rhizomatic" notions of form: Deleuzian "plateaus" are being laid out side by side in separate and seemingly unrelated chapters, while the two stark columns of Glas dare you to figure out when to jump from one to the other. But even more definitively the discontinuities of Kluge's stories and films bar any return to the traditional essay or treatise, closing the road with a landslide of rubble ("You can imagine the problem of antagonistic realism in terms of the analysis of the site of an explo- sion. The explosion scattered objects across a wide area. The force of the explosion, in other words, what really moved, is no longer present.." [p. 348]). Benjamin's "dialectical constellations" or montages-like Pound's ideograms-seem genealogically to present a family likeness, although in these predecessors the "heap of images" still strongly hints at some right way of putting everything together. Yet Kluge's own aesthetic (and that of Geschichte und Eigen- 1. Offentlichkeit und Erfahrung: Zur Organisationsanalyse von burgerlicher und proletarischer Offent- lichkeit, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1972; Geschichte und Eigensinn, Frankfurt, Zweitausendeins, 1981. All page numbers given in the text refer to this second volume.


    sinn, which is something of a theoretical film) is decidedly post-Benjaminian rather than post-Brechtian. And (despite Kluge's long personal association with Adorno), the later volume finds its ancestors in Benjamin's enormous and frag- mentary Passagen-Werk, or at least in what one imagines this last project might have become. Here, for example, is what Kluge says about one of his own films:

    [It] does not produce statements but proportions; an object one can argue with. Our point of departure is the following observation: that there is no immediate form of sense experience, or at least no orga- nized form, that can encompass the various individual areas of work and milieus of production. Only a spurious public sphere offers such order and unity, as in the media. . . . The question is: how does one proceed with a disordered reality, with mixed experiences? How does one learn in the middle of errors? How do we deal with distorted objective and subjective impressions . . . ? You have to take on reality as raw material. . . . Our opinion is that the viewers can use this film to test their own concepts of what is public and what is realistic.2

    The segmentation in Kluge's stories, however, is not merely perspectival and cinematographic (a fifteen-minute sequence of experience juxtaposed with a paragraph foreshortening eight years); it also projects qualitative leaps into in- commensurable dimensions; this particular reading experience is prolonged in Geschichte und Eigensinn, where notes on Marx's "mode of production" (he dozed much of the day on the sofa, with people coming in and out, wrote nasty comments in the margins, strewed his papers with tobacco spots), disquisitions on Blitzkrieg and on the Chanson de Roland, illustrations drawn from evolutionary theory and the history of automata, anecdotes about Kant, quotes from the letters to Fliess, studies of domestic labor, the history of prices, the politics of the German romantics, on-the-spot readings of fairy tales, succeed each other unpre- dictably and compete with an extraordinary collection of hundreds of images drawn from medieval manuscripts, films, workers' newspapers, ads, graphs, sci- entific models, newsreel photographs, pictures of old furniture, science fiction illustrations, penmanship exercises, and the reconstruction of Roman roads or Renaissance battles. The various chapters, sections, paragraphs, notes, and di- gressions (themselves following a variety of numeration systems) are reclassified typographically, by means of alternate typefaces, frames and blocks, and, most dramatically, black pages with white type that interleaf the more "normal" experiments (sometimes, as with the alternation of color and black and white in the Heimat series by Kluge's former cameraman Edgar Reitz, one has the feeling

    2. Alexander Kluge and Edgar Reitz, "In Gefahr und grosster Not bringt der Mittelweg den Tod," Kursbuch, 41 (1975), pp. 42-43.


  • On Negt and Kluge

    that it is the shift that counts, and not any stable one-to-one correspondence between the content and the mode of representation: Proust already said as much about the alternation of the imperfect and preterit in Flaubert's tenses).

    Authority is thus displaced and transformed; reading is still an exercise, a training, a socialization, and a pedagogy, but there is very little of the terroristic or the disciplinary in this work, nor even the dialectical imperative of the older montage, where, as in Godard, one is still challenged to find or guess the proper standpoint. Here the gaps and leaps suggest an associative process different from our own, or at least trust suggests the existence of such an alternative somewhere that it might be interesting to try to approximate, if not to learn. Indeed, the emphasis on learning is here so ubiquitous that we are willing to entertain the possibility of some utopian way of establishing relations between themes and exhibits which is not Negt and Kluge's private style or methodological property, but which remains to be invented.

    Yet, as Negt and Kluge never tire of reminding us, the experience of production is distinct from and incommensurable with its instruments or its products: political economy, capitalogic, deals with this last, but it is more diffi- cult, and fraught with indirection, to seek, as here, to write a "political economy of labor power" (p. 139). This also means that it will be structurally perverse to seek to convey anything about this book by means of the various "theories" it throws up in passing, as we shall have to do here, patiently turning back into a "system" what wanted to be a way of doing things, or even a habit, in some strong, positive sense. Thinking here (including "theory," which throughout this book means Marxism) is therapeutically reduced to a component of action, itself considered as a form of production- as we shall see shortly.

    A similar qualification must be registered at this point about language, and in particular about our words for concepts, about which Negt and Kluge have taken some relatively uncanonical positions. One of the ways in which the story of modern thought can be told, indeed, is as an exploration of the consequences of a radical linguistic skepticism, in which Nietzsche's philological sophistication or the Sartrean attack on ordinary language in Nausea culminates paradoxically in a philosophical privileging of language in structuralism and poststructuralism that seals the diagnosis and confirms language itself (in forms that range from West- ern syntax to Kantian grids or discursive epistemes) as a new equivalent of ideology itself and as the source of all error. This formulation is, however, utterly misleading insofar as it implies the possibility of truth (that is to say, of getting outside of language itself). The problem of producing philosophical concepts under these circumstances slowly drifts into the problem of the status of a