Birgit Erdle

Momentaufnahme – Snapshot. A Figure of Thought in Siegfried Kracauer’s Writings

My current research project will explore the ‘snapshot’ (‘Momentaufnahme’) as a figure of thought in its philosophical, epistemological, and media-historical dimension in the work of the writer, journalist, sociologist, cultural critic, and film theorist Siegfried Kracauer. How does the snapshot – a terminus technicus borrowed from the history of photography – transform into a figure of thought in Kracauer’s writings, i.e. into a flexible figurative expression mediating between concept and phenomenon, thinking and intuition? And how does it conceptually unite the instant of exposure to light and the break-up of the concept of a coherent time?

Kracauer’s notes on the ‘snapshot’ start in exile in Marseille, from June 1940 to February 1941. They arise in a situation in which moments of extreme danger accumulate and coincidences have existential consequences. From the forties to the fifties and sixties, the thought figure of the snapshot and its associated metaphor of exposure (Belichtung) undergo significant conceptual shifts in Kracauer’s writings that need to be reconstructed. Two questions are of particular interest: How could the reference to modernism and its survival in the period of post-exile (fifties and sixties) be interpreted in Kracauer’s reflection on temporality? And how is this reflection to be situated in the German postwar discourse? For the explosive power inherent in the moment in Kracauer’s view marks a constitutive distinction to the conception of the moment as – as Hans-Georg Gadamer formulated in 1965 – a mere “discontinuity in the progress of events”.