Gazing at Girls: Gender and Performance in Siegfried Kracauer’s “Das Ornament der Masse”
The Weimar-era criticism of Siegfried Kracauer holds more promise for feminist philosophy than has been acknowledged. Previous scholars such as Molly Fleischer, for example, contend that Kracauer’s criticism betrays the misogynist scopophilia of a flâneur, most discernable in his piece “Das Ornament der Masse.” Here, Fleischer contends, Kracauer’s aloof vision of female dancers and their spectators, whose limbs collectively scatter and reconvene into machine-like mass ornaments, objectifies and ultimately fetishizes the female body. However, when we read Kracauer’s “Das Ornament der Masse” in the context of his other Weimar works, it becomes apparent that neither eroticized voyeurism nor misogynist proclivity sufficiently explains his critical method in this piece. Drawing on Kracauer’s 1930 publication Die Angestellten, as well as key articles from the Frankfurter Zeitung, this paper outlines Kracauer’s critical method and places “Das Ornament” in the context of his larger diagnostic project in the Weimar period. Far from flânerie, part one of this paper demonstrates how Kracauer’s position of authorial alienation was an intentional, theoretical-political instrument, a position that allowed him to gain critical leverage on the most inconspicuous effects of ideology or, interrupt the “imperceptible dreadfulness of normal existence” (Kracauer 101). Part two argues that Kracauer’s particular attention to constructions of “the girl” in his diagnostic investigations places an analysis of gendered behavior at the forefront of his critique. Far from misogynist, Kracauer’s work suggests that performances of “girliness” illustrated the most pernicious effects of ideology.
Kracauer, Siegfried. The Salaried Masses. Trans. Quintin Hoare. New York: Verso Press, 1998. Print.