The Dialectics of Otherness: Siegfried Kracauer’s Figurations of the Jew, Judaism, and Jewishness

Yearbook for European Jewish Literature Studies
Volume 2: Recasting the “Other”: Readings in German Jewish Interwar Culture and Its Aftermath


There are many sides to Siegfried Kracauer – the film theorist, sociologist, and friend to and mentor of key members of the Frankfurt School. One of these sides, which has remained largely unexplored, is Kracauer’s relationship to the religion of Judaism, to Jewishness as a cultural identity, and to the cultural figure of the Jew in circulation around the turn of the past century. While some of his German Jewish contemporaries sought to synthesize aspects of their German-ness [Deutschutm] and Jewishness [Judentum], Kracauer formulated his relationship to German-ness and Jewishness as a no-mands-land, a “neither-nor” in which the dual negation of both identities did not stop in philosophical aporia. As I argue in the article, Kracauer consciously positions himself and works within the interstices of his German-ness and Jewishness through what I call a dialectics of Otherness: a position that emerges from “in-between” both cultural polarities, drawing on facets of both philosophical and cultural traditions without accepting either or simply swapping one for the other. This negation of German-ness and Jewishness has wide-reaching effects for Kracauer’s thoughts on messianism and his intellectual relationships with his Weimar-era peers. It also, I contend, presages the philosophical stance of negation central to Critical Theory.

Citation:
“The Dialectics of Otherness: Siegfried Kracauer’s Figurations of the Jew, Judaism, and Jewishness,”
in: Yearbook for European Jewish Literature Studies, eds. Alfred Bodenheimer and Vivian Liska, vol. 2.
Recasting the “Other”: Readings in German Jewish Interwar Culture and Its Aftermath, ed. Karin Neuburger (2015): 90-111.
doi:10.1515/yejls-2015-0007