Nicholas Baer (University of Groningen)
A Prehistory of Posthistoricism: Cinema and the Crisis of Historicism in Interwar Germany
A video recording of this lecture will be available after the event.
Recently, the question of how and even whether to situate works of art within history has given rise to intense methodological disputes across the humanities. Scholars have challenged the privileging of cultural context above other concerns, from aesthetics and form to transtemporal resonance and present-day relevance. In Rita Felski’s gloss, “Though we cannot as yet speak of a posthistoricist school, a multitude of minor mutinies and small-scale revolts are under way.” Offering an ironic prehistory of contemporary posthistoricism, this lecture will explore the relation between cinema and the “crisis of historicism” widely diagnosed by German philosophers in the interwar period. I will argue that films of the Weimar Republic lent vivid expression to the crisis of historical thinking, revealing the capacity of the medium to engage with fundamental questions of the philosophy of history. Drawing sustained attention to the philosophical critiques of historicism that accompanied the first decades of moving-image culture, I will propose a more reflexive mode of historiography—one that considers how film itself reflects on questions of historicism—as well as an approach to studying cinema in conjunction with enduring historical-philosophical concerns. My guide will be Siegfried Kracauer, who integrated the critique of historicism into a theory of film and media in his writings of the Weimar period and beyond.
Nicholas Baer is Assistant Professor of Film Studies in the Department of Arts, Culture, and Media at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. He is currently completing a monograph, Historical Turns: Weimar Cinema and the Crisis of Historicism. Baer has co-edited two volumes of film and media theory: the award-winning The Promise of Cinema: German Film Theory, 1907–1933 (University of California Press, 2016) and Unwatchable (Rutgers University Press, 2019). He has published on film and media, critical theory, and intellectual history in journals such as Cinéma & Cie, Film Quarterly, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, Los Angeles Review of Books, Public Seminar, and October, and his writings have been translated into six languages. During the 2021–22 academic year, he is a Junior Fellow at the Alfried Krupp Institute for Advanced Study in Greifswald, Germany.