“The course of history was therefore not that of a billiard ball – which, once it is hit, takes a definite line – but resembles the movement of clouds, or the path of a man sauntering through the streets, turned aside by a shadow here, a crowd there, an unusual architectural outcrop, until at last he arrives at a place he never knew or meant to go. Inherent in the course of history is a certain going off course.”

—Robert Musil1

1 R. Musil, The Man Without Qualities, trans. Sophie Wilkins, ed. , Knopf, New York, 1995, p. 392.


The research component, “Body and Soul”, is an interdisciplinary, comparative study of the essay form, focusing on the Weimar period. The essay is a marginal literary genre, which, like much documentary style photography, attempts “the imaginative recreation of a culture, a period or an individual”. ’s photographic opus, People of the 20th Century and ’s essayistic novel, The Man Without Qualities invite comparison as complex and problematic portraits of their respective societies.

Sander’s typological portraits are well known and his legacy informs much of contemporary documentary photography. Sixty images were published in 1929 by , Transmare Verlag, , as Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time) with an introduction by Alfred Döblin. The first two volumes of Robert Musil’s, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man Without Qualities), were published in 1930 and 1932 by , .

Recent publication of new editions of both Musil’s and Sander’s works prompted the attempt to reconcile two portraits of people and events of the early decades of the 20th Century in and .

The essay form in and the documentary style in photography are examined with regard to the polemic associated with truth and reality. This review attempts to illustrate the inevitable inclusion of the fictional element into the fabric of both forms of investigation. The study concludes with a review of practice in photo- documentary and some thoughts on future developments.

The studio component, “Dargan”, is a photographic essay of a site in the Blue Mountains West of Sydney. Focusing on relics of industrial activity in the region, and their effects on the landscape, large format colour photographs were produced to establish a documentary style body of work for exhibition as large-scale colour analogue prints. The work is the response to a need to engage with the Australian landscape and to establish a sustainable practice that recognises and takes into account an ambivalent relationship with “country”.


I would like to thank my supervisor, Maureen Burns, and my associate supervisor, Debra Phillips, for their help, advice and support throughout this period of study.

Thanks are due also to Lynne Roberts-Goodwin, Dr. Michele Barker, Sue Blackburn, Craig Bender and Kat Borishkewich.

Special thanks to Sandra Barnard for the prints exhibited at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery and also to Nicholas Waterlow, Annabel Pegus, Rilka Oakley, Yvonne Donaldson and Adrian Davies. The exhibition was mounted with the assistance of a grant from the Arc@UNSW GAS scheme which is gratefully acknowledged.

Research abroad was facilitated by a UNSW CoFA Research Grant.

For invaluable assistance at The August Sander Archive, thanks to Gabriele Conrath-Scholl and Patricia Edgar of Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, .

In Hamburg, Eckhard Kloos of Rowohlt Verlag, Robert Musil’s publisher, gave generously of his time and at the Robert Musil Literature Museum in , Austria, thanks are due to Dr. Heimo Strempfl.

Finally, I would like to thank my friends and family, especially Lara and Jasmin for their understanding and unfailing support, and Skye O’neill for editorial services rendered.

And to Susan, without whose patience, and encouragement, this work would not have been possible to undertake nor sustain to completion.




“A SORT OF INTRODUCTION”……………………………………………………...1


ESSAYISMUS/ROBERT MUSIL…………………………………………………… 16

AUGUST SANDER …………………………………………………………………...28

DOCUMENTARY …………………………………………………………………….42

CONCLUSIONS ………………………………………………………………………52

BIBLIOGRAPHY ……………………………………………………………………...57

PLATES ………………………………………………………………………………..62


“From which remarkably enough nothing develops.”

—Robert Musil1

“How might a photograph and a text, closely associated in time, space and historical import, elaborate ‘readings’ of each other? Or, more precisely, how might the viewer, mediator of both image and text, through reading them interactively discover in each some key(s) to the meaning of the other?”

—Susan H. Aiken2

In this study, the photographs in question are documentary style portraits produced by the German, August Sander. Sixty images were published in 1929 by Kurt Wolff, Transmare Verlag, Munich, as Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time) with an introduction by Alfred Döblin, author of Alexanderplatz. Sander’s intention was to generate interest for the subsequent publication of a far more comprehensive work Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the 20th Century).

The text is by Austrian Robert Musil, whose novella, Die Verwirrung des Zöglings Törless (The Confusions of Young Törless) first appeared in 1906. Its critical success contributed to Musil’s eventual choice of a literary career. The first two volumes of his masterpiece Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, (The Man Without Qualities) were published in 1930 and 1932 by Rowohlt Verlag, Hamburg.

Both authors attempted to create portraits of their respective societies and cultures, Musil with words, Sander with photographs. Both attempts made claims to truth, derived from direct observation and lived experience. More recently, publication of new editions of both major works prompted this attempt to reconcile two portraits of the people and events of the early decades of the 20th Century in Germany and Austria. A new English translation of Musil’s magnum opus by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike was published in two volumes by Knopf in 1995. Sander’s archive is held by Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne. A revised and newly compiled edition of Menschen des 20.

1 R. Musil, The Man Without Qualities, trans. Sophie Wilkins, ed. Burton Pike, Knopf, New York, 1995, p. 1. 2 S. H. Aiken, “Isak Dinesen and Photo/Graphic Recollection”, Illuminations, eds. L. Heron and V. Williams I.B. Tauris, London, 1996, pp. 460-470. 1 Jahrhunderts was published by this institution in 2002 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the photographer’s birth. Comprising seven volumes, and containing 619 photographs, it is the most comprehensive realisation yet of Sander’s original concept and the result of intensive research by Susanne Lange, Gabriele Conrath-Scholl and Sander’s grandson, Gerd Sander. In Sander’s words, “The individual does not make the history of his time, but he both impresses himself on it and expresses its meaning. It is possible to record the historical physiognomic image of a whole generation and … to make that image speak in photographs.”3 Incomplete at the time of their respective deaths, both author’s manifestos were essentially “overtaken by history.”

Structurally, the essay form is one of the many threads that link the bodies of work discussed here. “… the word ‘essay’ comes from the French essai and essayer, to attempt, to experiment, to try out and further back from the Latin exagium, ‘weighing’ an object or an idea, examining it from various angles, but never exhaustively or systematically”.4 The German equivalent Versuch incorporates the notions of “attempt” and “search”. The essay is a marginal genre in literature where “… the aesthetic organization of the material remains subordinated to the treatment of an event or situation that exists in time and space, of an idea or text which the essayist is ultimately committed to telling the ‘truth’ about, a truth which he himself is answerable for.”5

It is the aim of this work to show the analogous nature of both the essay and the documentary style photograph. To achieve this end, analyses are made of both Musil’s and Sander’s major works. The Paris albums of Eugène Atget are examined, as are contemporary work by Thomas Struth and Bernd and Hilla Becher. Elements of fiction are introduced into all story telling, and while the essay and the document aspire to positions of truth, both are inevitably enhanced, made more true, more real, when the contingencies of lived experience are permitted to intrude into their respective spaces. In this respect, a brief review of photographic “process” is included. The exegesis concludes with a series of plates representing the studio research component of the study.

3 A. Sander, ‘The Nature and Growth of Photography, Lecture 5: Photography as a Universal Language’ trans. Anne Halley, The Massachusettes Review, vol. 19, no. 4, 1978. pp. 674-679. 4 C. De Obaldia, The Essayistic Spirit, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995, p. 2. 5 ibid. p. 5 2 “Dargan” is a collection of large format documentary style colour photographs of relics of industrial activity in the Blue Mountains region, west of Sydney. Executed for subsequent exhibition as large-scale colour analogue prints, the photographs are the outcome of a number of investigations over the period of this study. While previous work was limited to the portrait genre, this essay is a response to a need to reconcile one’s place in the Australian landscape and to establish a sustainable practice that recognises and takes into account the ambivalent relationship that we, as Australians, have developed with the bush, with country.


“The thoughts of the essay lie firmly and immovably fixed in a basalt consisting of feelings, will, and personal experience, in such combinations of idea-complexes that only in the spiritual atmosphere of a unique inner situation do they give off and receive light. Essays make no claim to universal validity, but have the effect of people who captivate us and slip away without our being able to fix them rationally, and who prick us with something intellectually that cannot be demonstrated. Essays may also contain contradictions; for what in the essay has the form of a judgement is only a snapshot of what is not capturable except in a snapshot. Essays are subject to a more flexible, but no less strict logic.” —Robert Musil1

The essay is said to have originated with Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), whose Essais were, in effect, an extended form of autobiography, constructed “to present a portrait of himself in a frame of timelessness; to build up from a number of partial sketches the essential man; not as an unchanging being, but as one who retains a core of identity more important as a subject than the events that befell him.”2 In order to construct this self- portrait, Montaigne establishes a new method, whereby he tests his responses to various subjects and situations, investigating himself and his opinions, essentially writing himself into being. He is relentless in his pursuit of the truth as he perceives it, and having concluded that the intellect was without power to reveal those truths most critical to his understanding, he determined to investigate Michel de Montaigne, the one subject that might reveal its “true self”. Always impatient to arrive quickly at the core of the matter to hand, he eschewed scholarly practices of methodical research and proofs, preferring, rather, a fragmentary approach in the search for the discourses, anecdotes, observations and critiques appropriate to his investigations. The essay as form is his legacy.

In The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay, Graham Good develops a study of the essay as a literary form through an “historico-philosophical” approach, identifying a particular conjuncture in intellectual history which developed that mode of writing first attributed to Montaigne in the late sixteenth century. The method of the essay is to “construct” its object in terms of ideas and general rhetorical strategies. The rise of the essay is analogous

1 R. Musil, Robert Musil: Precision and Soul, Essays and Addresses, ed. and trans. Burton Pike and David S. Luft, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1990, p. xi. 2 J. M. Cohen, “Introduction”, Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Penguin, London, 1988, p. 9. 4 with the rise of the novel. Good quotes Bakhtin’s definition of the novel as “whatever form of expression within a given literary system reveals the limits of that system as inadequate, imposed or arbitrary”.3 This definition, in Good’s estimation, could just as appropriately apply to the essay.

Indeed, Montaigne’s earliest attempts at establishing the truth about a particular subject were collections of relevant quotations from classical and later writers. In essence they were catalogues of adages. Similarly, in England, Francis Bacon’s earliest attempts at the essay were assemblages of aphorisms. In Montaigne’s later essays, quotation is introduced as a new voice in a more conversational structure and, similarly, Bacon develops increased dialogue and qualification of the quotations. In both instances the role of the essayist himself becomes predominant over those of the “authorities” cited. Historically, in medieval times, the authority of the “auctores” was absolute. Accordingly, Good sees the development of the essay toward a greater formlessness. According to Foucault, this departure of essayistic discourse from the procedures of medieval discourse can be described as “Commentary has yielded to Criticism”.4 Commentary is synonymous with assemblage from recognised sources, whereas “Criticism questions language as if language were a pure function, a totality of mechanisms, a great autonomous play of signs; but, at the same time, it cannot fail to question it as to its truth or falsity, its transparency or opacity.”5

Although Montaigne’s skeptical and critical approach can be likened to that of empirical science, with its reliance on observation and proof, and shares with science a fundamental conception of language, it differs from it in fundamental ways. Scientific knowledge is systematic, cumulative and progressive, building on proven observations and laws. The essay makes no claim to system, but, as its material is not presented as fictional, it does stake some claim to knowledge. The essay, while retaining elements of commentary, rejects both the medieval and the modern syntheses of knowledge, though it draws freely from both. The essay presupposes an independent observer, engaged with a specific object and dependent on a sympathetic reader sharing a language capable of rendering and communicating observations. It is distinguished by form, approach or content. Its starting point is an isolated self, confronting a world of uncertainty. These fundamentals it shares

3 M. Holquist and K. Clark, Mikhail Bakhtin, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1984, p. 276. 4 M. Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences, Pantheon, New York, 1970, p. 80. Quoted in G. Good, The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay, Routledge, London, 1988, p. 1. 5 Foucault, ibid., p. 40. Quoted in Good, ibid., p. 2. 5 with Cartesian ; however, in contrast, the essay is skeptical, spontaneous and unsystematic, and its observations are free and independent of tradition and doctrine.

In the essay, an open mind engages with an open reality, relying primarily on observation and an interpretation based on, most importantly, personal experience:

“An uncertain, unorganized world enters an unprejudiced awareness, and the essay results as a record and provisional ordering of the encounter. In a sense, self and object organize each other, but only in a temporary way. Nothing can be built on this configuration, no rules or methods deduced from it. Self and object define each other, but momentarily. The self will go on to other definitions through other objects; the objects (whether places, works of art, or issues) will find other definitions in other selves. The essay makes a claim to truth, but not permanent truth. Its truths are particular, of the here and now.”6

The essayist speaks with authority; however, ultimately this authority is not the result of his learning but the result of his experience. Rather than impose a discursive order on experience, the essay allows its discourse to assume the shape of that experience. The essay is provisional, limited. The truth of the essay is itself limited by the experience that gave rise to it. The knowledge of the essay is limited to the moment of insight where self and object reciprocally illuminate and define one another. According to Good, George Orwell believed “that a writer’s prose became most distinctly personal where he was most forgetful of self and most intent on the object”.7

Historic and contemporary analyses of the essay often use the term “hybrid” when discussing the essay’s logic, method or form. That is, something composed of incongruous elements. That there are connotations of the inferior and the marginal associated with hybridity is a given, and critics of the essay as genre have reacted negatively to its lack of historical determinism. The universality of the essay form is generated by the particular and vice versa. The diversity of the essay’s elements is held together by the concept of self. The essayist’s character is offered as a “universal particular”; an individual personality with a

6 G. Good, “Hazlitt: Ventures of the Self”, Good, op. cit., p. 4. 7 Ibid., p. 8. 6 universal experience: “The essayist is representatively unrepresentative, typical of how we experience ourselves as untypical.”8

André Gide’s concept of disponibilité is, in Good’s estimation, the perfect description of the essayist’s state of mind, being spontaneous, eager and curious. Freedom is the essential mood and quality of the essay. Sartre maintained that every freedom was situated; however, Good explains that each new adventure or “essay” is a re-situation of the self in relation to the object or event investigated. Consequently the essay is a highly “existential” form: neither the world nor the self is definitive, each reciprocally shapes the other within the limits of the experiential field of each particular essay. The essay is consequently presented as a kind of fiction. Despite this affinity with fiction and hence, the novel, libraries correctly classify essays as non-fiction. These boundaries are blurred in recent critical theory, which tends to treat all writing, including history and philosophy, as “fictional”. Though material for the essayist is a representation, a construct, it is not necessarily fiction, as the essay’s reality exists under certain rhetorical conditions. Implicit in the essay is the choice—that what is represented is figuratively, rather than literally, true. The critical factor here is the relationship constructed between the essayist and the reader. Since Montaigne, that relationship has been one of friendship. The conversational tone of the essay creates an atmosphere of intimacy. Consequently, it is often the case that the essay turns away from the grand design and the imposing statement and concerns itself with minor truths.

In The Essayistic Spirit, Claire de Obaldia demonstrates that “the one commonly accepted fact about the essay is that indeterminacy is germane to its essence. … The essay is an essentially ambulatory and fragmentary prose form.”9 De Obaldia establishes the hybrid nature of the essay by analysing the essay’s ability to incorporate the Aristotelian categories of the lyric (poetic), the dramatic and the epic individually but most commonly in combination of all three, concluding that “its fragmentary or ‘paratactic’ structure—one which, unlike that of logically ordered discourse, indulges in the use of associations, images, metaphors—and foregrounds the self (the essayist himself) in the process of essaying.”10 Ultimately, in de Obaldia’s analysis, the essay as genre is defined by the resolution of the conflict between the binary concepts of form and content:

8 Ibid., p. 9. 9 C. de Obaldia, The Essayistic Spirit: Literature, Modern Criticism, and the Essay, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995, p. 2. 10 Loc. cit. 7 “ … the content of the essay, the fact that it is concerned with ideas ultimately addressed directly by an author to a reader, assigns the genre primarily to the category of didactic, expository, or critical writing … the aesthetic organization of the material remains subordinated to the treatment of an event or situation that exists in time and space, of an idea or text which the essayist is ultimately committed to telling the ‘truth’ about, a truth which he himself is answerable for.”11

To “create anew” is, in Good’s estimation, the point of introduction of fiction into the fabric of the essay form. In Good’s analysis of William Hazlitt’s essays, for example, “an idea, a scene, an event or a work of art” can be described as “characterisations” which “recurrently weave threads of fiction in a web of truth”:

“In every case, the exploitation of fictional resources and strategies which manifests the essayist’s emancipation from mimeticism can actually be said to be motivated by an acute perception of reality’s potential, and therefore ultimately to make possible a ‘more intense perception of truth’.”12

As we shall see, Robert Musil’s essays are of particular interest because they are often concerned with subject matter that analyses and deconstructs the essay form itself. The dichotomy produced by the essay’s hybrid nature is especially apparent when Musil considers the relationship between art and science:

“Aside from one great attempt by Nietzsche, we Germans have no books about people, no systematizers and organizers of life. With us artistic and scientific thinking do not yet come into contact with each other. The problems of a middle zone between the two remain unsolved.”13

Essentially the essay is a hybrid of art and science, and there is an intellectual tradition, which emphasises the importance of the essay in providing a unique combination of aesthetic form and empirical knowledge. In Germany, according to Good, there exists a tradition of systematic aesthetics that traverses history from Baumgarten in the mid- eighteenth century through Kant and Hegel to Emil Staiger’s Grundbegrisse der Poetik in the mid-twentieth century. This tradition took the cognitive aspect of art seriously and

11 Ibid., p. 4. 12 G. Good, “Hazlitt: Ventures of the Self”, op. cit., p. 85. 13 R. Musil, “Commentary on a Metapsychics”, Precision and Soul: Essays and Addresses, ed. and trans. B. Pike and D.S. Luft, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1990, pp. 54–58. 8 prepared the ground for George Lukâcs to deliver a serious philosophical account of the essay, along with the novella and the novel. Since Kant, art as knowledge and knowledge of art have been central issues in German philosophy. Because of its late development in Germany, the essay as genre escaped the French and English tradition of association with science and philosophy. Art tended to be the issue central to essayistic discourse, thus German theory usually associates the essay with the critical essay, defining it as that art form which has art as its subject.

“On the Nature and Form of the Essay” is the preface to George Lukâcs’ collection of essays, Soul and Form. The notion of truth is again central to the development of the essay form as determined by Lukâcs:

“The essay is always concerned with something already formed, or at best with something that has been; it is part of its essence that it does not draw something new out of an empty vacuum, but only gives a new order to such things as once lived. And because he only newly orders them, not forming something new out of the formless, he is bound to them; he must always speak ‘the truth’ about them, find, that is, the expression for their essence.”14

Seminal to his argument is the understanding that “The essay has to create from within itself all the preconditions for the effectiveness and validity of its vision.”15 Lukâcs constructs a parallel between essay writing and portrait painting. Good describes how Lukâcs transforms the former into a half-mimetic, half-creative experience that “aims at a kind of truth, as well as imaginative response”.16 Lukâcs’ analogy describes how both the portraitist and the essayist bring about a likeness by incorporating relevant aspects of both the subject and themselves, creating “a convergence of individual identities”.17 This approach is typical of early twentieth century vitality, or Lebensphilosophy, where form is seen as a momentary manifestation of the restless, regenerative energy of the lifeforce.

Citing Henry James’ and ’s observations on the essay’s inherent relationship between the imagination and criticism, de Obaldia reasons, “Only by projecting his imagination can the essayist breathe (new) life into and release the essence of his object in a

14 G. Lukacs, “On the Nature and Form of the Essay”, Soul and Form, trans. Anna Bostock, MIT, Cambridge, Mass., 1974, p. 13. 15 Ibid., p. 11. 16 Good, op. cit., p. 17. 17 Ibid., p. 185. 9 way that yields a more intense sense of truth than would a simple description”, and concludes, “In fact, criticism for Lukâcs, as for most German theorists, is not just one aspect of the essay but the essence itself of the genre, and the work of art is its most natural object.”18 Critical essays, as a consequence, have autonomy in common with the works of art they discuss. Essays are secondary creations or recreations, hence mimetic, and aim for a kind of truth, as well as imaginative response. Modern criticism is consequently seen to incorporate both the critical and the poetic. Oscar Wilde goes so far as to suggest that the critics’ relationship to the work of art is essentially the same as that of the artist to those elements, whether real or imaginary, that brought the original into being, and “treats the work of art simply as a starting-point for a new creation”. 19

Theodore Adorno, a musicologist, sees the essay in musical terms and emphasises thematic rather than conceptual unity. His “Essay as Form” serves as preface to Noten zu Literatur, a collection of his essays. Adorno sees the essay in general as a musical composition of ideas, which are arranged aesthetically, forming a pattern of relationships rather than a linear relationship of necessary consequences. Thoughts are arranged so as to have multiple points of contact rather than a hierarchical structure. Consequently ideas need not follow in the logical sense. Adorno says of the essay, “It co-ordinates elements rather than subordinating them”.20 Like Walter Benjamin’s essays, Adorno’s “compositions” are heavily paratactical. Both Benjamin and Adorno omit hierarchical distinctions between the principal and subordinate components of their respective arguments. The reader is committed to pattern the work for himself:

“the essay urges the reciprocal interaction of its concepts in the process of intellectual experience….Actually, the thinker does not think, but rather transforms himself into an arena of intellectual experience, without simplifying it.”21

For Adorno, it is the aim of the essay to preserve something of the process of thinking, whereas systematic thought results in a finished, hence structured, product. The essay shows “an affinity with the visual image … composed of tensions, which, as it were, have

18 de Obaldia, op. cit., p. 10. 19 O. Wilde, “The Critic as Artist”, Plays, Prose Writings and Poems, 1930, pp. 24–25, 27–28. Quoted in de Obaldia, op. cit., p. 11. 20 T. Adorno, “The Essay as Form”, trans. Bob Hullott-Kentor, New German Critique 32 (Spring–Summer 1984), p. 170. 21 Ibid., pp. 160–61. 10 been brought to a standstill”.22 Essays present us with interpenetrating ideas and images, which remain within the bounds of the essay’s text, which is itself autonomous as a work of art. Adorno’s approach to the essay counterpoints image and idea, aesthetics and thought, and refuses ideological system, preferring the unique “constellation” of self and world, subject and object. The enemy, however, is the “washed-out pseudo culture” of modern mass society, complicit with “the reification of consciousness”.23 This is the consequence of the reduction of art to aesthetic technique, to “a conceptless intuitive art”24 and the monopoly of science over cognition.

Good deduces from his analyses of Lukâcs, Adorno, and Walter Benjamin, among others, that the heart of the essay as a form is the moment of characterisation, recognition, figuration:

“… where the self finds a pattern in the world and the world finds a pattern in the self … a spontaneous, unpredictable discovery, though often prepared by careful attention and observation. This discovery can be about the self, or about the world, but is mostly about a combination of both. Self and object are configured in a mutually illuminating way. But the insight is confined to that moment; the generalization cannot be separated from its particular circumstances of time and space … chance plays a dominant role … the world is chaotic and disenchanted but also free for me to order it ‘for now’.”25

With Benjamin and Adorno, Good confronts the paradoxical relationship between Marxism and the essay. To Benjamin he awards the honour of being the most consistently essayistic, noting that his attempts at longer works remain essay collections or amassed fragments. Marxism and Messianic religion were the cornerstones of Benjamin’s beliefs and both necessarily checked his essayism, his focus on the particular and his Proustian faith that material relics could resurrect past worlds. “The intensity of Benjamin’s essays is this hint of ‘total’ vision amidst the detail of highly particularized objects. … Benjamin differed from other essayists only through the power of his visionary urge to glimpse the source of his illuminations.”26

22 Ibid., p. 170. 23 Ibid., p. 155. 24 Ibid., p. 156. 25 Good, op. cit., p. 22. 26 Ibid., p. 176. 11 Based on his investigations into the essayistic legacies of Lukâcs, Hazlitt, James, Woolf and Montaigne, Good’s final analysis is to reconfirm the metaphor of essay as portrait, an image of one individual created by another. By extension, this definition is applied to places (in the case of the travel essay), and works of art and literature, discerning a “face” behind the page of most critical essays, and experiences, where autobiographical essays are defined as a self-portrait in a past circumstance. “Traits” of the object are observed and collected until some kind of “vital configuration” of aspects makes the separate objective features come to life as a likeness:

“There can be no definitive portrait … A portrait is like an essay: the objectification by a subject of another subject; the permanent record of a temporary impression; an image which is a brief determination, momentarily fixed in a configuration, of an open and shifting and indeterminate relationship.”27

In the German-speaking world in the period under examination, the essay was the pre- eminent form for cross-examining the many, often contradictory, aspects of a culture modernising at breakneck speed. Time was the crucial element. Ideas had to be developed, worked through, “essayed” before they became cultural relics, consigned to an immediate past, irrelevant to a momentary present and inconsequential to the future. The German academy, notorious for its intransigence, failed to acknowledge or to recognise the potential of the inherent qualities of the hybrid essay form for discovery, for experimentation, for investigation and for “trying out”. Essaying was relegated to the margins of literary activity. For Theodore Adorno this was attributable to “the customary national prejudice” and “the painful recollection of how much cultivation is missing from a culture that historically scarcely recognises the homme de lettres”.28

Adorno’s agenda was to give philosophical relevance to the concept of a dialectical consciousness, i.e. consciousness constituted by openness to experience, in direct contrast to an identity or positivist consciousness, which preconceives the order of things. Like and Robert Musil, Adorno was critical of the German institution of “Philosophy for Philosphers”. In The Essay as Form he examines a radical approach to writing philosophy, advocating an unstructured essay whose form of open-ended enquiry is driven by the subject matter alone. In a comprehensive examination of his views regarding form and content, Adorno considers the work of as “a single effort to

27 Ibid., p. 185. 28 Adorno, op. cit., pp. 151–71. 12 express necessary and compelling perceptions about men and their social relations” and considers that:

“the claim of these perceptions to objectivity … the measure of which … is not the verification of asserted theses through repeated testing, but individual experience, unified in hope and disillusion. Experience, reminiscing, gives depth to its observations by confirming or refuting them. … Proust attempted by way of a scientifically modelled technique, a sort of experimentation, to save or reproduce a form of knowledge that was still considered valid in the days of bourgeois when the individual consciousness still trusted itself … : the knowledge of an experienced man, that extinct homme de lettres, … the highest form of the dilettante.”29

Adorno proposes the essay’s relevance as that of anachronism, crushed between science and philosophy, and consequently “the law of the innermost form of the essay is heresy. By transgressing the orthodoxy of thought, something becomes visible in the object which it is orthodoxy’s secret purpose to keep invisible.”30

For Robert Musil, orthodoxy’s secret was the very notion of the “self”. To enable the rapidly emerging phenomena of modern life to establish and proliferate, a new order had to be implemented to channel the resources of production and consumption and to render the populace compliant and conformist. These changes coincided in Germany with the shift from the rural harmony of the old Gemeinschaft to the mechanised Gesellschaft of . came late to Germany, however the industrialisation of the former agriculture-based economy was swift and thorough. The rate of change, rather than the fact of change itself, can explain the intense preoccupation in the German-speaking world with a cultural shift that expressed itself in a search for new expressions of German identity. For Adorno, this dilemma has its origins in an ineffectual German Enlightenment that failed to produce intellectual freedom, resulting in institutional antipathy to anything outside the academy. Along with other intellectuals of the time (Lukâcs, Benjamin, Kraus, Brecht and Broch), Musil was preoccupied with issues relating to the formation of new ways of thinking, synonymous with new ways of being, which would give meaning to

29 Ibid., p. 97. 30 Ibid., p. 110. 13 modern existence. Consequently, the essay form was his ideal forum for communication, analysis and experimentation.

If the essay had its origins with Montaigne and Francis Bacon, the novel, another prose form concerned with the depiction of character and scene, emerged with the Continental (Cervantes), and subsequently with the English novel in the early eighteenth century. In common with the essay, the novel has the ability to combine literary modes. Ian Watt’s definitive study of the novel, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding, draws compelling comparisons between the development of the novel and that of the essay. Both arise from the same intellectual climate, and purport to be authentic accounts of actual experience of individuals. The world-view of the essay and the novel are essentially the same and many novelists from Cervantes to Fielding to Mann and Musil have incorporated essays and essayistic episodes in their novels.

Based on Watt’s analyses, that the parallel manifestations of both philosophical and literary innovations are the result of “ … the vast transformation of Western civilization since the Renaissance”31 , Good makes a convincing argument that the essay is an art form “historically, philosophically, and to some extent formally akin to realistic fiction”.32 The post-Renaissance transformation lies mainly in a philosophical shift from universals to particulars, resulting in a “modern” world consisting of a conglomerate of individuals. Modern philosophical posits reality as apprehended principally by the senses, resulting in the pursuit of truth being a highly individualistic endeavour, a consequence of individual experience, always unique and new. The novel, it is argued, is modernity’s most appropriate form of literature, dealing as it does with particular events, times and places in an innovative, critical and anti-traditional manner. An identical argument is made for the essay, in that this form embodies the modern assumption, most commonly associated with Descartes, that truth is a question of individual consciousness and experience.

The new philosophy, predominantly empirical by nature, gives prominence to man’s intrinsic faculties of judgement and places ordinary life and common man at the centre of its investigations. The novel, and by extension the essay, are described as the most immediate vehicles for a new style of philosophising directed to a new audience. Plot and

31 I. Watt, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding, 1979, p. 34. Quoted in de Obaldia, op. cit., p. 13. 32 Good, op. cit., p. 14. 14 character are intrinsic to the fictive element of the novel’s development. In the essay, everything is subordinated to the essayist’s task of self-definition. From Lukâcs’ perspective, the object of the essay is to achieve the creation and definition of oneself by defining and creating the object under scrutiny. As a consequence, the essay genre emphasises, as perhaps no other can, the connection between writing and imagination. In collaboration with the author, the reader must constantly adjust to the author’s “coming into being”. Inevitably, there will always be some sense of a fictional self, associated with the personality “written into being” in the essay.

From Musil’s original quote, we can see from his reference to the “snapshot” that there is a direct link in his thought processes between the essay and the image. Musil was very conscious of photography, though images of him are few. His was a time of revolution in the visual world, as well as the literary, and references to photography are common in his essays and numerous in his essayistic novel, The Man without Qualities, (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften). Subsequent essays will investigate in turn, Musil’s Essayismus, (his method of investigation), and the documentary photography of his time known as Neue Sachlichkeit, (). The connections between these endeavours will be extrapolated to the present day practice of documentary style photography in an attempt to illustrate the essayistic nature of this genre.


“[There is] an abiding miscommunication between the intellect and the soul. We do not have too much intellect and too little soul, but too little intellect in matters of the soul.” —Robert Musil1

Robert Musil was born in Klagenfurt, capital of the Austrian province of , in 1880. An only child, Musil’s mother, Hermine, was of an “artistic temperament”, and his father was an engineer in the imperial administration. Appointed in 1891 to the Chair of Mechanical Engineering at the Technical University in Brünn (), Alfred Musil was elevated to the ranks of the minor nobility with the award of a hereditary peerage shortly before the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War. He accepted, apparently without protest, a liaison between his wife and a younger man, which resulted in a relationship that is considered to have had a significant influence on the young Robert at an age when the rivalry of another for his mother impinged significantly both emotionally and intellectually. “Uncle” Heinrich Reiter lived with the Musils in a ménage à trois that lasted a quarter century. A lonely child, privileged and protected, he exhibited:

“… a tendency toward critical detachment from and scorn for men; attraction toward women with strong personalities and strong sexual drives; respect for science and rationality qualified by scepticism toward their practitioners; hypersensitivity and an unpredictable temper; a predisposition to speculate about the motives and the private behaviour of other people.”2

After study at military academies at and Mährisch-Weisskirchen, Musil attended a military college in . Disappointment with the military character resulted in his undertaking a degree in engineering at his father’s department at Brünn. Here he read Nietzsche, Kant and Schopenhauer, and came under the influence of Mallarmé and Maeterlinck. A prolific diarist, Musil created the persona of Monsieur le vivisecteur, an alter ego capable of “exploring states of consciousness and emotional relations with his

1 R. Musil. “Helpless Europe”,Robert Musil: Precision and Soul, Essays and Addresses, ed. and trans. Burton Pike and David S. Luft, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1990, pp. 116-133. 2 P. Payne, “Preface”, in R. Musil, Diaries, 1899–1941, trans. P. Payne, ed. M. Mirsky, Rowohlt Verlag, Hamburg, 1998, p. ix. 16 intellectual scalpel, practising his skills impartially on himself, his family and his friends”.3 An academic career beckoned in , however Musil had discovered that despite their intellectual achievements, engineers lived coarse emotional lives and were typically “… men tied to their drawing boards, who loved their profession and were wonderfully efficient at it. But any suggestion that they might apply their daring ideas to themselves instead of to their machines would have taken them aback… .”4

It was at this time that he began work on his first novel, The Confusions of Young Törless. In it he developed themes resulting from his experiences at military school. Intent on yet another career change, he departed for Berlin, where he studied philosophy. The University of Berlin had, at that time, an outstanding reputation for research and the world’s leading department of experimental psychology. Here Musil refined his mental abilities, engaging in a wide range of intellectual, social and cultural milieux. The publication of Törless in 1906 brought critical acclaim in both Austria and Germany, however Musil was still unsure of his literary abilities. He continued his philosophical studies, taking his doctorate in 1908. Up to this time, he had been living with his mistress, Herma Dietz, a working class girl from Brünn. It was a controversial relationship, resulting in conflict with his family and friends, but it was Herma who enabled Musil to distance himself from his mother’s influence. Now Musil met the artist and intellectual Martha Marcovaldi, a woman of Jewish descent, seven years his senior. Twice married with two children, and with knowledge of contemporary issues of feminism, Martha separated from her husband and engaged Musil in a deeply intimate and intensely sexual relationship that resulted in their marriage in 1911. Moving to Vienna, Musil took up the position of archivist at the Technische Hochschule. Rejecting an academic position in Graz in 1909, he explained that he was now committed to a career in literature rather than philosophy. “He … was no philosopher. Philosophers are despots who have no armies to command, so they subject the world to their tyranny by locking it up in a system of thought.”5

His next book, Unions, consisting of two short stories, “The Temptation of Quiet Veronica” and “The Perfecting of a Love”, took over two years of obsessive composition and revision. Each narrative, based on decisive phases of Martha Musil’s earlier life, “is of

3 J.M. Coetzee, “Introduction”, in R. Musil, The Confusions of Young Törless, trans. Shaun Whiteside, Penguin, London, 2001. 4 R. Musil, The Man Without Qualities, trans. Sophie Wilkins, ed. Burton Pike, Knopf, New York, 1995, pp. 34– 35. 5 Ibid., p. 272. 17 hermetic intensity, focused in the inchoate, virtually subliminal, feeling of a woman under intense psychosexual pressure”.6 Unions was published in 1911.

Berlin was mounting a challenge to be the intellectual capital of Europe and Musil’s interpretation of early twentieth-century culture was based on his experiences there and in Vienna. Acceptance of a position with a publisher to review current German literary production saw a move to Berlin and the development of contacts with leading figures in the literary and intellectual circles there. Work progressed on a new play, The Enthusiasts (alternately translated as The Visionaries). The outbreak of the First World War saw Musil serve with distinction on the Italian front. Service in the Supreme Army Command for the South West Front in resulted in exposure to the incompetence, arrogance, hypocrisy and intrigue in elite Austrian society. Like all Musil’s experiences, this was to provide fertile material for the masterwork he would soon initiate.

Peacetime Vienna was at war with itself: “The House of Hapsburg had fallen; Vienna, once capital of an empire embracing many countries and nationalities, was now the overlarge administrative center of the democratic rump which was republican Austria.”7 Nevertheless, creative and intellectual life continued to flourish. Musil’s play, a study of the theatricality of bourgeois life, was finally published in 1921. A collection of short stories, Three Women, consisting of “Grigia”, “The Lady from Portugal” and “Tonka”, followed in 1924. Again, the plots and characterisations were developed directly from Musil’s life experiences.

The Man Without Qualities occupied the major part of Musil’s output from 1919 till his death in Switzerland in 1942. More than most long and complex works of literature, it, like Musil’s style, defies reduction and resists summarisation. Volume 1, “A Sort of Introduction” and “Pseudoreality Prevails” and Volume 2, “Into the Millennium (The Criminals)” were published during Musil’s lifetime. “From the Posthumous Papers” consists of twenty chapters retrieved from the publisher at galley proof stage and further selections from Musil’s voluminous drafts and fragments. Just as the Habsburg Empire is revealed as a haphazard political amalgam engaged in a hopeless search for some unifying meaning or identity, so the events, motifs and perspectives chronicled resist a cohesive style or narrative structure.

6 Payne, op. cit., p. xiii. 7 Ibid., p. xiv. 18

Musil’s autobiographical component is unmistakable; the essayist has created himself “as another”, one whose deep commitment to understanding the conditions of the “self” has resulted in a temporary withdrawal from “action”, from life and experience. Ulrich, the “man without qualities”, is, at thirty-two years of age, embarking on a year-long quest to discover Geist, the intellectual rigour, spiritual intensity and emotional depth that, he believes, must underlie any meaningful action. A man of many talents, he is, nonetheless, “without qualities” in as much as his acute self-awareness detaches him from his many attributes, with the result that they register as impersonal and even transitory in nature. He rejects the reassurance of the stability afforded his contemporaries and affects a non- proprietary stance toward the world.

It is in Vienna in 1913 that Ulrich, as a result of his father’s aristocratic connections, is engaged as the secretary of the “Parallel Campaign”. As accomplice to his cousin Diotima, their objective is to conceive of and organise a celebration to commemorate, on December 2, 1918, the seventieth anniversary of the coronation of Emperor Franz Joseph. Simultaneously, Ulrich investigates the trial of a psychopathic sex-murderer named Moosebrugger. Whereas the “Parallel Campaign” provides Musil with a point of focus for the political and economic machinations of the ruling classes, so Moosebrugger's case broadens the horizon of characters and elaborates upon themes of monstrosity, madness and messianic delusion.

The death of Ulrich’s father in the city of B. (Brünn) brings Ulrich together with his twin sister Agathe. Separated from childhood, they return to Vienna together. Ulrich abandons both the campaign and Moosebrugger’s cause in order to pursue his quest for a way to create a union between scientific precision and mystical intensity. The siblings embark upon a relationship dedicated to learning how “to hold fast to their intimations…of a second reality … a day-bright mysticism … that mustn’t ever be more than an hour old!”8 Musil’s quest remained unfinished, but it is evident from the copious notes that it too would ultimately have failed. While attempting to discover “the secret of living differently” in this world, their sublime passion exhausts itself in isolation.

8 Musil, op. cit. Quoted in M. Bernstein, “Precision and Soul”, The New Republic, vol. 212, May 29, 1995, p. 30. 19 The recreation of the sequence of events is, of course, overtaken in time by the events themselves. As a consequence, the work cannot be resolved into an outcome of any kind. The choice of a conclusion counter to the real, historical one would have the intolerable effect of relegating the entirety of the text to the realm of the fantastical. The novel remains incomplete. Foucault calls this phenomenon the “folding back” of literature “on the enigma of its origin” which becomes the “anxious and infinite quest of its own source”.9 Despite its enormous size, The Man Without Qualities is presented only as fragments, interrupted, with final sections in draft forms with a multiplicity of variants. Paradoxically, among the posthumous fragments lies some of the most beautiful and evocative writing.

Musil rejected a plotted narrative whole, relying on a paratactic structure. The “open architecture” of the novel was experimental in the extreme, and designed to allow development in many directions from any given point. For Musil, history is not destiny. “God himself probably preferred to speak of His world in the subjunctive of possibility … for God creates the world and thinks while He is at it that it could just as well be done differently.”10

In “Precision and Soul”, Michael Bernstein considers Musil’s solution to the epistemological and technical problems that arise as a result of the narration of historical events as exemplary:

“… it is impossible for the reader to suspend a knowledge of the book’s historical aftermath, and so the narrator deliberately plays on that knowledge … to undermine any sense of historical inevitability. … ‘Time was making a fresh start then (it does so all the time).’ … Just as Ulrich is deeply frustrated by the gulf separating modern man’s expert knowledge in the professional and scientific areas of life from the uncritical assumptions with which he interprets the world in his private and moral life, so the novel as a whole seeks to undo the narrative conventions by which the reader imposes a linear, scripted pattern on the motility of historical events and individual psyches. … we, too … undergo the shock of realizing that all of us, not just the book’s characters, indulge in no longer credible patterns of thinking.”11

9 M. Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences, Pantheon, New York, 1970, p. 300. Quoted in C. de Obaldia, The Essayistic Spirit: Literature, Modern Criticism, and the Essay, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995, p. 199. 10 Musil, op. cit., p. 14. 11 Bernstein, op. cit., pp. 27–36. 20 “Unfortunately, nothing is so hard to achieve as a literary representation of a man thinking.”12 Musil’s narrator crystalises both the difficulty and the originality of The Man Without Qualities. Large portions of the work are pure intellectual–moral speculation independent of the action and the characters. “Essayismus” becomes “… the unique and unalterable form assumed by a man’s inner life in a decisive thought”.13 No longer a question of genre, Musil’s construct has become a way of thinking about and experiencing the world as an unfixable, variegated and constantly self-transforming phenomenon. “A man who wants the truth becomes a scholar; a man who wants to give free play to his subjectivity may become a writer, but what should a man do who wants something in between?”14

The term “essayistic novel” might appear at first as a contradiction, in that it suggests some degree of separation of the essayistic material from the fabric of the novel. The structure of The Man Without Qualities clearly alternates fictional narrative chapters with those consisting of essays, and what Musil mastered as a result is a type of novel closely associated with the German Romantic tradition of the genre, the Bildungsroman closely associated with Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. However, Musil insists that rather than emulate the traditional form of biography, i.e. the Bildungsroman of a character, what he had accomplished was something quite radical in that it was the Bildungsroman of an idea. In essence what Musil was postulating was that the modern world no longer made any sense. A Hegelian narrative of a beginning, middle and end no longer existed: “… we must try to recover unreality. Reality no longer makes sense.”15

As if to illustrate the sense of modern non-reality, Musil’s labyrinthine enterprise becomes entrapped in its own complexity. Claire de Obaldia, analysing this impasse in The Essayistic Spirit: Literature, Modern Criticism, and the Essay, presents his predicament as follows:

“Man’s effort to make sense of his world, to make history meaningful by ‘informing’ an otherwise arbitrary system of events is vain. Hence the tendency to associate essayism with the idea of a novel ‘in crisis’, a tendency registered not only among critics, but among writers themselves. The vast essayistic workshop (essays, diaries, letters) that surrounds The Man without Qualities, for example, is riddled with Musil’s

12 Musil, op. cit., p. 115. 13 Ibid., p. 273. 14 Ibid., p. 274. 15 Ibid., p. 627. 21 laments that he is incapable of writing, that his work is paralysed, all the more paralysed as the essayistic notes and reflections (including those which record this paralysis) multiply and threaten to occupy the entire space initially allotted to the novel.”16

In “Musil’s Utopian Essayism: The Quest for an ‘Anti-Ideological’ Ethics”, Alina Hunt describes the experience of “the ‘end of metaphysics’ and the crisis of the novel … as parallel expressions of nineteenth-century liberal culture’s disintegration”.17 As a consequence of this crisis, Robert Musil, like other German-language writers of his generation—, Walter Benjamin, and —chose the flexible, expansive form of the essay as his favoured vehicle of expression.

Musil evolved beyond a traditional narrative form toward essay, interpretation and fragmentation. Utopian in outlook, Musil’s “Essayismus” is conceived as an anti-ideological ideology, founded on “ethics” rather than “morals”. The paradoxical, malleable structure of ethics is predicated on what the author calls der andere Zustand (the other condition). By distinguishing between “the sense of reality” (Wirklichseitssinn) and “the sense of possibility” (Möglichkeitssin), Musil strives to make his utopian principle relevant to contemporary reality. Musil anticipates postmodern thought and, rather than being content with merely dismantling Western metaphysical tradition, endeavours to offer a credible alternative.

Attracted neither to doctrines nor systematic , Musil believed rather in ideas and thinking as they are embedded in a process of lived experience. Constantly absorbing the world as we actually live it, attempting to understand its potential while assuming that we can only barely understand a civilisation as it comes into being, Musil regarded the balance of unrestrained subjectivity with completely objective behaviour as the major challenge facing his culture.

The essay form of thought attempts to mediate between the subjectivity of the self and the impersonality of objective truth. A passionate commitment to individuality, and the re- establishment of an immediate relation to experience, were Musil’s reactions against the illusions of individualism and accomplishment of late nineteenth-century liberalism. As a

16 de Obaldia, op. cit., p. 198. 17 A. Hunt, “Abstract”, in Musil’s Utopian Essayism: The Quest for an ‘Anti-Ideological’ Ethics, unpublished PhD thesis, New York University, 1993, p. 1. 22 result, he wanted to develop a new way of thinking about life in modern civilisation that would maximise man’s potential to be open to experience and to respond in a flexible way. Writing in the 1920s, Siegfried Kracauer postulated that the reader of an essay was “more than just a passive consumer … the reader partakes in the moment of creation, when ideas crystallize into concrete form”.18 Here the word “experience” takes on special significance.

Philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey drew the epistemological distinction between Erfahrung and Erlebnis to describe two types of experience: those which submit to lawful regularity, and those which do not. Musil locates the “essayistic moment” within the realm of Erlebnis, describing that instant when one loses oneself in external phenomena, or when borders between “inner” and “outer” no longer exist. For Musil, only Erlebnis transports and liberates one from the realities of time and space. One actually occupies an alternate relationship to oneself. Erfahrung is experienced as “object” or “thing” outside oneself. Musil coined the term Ratioid to describe this domain, where conscious activity predominates. Hence Ratioid and Nicht-Ratioid describe two contradictory realms of knowledge; the latter lies beyond the limits of descriptive language, and can only be accessed through poetic inspiration.

Musil’s essayismus shares an essential aspect with Bakhtin’s dialogism, with its emphasis on the continuous open-ended process of life. Musil links “ethics” with the artistic moment in creation, conceived in terms of a paradoxical “other condition” which he appropriately names der andere Zustand. However, when Musil attempts to bring this concept to confront sociohistorical reality, he becomes increasingly disillusioned. The onset of the Second World War makes it impossible for him to adapt “essayism” to the collective rather than the individual. He is unable to come to terms with his concept of a social utopia and realises how daunting his task has become. Hunt describes Musil’s greatest contribution to writing and thinking as his ability to “activate possibilities”—or Möglichkeiten, to use Musil’s term—in which “the final word has not yet been spoken and never will be”.19

Subject without Nation is the title of Stefan Jonsson’s analysis of Musil’s portrait of Viennese society “as an unequalled and presageful exploration of the ways in which collective identities—of culture, gender, class, nationality, social character and the like—are ascribed

18 A. Hunt, “Toward an Unfinalizable Dialogue: Robert Musil’s Essayism and Bakhtinian Dialogism”, College Literature, vol. 22, 1995, pp. 116–24. 19 S. G. Morson and C. Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1990, p. 52. 23 to human beings”.20 Jonsson postulates that Austria’s and Ulrich’s search for respective identities must be investigated in tandem:

“The novel reveals the ways in which dominant ideologies of patriarchy, nationalism, and racism reduce the human subject to its cultural origin or sexual disposition by imposing on it an allegedly natural, and hence inescapable, essence, coded in terms of ethnicity, gender and class. … not only does Musil dismiss the idea that the identities of persons and communities are expressions of inborn dispositions, he also introduces a paradigm founded on the assumption that the human subject is historically constituted by the way in which it is named, gendered, educated, and shaped by social institutions and cultural conventions.”21

Jonsson proposes that this paradigm can be related to theories of human subjectivity, and the subsequent discourses associated with them, that have only recently emerged in philosophy and cultural theory, whether these discourses are called postmodern, poststructural, postcolonial, or other. Most important is Jonsson’s argument that the specific historical reason for Musil’s radical insight was the fact that The Man Without Qualities was conceived in a postimperial space, Austria’s first republic, which, like Germany’s, was pervaded by ideologies of nationality, race and patriarchal authority:

“Now that the material and institutional support of the imperial apparatus had vanished, the values and traditions that had anchored every Austrian subject in the imperial order were revealed in all their contingency. Cultural identities that had been honoured as necessary and natural expressions of the order of the world evaporated and left emptiness behind. … Musil … began exploring the notion that human identity is founded on lack. … the war exposed that the human subject has no intrinsic disposition at all … Neither good nor bad, the human subject is shapeless in itself, shaped only by situations and events.”22

Musil’s argument was that although the Great War resulted in the recognition that identity was a fiction, postwar events revealed a great demand for that fiction. In his seminal essay “The German as Symptom”, Musil declared that the modernisation of society had eroded the traditional belief system of the German people, yet the result of political and economic

20 S. Jonsson, Subject without Nation: Robert Musil and the History of Modern Identity, Duke University Press, Durham, 2000, p. 2. 21 Ibid., p. 3. 22 Ibid., p. 9. 24 development was the yearning, not least among intellectuals, for stable models of identity.23 In his essays Musil dismissed the attempts to reinforce collective identities of gender, nation, race and ethnicity. The development of a Musilian subject was contradictory to what Jonsson names the “expressivist paradigm”:

“… Musil conceptualises subjectivity as a processual phenomenon, moving towards subject positions, or identities, that it must assume because these positions promise unity and recognition, and which it must then reject because they never fulfil that promise. Subjectivity is this process, a process best understood in terms of negativity. It cannot be grasped in pure form except as lack, a lack that generates a need, which, in turn, drives the human agent toward the identities offered to it by the social milieu, and then away from them. Exceeding all identities, this mode of subjectivity transforms itself reactively through its resistance to the laws of culture, which work to affix it in one stable position.”

Jonsson compares the Musilian subject with a range of subsequent paradigms concluding that they share the similar conditions of lack and negativity; “the subject in progress” of Julia Kristeva, the “ipseity” of Paul Ricoeur, Theodore W. Adorno’s “particular” as an agent of negativity, Jean-Paul Sartre’s “ecstatic” consciousness, Louis Althusser’s “subject of ideological interpellation”, Giorgio Agamben’s “singularity concept”, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s “deterritorialised subjectivity”. Gayatri Spivak’s “superadequate” subject is offered, along with notions of hybridity and transculturation attributable to postcolonial theory, as further evidence of the paradigm of negativity that Musil had developed in his essays and novels decades before:

“Jacques Rancière describes the subject as ‘an in-between … between several names, statuses and identities, between humanity and inhumanity, citizenship and its denial.’ This is also an adequate account of the Musilian subject. Rejecting cultural roots and social roles, the Musilian subject liberates itself from all conditions of belonging. It is a subject without nation.”24

In Jonsson’s estimation, earlier analyses of The Man Without Qualities suffer from the legacy of what has named the Habsburg myth, which offers only a stereotypical

23 R. Musil, “The German as Symptom”, Robert Musil: Precision and Soul, Essays and Addresses, ed. and trans. Burton Pike and David S. Luft, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1990, pp. 150-192. 24 Jonsson, op. cit., p. 9. The reference is to J. Rancière, “Politics, Identification and Subjectivization”, The Identity in Question, ed. John Rajchman, Routledge, New York, 1995, p. 67. 25 image of postimperial culture in Austria, with the consequence that the focus of attention is simplistic and retrospective.25 In contrast, Jonsson considers Musil’s novel to be a forward- oriented projection, a transfiguration of his life experiences from the 1920s and 1930s. Convinced that the subjects of postimperial society must not be reduced to traditional hierarchic social positions,

“Musil projected his exploration of this possibility into the immediate past, using the fallen empire as a field of experiments for trying new notions of humanity and society. The empire that preceded the war was thus transformed into a past future, an open historical horizon that included the utopian possibility of a supranational and transcultural space, in which the human subject … recognized the heterogeneity of all identities.”26

Jonsson draws compelling parallels between Musil’s postimperial Austria and the present environment defined by global economic and technological changes that have undermined, among other things, the ideology of solidarity and progress that was based on the class identity of the labour movement. Similarly, the homogenous nation-state is no longer considered to offer its populace a common history, community and destiny:

“Today, as in Musil’s time, these conflicts appear on the cultural and ideological level as a struggle concerning ‘identity’. Deconstructed and disputed by theorists, only to be reconstructed or forcibly imputed by intellectuals and politicians, ‘identity’ has emerged as a pseudoconcept … debates on ‘cultural studies’, ‘postcoloniality’, and ‘globalization’ … reflect how social, cultural, and economic relations are increasingly polarized between a tendency to accept or affirm cultural identities as the fundamental building blocks of society and a tendency to deny the importance of cultural origins. … At the other end we find those … who celebrate a universal cosmopolitanism, travelling cultures of persons with multiple identities, or the allegedly liberating potential of free trade and finance capital. … There are other alternatives … Yet they have been without tangible impact on a world locked in a struggle between the deterritorializing momentum of liberal capitalism and the reterritorializing efforts of various ‘fundamentalisms’.”27

25 C. Magris, Der habsburgische Mythos in der österreichischen Literatur, trans. M Pásztory, Otto Müller, Salzburg, 1966, pp. 7–27. Quoted in Jonsson, op. cit., p. 13. 26 Jonsson, op. cit., p. 14. 27 Ibid., pp. 15–16. 26 Jonsson invites us to read The Man Without Qualities in the same manner that Musil read the fallen empire, as a past future horizon of possibilities, constructed to illustrate his thesis that “identity” must be understood as an effect, not as a cause. As a consequence, identity cannot explain social and cultural events:

“… identities are invented, reinforced, and unmade in accord with the psychic and material needs of a certain population, whose individuals depend on collective identities to recognize themselves and others as … nation, state or culture. Such collective identities cannot be analysed in terms of substance, for they have none, but only in terms of function. An identity may be defined then, to cite Marx, as ‘an ensemble of social relations,’ and its function is to stabilize these relations.”28

By Jonsson’s definition, “identity” can only be grasped by inquiring into the historical origins and social functions that explain how and why it exists in its current forms. Identity refers to:

“… a crossroad where the psyche is imbricated with the social, a site of negotiation between human subjectivity and society. ‘Subjectivity’, on the other hand, refers to an ineffable agency that precedes language, culture and ideology, and hence also the identities that both enable and constrain the human’s articulation of its being. Human subjectivity will necessarily aspire to socially recognized identities. Just as necessarily, it will negate these identities.”29

Robert Musil directed all his intellectual capacity to construct The Man Without Qualities as a workshop for trying out, for searching, for essaying issues of identity as they were experienced in his time. Essayismus was the means he devised for exploring the potential he believed mankind capable of. His inestimable legacy is that in doing so, he supplied a blueprint that enables us to examine, interpret and negotiate the labyrinth of our own times, the better to understand those human “qualities”, the lack of which defines our possibilities.

28 Ibid., p. 17. 29 Ibid., p.17. 27 AUGUST SANDER

“Cataloguing has dangerous overtones.” —Hans Haacke1

“He turned the pages of those thick old albums with those family photographs … and the closer he came to the beginnings of that new art of picture-taking, the more proudly, it seemed to him, the subjects faced the camera. There they were, with one foot placed on a pile of cardboard boulders wreathed in paper ivy or, if they were officers, with a saber posed between their straddled legs; the girls had their hands folded in their laps and their eyes opened wide; the emancipated men stood their ground in creaseless trousers that rose up like curling smoke, in coats with a bold romantic sweep to them … The time must have been around 1860 and 1870, when photography had emerged from its earliest stages … but for the moment all we have is the photographs … people in general felt it was just the right time for a technology capable of immortalizing them as well.” —Robert Musil2

Born November 17, 1876 in Herdorf, in the Siegerland district of Germany, August Sander was the fourth child of a family of nine brothers and sisters. His earliest working experience was at the local San Fernando mine and it was here also that he had his first experience of photography, working as an assistant to a commercial photographer engaged to document aspects of the mine’s operations. Transfixed by the image revealed on the camera’s ground glass, Sander sought the financial help of a family relative to obtain photographic equipment, and with his father’s assistance established a darkroom to process and print his first negatives. Among these earliest images are group photographs of miners from the Herdorf pits. Called up for military service in 1897, Sander was stationed in Trier, where, as the assistant to the photographer Georg Jung, he was able to develop his technical acumen. From 1899, working as a photographer’s assistant, he travelled to various cities including Berlin, Halle, and Magdeburg.

Having studied art in , Sander settled in 1901 in , Austria, where he was employed by the Grief Photographic Studio as first camera operator. Sander married Anna Seitenmacher, daughter of a court official from Trier and raised sufficient capital to buy the

1 H. Haacke, Pressplay: Contemporary Artists in Conversation, Phaidon, London, 2005, p. 220. 2 R. Musil, The Man Without Qualities, trans. S. Wilkins, ed. B. Pike, Knopf, New York, 1995, pp. 497–98.

28 studio, first with a partner but subsequently, after the birth of his first son Erich, as sole operator.3 In 1910, two years after the birth of his second son, Günther, Sander sold the Linz studio and moved to Cologne, establishing an apartment/studio in the Lindenthal district. At this time he began the series of excursions to the Westerwald region, simultaneously building a new clientele among its inhabitants, who remained the focus of his photography for decades to come. 1911 saw the birth of twins, of which only the daughter Sigrid survived.4 The same year saw the move to another studio/apartment situation in Dürener Strasse, again in the Lindenthal district. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 resulted in Sander being drafted into the Landsturm or territorial reserve. Anna Sander maintained the studio practice in his absence and supported the family with portrait photography, principally of soldiers. On Sander’s return in 1918, he again resumed his Westerwald portrait activity.

Events, however, had taken a significant turn, with the establishment of Germany’s first democratic republic and the ensuing political and social unrest. Considerable elements of the populace were unable to identify with the new circumstances and the conflicting claims of powerful political movements and special interest groups.5 The new German republic’s instabilities were exacerbated by punitive post-war reparations, and the euphoria that had greeted the outbreak of war had given way to an awareness of the horror, loss and catastrophe of mechanised warfare, with the result that intellectuals and artists concentrated on the search for new means of expression commensurate with the new circumstances of the republic, and which engaged critically with contemporary events. In Cologne, considerable influence was exerted by the Gruppe progressiver Kunstler, or Group of Progressive Artists, which was centred on the artists and Franz Seiwert. Marxists of the radical left, yet critical of Communist dogma, they engaged with Russian but sought a more systematic approach to the ordering of images:

“… Seiwert called for an art of ‘collective informational signs’ whose pictorial organization would correspond to the organization of society. Art was to be an instrument for the destruction of the ruling classes, but hardened by scientific (in the

3 For a brief, concise resume of Sander’s early years see S. Lange, “A Testimony to Photography: Reflections on the Life and Work of August Sander”, in August Sander, Taschen, Cologne, 1999, pp. 105–15. 4 The photograph “My Wife in Joy and Sorrow”, which depicts Anna Sander holding both twins, is reproduced in August Sander: In photography there are no unexplained shadows!, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1997, p. 85. 5 See S.W. Halperin, Germany Tried Democracy: A Political History of the Reich from 1918 to 1933, Norton, New York, 1965, for a thorough analysis of the political machinations of the Weimar years in Germany.

29 Marxian sense) rather than propagandistic means: indeed Seiwert and the group attacked propagandistic artists of the Left such as Grosz Dix and Kollwitz for emphasizing the externals of society—for example, through caricature of appearances—instead of revealing its structure. Work being the sustenance of society, art must be the manifestation of the organization of work (and not a representation of work in the 19th-century tradition). In unison with other Left or Utopian groups, the denounced easel painting as the product of the marketplace.”6

Their principal medium was print and among their favourite formats was the chart, as illustrated in their journal A bis Z (A to Z). Their figurative style was derived from the mannequin forms of, among others, Léger, and reminiscent of Schlemmer. “Their work became flatter … throughout the 20s—more and more schematic, abstract and ‘informational’.”7 The systematic and impersonal ideals of the group were best exemplified by Gerd Arntz, who published Zwölf Häuser der Zeit (Twelve Houses of the Time) in 1927. A portfolio of woodcuts, it consisted of rigorously structured black and white sectional drawings of a prison, bank, factory, hotel, nightclub, brothel, hospital, apartment house, department store, palace, sports arena and military barracks. Its precursor was Seiwert’s Sieben Antlitze der Zeit (Seven Faces of the Time), published in 1921, which consisted of casually montaged polemical drawings of cartoon-like figures of workers, teachers, clergymen, union leaders, bureaucrats, soldiers and capitalists.

Sander was a generation older than the progressives, however he had established considerable rapport with many of the artists, and with Seiwert in particular, to the extent that Seiwert lived in the Sander household for a considerable period. According to Seiwert, Sander had already embarked on the assembly of a contemporary photo history shortly after the end of the war. He now revisited earlier negatives, eliminating the retouching of the negative necessitated by the demands of commercial portraiture and reprinted the images on fine-grained gloss “technical” printing paper. Kurt Wolff, Sander’s publisher at Transmare Verlag, Munich, published sixty of the images as Antlitz der Zeit, with a forward by German writer and physician Alfred Döblin (Berlin Alexanderplatz).8 On its first publication it was advertised as follows:

6 R. Pommer, “August Sander and the Cologne Progressives”, Art in America, no. 64, Jan/Feb 1976, p. 38. 7 Ibid. 8 A. Döblin, “Faces, Images, and Their Truth”, trans. Michael Robertson, A. Sander, Face of Our Time, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich, 2003.

30 “The sixty shots of twentieth-century Germans which the author includes in his Face of our Time represents only a small selection drawn from August Sander’s major work, which he began in 1910 and which he has spent twenty years producing and adding fresh nuances to. The work as a whole is divided into seven groups, corresponding to the existing social structure, and is to be published in some 45 portfolios of 12 photographs each. The author has not approached this immense self-imposed task— the like of which has never been attempted before on this scale—from an academic standpoint, nor with scientific aids, and has received neither advice neither from racial theorists nor from social researchers. He has approached his task as a photographer from his own immediate observations of human nature and human appearances, of the human environment, and with an infallible instinct for what is genuine and essential. And he has brought the task to completion with the fanaticism of a seeker of truth, and without prejudice either for or against any one party, tendency, class or society.”9

Sander’s portrait practice strived to achieve naturalistic, individualistic renderings and hence is paradoxical in nature. “The individual is viewed as a representative figure (of a group, of a profession, of a class) and figures are ‘fixed’ amidst a series of complex social codes.” Consequently there exists a dialectical tension within the photograph between public and private, a “continuing questioning of the terms of portrayal and, by implication, the public image which hides the interior self”.10 Sander was one of the few portrait photographers whose practice focused simultaneously on the essayistic and the fictive:

“Sander’s monument, the collection of 60 photos published in 1929 as Antlitz der Zeit (Face of the Time) is reminiscent in its structure (as well as its title) of Seiwert’s Seven Faces and Arntz’s Twelve Houses … The various class levels are clearly discernable from milieus, attributes, clothes, etc. Sander insisted that the sequence of the photos be his alone, according to his son; and the arrangement is precisely what Seiwert criticized when he reviewed the book, otherwise favourably, in A to Z. Apparently Sander departed too much from the group’s ideal of an art of organization, one which would parallel society’s system of organizing class and labour, when his sequencing loosened to include un-Marxian types of more particularized interests—boxers, an herb doctor, a student dueller, etc. … a certain sardonic note in Sander’s overall structure … may have seemed incompatible with the esthetic ideology of a ‘scientific’ Marxism. ‘The

9 A. Sander, Face of Our Time, Introduction by Alfred Döblin, trans. M. Robertson, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich, 2003, p. 1. 10 G. Clarke, “Public Faces, Private Lives: August Sander and the Social Typology of the Portrait Photograph”, The Portrait in Photography, Reaktion, London, 1992, p. 72.

31 aim’ Seiwert wrote, ‘must be an herbarium of human existence, so to speak: place, time activity.’ As Marx had said in the introduction of Capital, individuals merely personify economic categories, as representatives of particular class relationships. Photography had freed painting from the depiction of temporal reality so that painters could undertake this task of structural revelation with more abstract ‘collective informational signs.’ Exactly the realistic individualism we now prize in Sander’s work is what received Seiwert’s implicit disapproval.”11

Ultimately, according to Pommer, Sander’s output is the confluence of interests in social typology among Germany’s Leftists. While the progressives exerted considerable influence on Sander, it was in fact a symbiotic relationship. Examination of Zeitgenossen: August Sander und die Kunstszene der 20er Jahre im Rheinland12 reveals the extraordinary extent of processes of cross-fertilisation, of ideas, of inspirations, subjects and treatments that took place between Sander and members of the group. Many of the progressives had come of age in the years of the First World War. Consequently Sander would not have shared their wartime experiences and hence their radical Marxism. While not of their political persuasion, he was constrained by their artistic rigour. In contrast, later work, including a trip to Sardinia in 1927 and landscapes of the German countryside, have been criticised as “conventionally romantic” and “conventionally picturesque” respectively, “in some cases even redolent of the Heimatschutz or nativist and conservationist movements of the time”.13 The year 1933 brought National Socialism, the death of Seiwert and the end of the progressives. Sander continued to photograph and to review his extensive catalogue with his broader project in mind. His overarching ambition for People of the 20th Century was nothing less than a photographic typology of Weimar society, a compendium of the German people, and as such, a comprehensive atlas of the culture of his time.

For August Sander, truth was not confined to the single image. His concern was to seek broader truths by making series of photographs addressing wider issues. People of the 20th Century was to expand on the model established by Antlitz der Zeit. Photography and

11 Pommer, op. cit., p. 39. 12 Zeitgenossen: August Sander und die Kunstszene der 20er Jahre im Rheinland (Contemporaries: August Sander and the Artscene of the 20’s in the Rhineland), Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne, 2000. In this comprehensive catalogue, many comparisons are drawn between photographs of Sander’s and paintings, prints, sculpture, woodcuts etc. of the various members of the progressives. Interestingly, many of Sander’s portraits are derivative of artworks produced years before. Conversely, many artists used Sander as a literal reference for works in many media. 13Pommer, op. cit., p.39.

32 physiognomy would provide Sander with the “universal language” and the means of interpretation that he believed would drive his opus to completion:

“… an event’s total appearance is its physiognomy. We know that people are formed by the light and air, by their inherited traits, and their actions, and we recognise people and distinguish one from the other by their appearance. We can tell from appearance the work someone does or does not do; we can read in his face whether he is happy or troubled, for life leaves its trail there unavoidably. A well-known poem says that every person’s story is written plainly on his face, although not everyone can read it. These are the runes of a new, but likewise an ancient language.”14

In today’s lexicon, the notion of physiognomy sounds at best anachronistic, at worst obscure and suspicious. Nineteenth-century associations with pseudosciences colour our interpretation, but in Sander’s day, in , historical circumstances provided fertile ground for the resurgence of theories such as physiognomy. The desire to establish analogies between appearance and concepts associated with an “inner self”, an identity, is an ancient one. “Physiognomy promotes conservative values in its choice of physiology over sociology. And it reveals a biologist, if not racist, agenda in its insistence on reading the body as the primary marker of difference.”15 Since the eighteenth century and the time of the Swiss clergyman Lavater16, and more recently (in particular since the inception of the photographic process), portraits, photographic images and the physiognomic process have been inextricably tied to political and social concerns:

“Images both make possible and resist external determination and need to be examined in the context of specific representational practices and their relevance at a particular historical juncture … Traditionally physiognomy stands in opposition to the modern … It operates as an instrument of order and control … Physiognomy becomes a new/old way of defining boundaries—between the visible and the hidden, between tradition and innovation, between self and other. Its primary goal is certainty or, rather, resistance to the loss of certainty. The fear of losing all distinctions of class,

14 A. Sander, “The Nature and Growth of Photography, Lecture 5: Photography as a Universal Language”, (1931), trans. A. Halley, The Massachusettes Review, vol. 19, no. 4, 1978, p. 677. 15 S. Hake, “Faces of Weimar Germany”, The Image in Dispute: Art and Cinema in the Age of Photography, ed. D. Andrew, Univ. of Texas Press, Austin, 1977, p. 117. 16 J.C. Lavater, Essays on Physiognomy Designed to Promote the Knowledge and the Love of Mankind, trans. H. Hunter, J. Murray, London, 1792, np. See A. Sekula, “The Body and the Archive”, The Contest of Meaning, ed. R. Bolton, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1989, pp. 343–88, for a thorough investigation and analysis of photography’s role in the politicisation of the human body and the socio-political consequences of documentation and the archive.

33 gender, and race can only be counted with a return to the body as the repository of identity and truth. Physiognomy as a representational practice claims that this body is still accessible to experience, that this truth can still be found.”17

Despite the common use of “face” (Gesicht) in Sander’s title, Antlitz is more correctly translated as “countenance”. By creating an Antlitz der Zeit, Sander shifts the physiognomic focus from one of representation to “representativeness”. Sander’s gift was the ability to discern not just the typical among his tens of thousands of subjects, rather to infer those visual qualities that constituted the Type. Not only the countenance, but also the gesture, or “mobile physiognomy”, differentiated the few from the many. Consequently, physiognomy as a means of interpretation is developed into the social realm, “and the visible traces of the body are enlisted in a sustained argument about social and sexual identities, self- presentation, and visual perception. The goal is no longer simply to portray a select group of individuals but to create a composite face—a face whose physiognomy is of a theoretical rather than iconographic nature.”18 In a compelling argument incorporating Sander’s images, and quotes from both Alfred Döblin’s introduction to Antlitz der Zeit and the script that Sander had prepared for a 1931 radio broadcast, Hake analyses Sander’s physiognomic practice and emphasises his use of profession, rather than class, as the principal category of classification.19 Similarly, in the larger project, People of the 20th Century, definitions of profession were to be modelled on the Ständegesellschaft, or medieval guild. A pictorial precedent exists in the fifteenth and sixteenth century Ständebücher, or “Book of Trades” which depicted the social hierarchy in images and accompanying texts.20

Sander’s proposed image sequence was based on an overly simplistic cyclical model of the social structure analogous to the cycle of growth, maturation and decay of organic life. It began with the Stamm-Mappe or “Germinal Portfolio” (derived from Stämme, the original German tribes). The “earthbound man” forms the basis from which we ascend to craftsmen and urban proletariat, the professions, artists, and then descend to the dispossessed, marginalised and infirm. Such an anachronistic structure compounds the

17 Hake, op. cit., p. 118. 18 Ibid., pp. 122–23. 19 Sander, op. cit., pp. 674-679. 20 For a more complete explanation of Sander’s historical precedents see R. Kramer, August Sander, Photographs of an Epoch 1904–1959, Aperture, New York, 1980, pp.19–20. See also U. Keller, August Sander: Citizens of the Twentieth Century, Portrait Photographs 1892–1952, ed. G. Sander, text Ulrich Keller, trans. L. Keller, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1986, pp. 24–25.

34 drama of social change, particularly when that change is experienced as loss, as exemplified in the final section of marginalised or “other” people.

Reconciliations between a medieval German past and a promised collective future are problematic, but typical of a peculiarly German school of thought that has been identified as “”21, whose advocates, the theorist Ernst Jünger and historian among others, promoted a socialism based on particularly German traditions, a national Socialism. Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West) was Spengler’s major achievement. For Spengler, physiognomy constituted an “organic” approach to historical analysis. Gestalt (Form) was his guide. Sander is known to have read Spengler, and in George Baker’s estimation, it was clearly Sander’s narrative intention to replicate the concepts expounded by Spengler in The Decline of the West.22 This is in direct contrast to the claims made by Susanne Lange, Director of the Photographische Sammlung, SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne, in the editorial preface to People of the 20th Century.

“In the course of preparations for this project, one fundamental tenet was confirmed: Sander was very much concerned to work out a concept of development, which runs throughout his work. But his idea of cyclical development and the concept of impermanence in his work owed nothing to social theories steeped in a mystical view of nature, or to nationalistic thinking and even less to racial doctrine. In his portraits, Sander deliberately traced the formation of various different social types, which were characterized by their working, social and family environments or specifically by their lack of any public or private anchorage. His work … is … primarily, the subjective expression of an artistic concept encompassing pictures from different and sometimes widely disparate periods and contexts.”23

Ultimately, since his typology utilised physiognomy as an indicator of social meaning, People of the 20th Century would, as a result be, “deeply embroiled in that quintessential Weimar battle between the aestheticization of political life and the politicization of art”24:

“Sander’s physiognomic project functions as a medium of remembrance and a means of resistance against the equalising forces of modernity; therein lies its documentary

21 For an analysis of this paradoxical phenomenon, see J. Herf, Reactionary Modernism, Cambridge Univ.Press, Cambridge, 1984. 22 G. Baker, “Photography between Narrativity and Stasis”, October, no. 76, Spring, 1996, p. 89. 23 S. Lange, August sander: People of the Twentieth Century, Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne. 2002. pp. 12-13. 24 Baker, loc. cit.

35 value. At the same time, the story of each individual, couple, family, or group intersects at all points with the transformation of classes and professions over the course of two decades; from this emerges the work’s fictional quality. …The tension between documentation and imagination, between chronology and narrative, keeps Sander’s social analysis in suspension, producing an effect not dissimilar to the shifts of focus in photography itself.”25

The commercial success of Antlitz der Zeit had been limited, however it provided a forum for addressing broader questions of representation and social change. For some critics, the primary incentive lay in the failure of Sander’s physiognomic exercise. For them, the modern body was already indecipherable.

“He’s a man without qualities … There are millions of them nowadays … It’s the human type produced by our time! … Just look at him! What would you take him for? Does he look like a doctor, a businessman, a painter, or a diplomat? … Well does he look like a mathematician? … A mathematician looks like nothing at all …Except for the Roman Catholic clergy, no one these days looks the way he should, because we use our heads even more impersonally than our hands.”26

Class difference was seen to have dissolved into the merely functional, and the camera was thought unable to interpret or decipher it. The modern body, by way of contrast, had “triumphed as the willing recipient of the phantasmagoria offered by modern consumer society”.27 In 1934, Sander’s publisher informed him that the Reich Chamber of Visual Arts had ordered that remaining copies of the book be confiscated and the printer’s plates destroyed. No explanation was ever offered. While other taxonomic studies were initiated for propagandist purposes, Antlitz der Zeit proved conclusively that the “ideal” or “typical” German did not exist. In the same year Sander’s eldest son was incarcerated for ten years because of his political affiliations and activities. Sander was often under surveillance and his photographic practice was constrained by political circumstances.

In an attempt to locate photographic meaning as necessarily torn between narrativity and stasis, Baker cites photography’s excessive claims of “objectivity” and, referencing its potential for and history of venturing into the realms of the fictional and propagandistic,

25 Hake, op. cit., p. 130. 26 Musil, op. cit,. pp. 62–63. 27 Hake, op. cit., p. 132.

36 Baker argues that the recent trajectory of photographic criticism is away from “a (modernist) ontology of the photographic image toward a pragmatics or even a rhetoric of photography. Arguing against modernist conceptions of the purity of photographic meaning, Allan Sekula for one has repeatedly insisted on regarding photographic meaning as a hybrid construction, depending on both textual and contextual factors in order to be capable of being read.”28 Baker constructs his model using the photography associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit period in Weimar Germany and examines Sander’s Citizens of the 20th Century29 as a work that has been embraced “as an exemplar of the socially engaged wing of Neue Sachlichkeit photography, in opposition to the more aesthetic (one could substitute fetishistic) explorations of a Karl Blossfeldt or Albert Renger-Patzsch”.30

Neue Sachlichkeit emerged more as a set of shared cultural values and attitudes, rather than a distinct movement, and the term is attributed to Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub as the title for an exhibition at the Kunsthalle in 1925. “New Objectivity”, as it has come to be commonly translated, was canonised along essentially political lines by Hartlaub and Grosz in 1922 in Das Kunstblatt, Germany’s leading art magazine of the time, in response to “Neonaturalism”, a new trend recognised in the visual arts:

“Grosz distinguished between politically engaged ‘objectivity’ and that of reactionary ‘neoclassicists’… while Hartlaub similarly divided the movement into two groups: the right-wing ‘classicists’ who sought calm after the chaos of the war and early post war years, and the left-wing ‘verists’ who tried to depict the true face of the times.”31

Hartlaub’s exhibition consisted of art that rejected the ecstatic themes and heavy impasto favoured by expressionist artists. In his catalogue, Hartlaub made reference to those artists who had become disillusioned with the utopian aspirations that had previously sustained them. “postexpressionists were drawn … to carefully delineated quotidian objects and secular subjects. And … smooth postexpressionist surfaces now effaced ‘like polished metal’ all marks of the artist’s hand.”32

28 Baker, op. cit., pp. 72–113. 29 Baker’s analysis is based on a previos publication, August Sander: Citizens of the Twentieth Century, Portrait photographs 1892-1952, ed. Gunther Sander, text, Ulrich Keller, trans. Linda Keller, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1986. 30 Baker, op. cit., p. 76. 31 M. Makela, “Politicizing Painting: The Case of New Objectivity”, Legacies of Modernism: Art and Politics in Northern Europe, 1890–1950, ed. P.C. McBride, R.W. McCormick and M. Zagar, , New York, 2007, p. 133. 32 Ibid., p. 135.


The smooth surfaces and detailed renderings of Neue Sachlichkeit painting coincided with a shift in photographic practice from the heavily hand-worked surfaces of gum-bichromate prints of “art photography” (of which Sander had been a consummate practitioner) to the cool, austere surfaces of both the “New Vision” or Neue Optik (whether theorised by the progressivist modernist Moholy-Nagy or critiqued by the conservative Renger-Patzsch), and the “Objective” practice of Sander. Contemporary advances in photographic technology such as the introduction of the Leica, a hand-held miniature camera, faster optics, and more sensitive emulsions brought about radical changes in image making commensurate with the changes taking place in political life and the social environment.

Sander never embraced these developments, preferring instead to maintain his technique of using already outmoded orthochromatic glass plate negatives, a tripod-mounted large format camera and lenses of archaic design.33 His method required long exposures and demanded that subjects compose themselves before the camera in a calculated and performative manner. His antiquated equipment and arcane methods are one of the most overlooked aspects of his practice, yet examination of contemporary prints reveals qualities of the image that are, not surprisingly, never captured in reproduction. The extended range and sombre tones of the photographic materials and practices of his time result in print qualities that are several registers below those of the modern prints reprinted from the original negatives for reproduction purposes. Combined with digital reproduction technology and duotone printing processes of the utmost quality, the pages of People of the 20th Century exhibit altogether different qualities from the viewing experience offered by Sander’s own production.

Above all, Sander’s methodology contributes overwhelmingly to the sense of melancholy that is all-pervasive in his project. Baker has recognised this melancholic disposition and refers to Barthe’s conclusions that it is inherent in the photograph’s stasis and “ghostly insistence” on something that was (as an indexical trace). Barthes has correctly placed photography’s tense as the future anterior: this will have been.34 However, Baker’s essay develops beyond Barthe’s analyses to the broader condition of Neue Sachlichkeit melancholia

33 For details of Sander’s technique, see Keller, op. cit., pp. 26–28. 34 “I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake.” R. Barthes, Camera Lucida, trans. Richard Howard, Vintage, London, 1993, p. 96.

38 as essayed by Walter Benjamin in “Left Wing Melancholy”.35 In addition, Baker claims that the most interesting formal aspects of People of the 20th Century “is precisely its imbrication of the narrative sequence within the practices of traditional still photography … a narrative that entailed antimodernist claims to the marked devolution of the social sphere … a devolution that gives rise to the uncanny aspects that are undeniably present in his photographic work.”36 For Baker it is this narrativity, this essayistic quality of Sander’s photographic language that accounts for the persistent interest in People of the 20th Century.

Attempts to locate the uncanny at the centre of Sander’s opus in Neue Sachlichkeit practice are not new. “The repressions unlocked by the uncanny within the milieu of are just as present in its dialectical counterpart in antimodernism, Neue Sachlichkeit …”.37 In Compulsive Beauty, Hal Foster has retheorised Surrealism, stating that the surreal is precisely the uncanny itself.38 Theodore Adorno realised the correspondence of the two movements, stating that, “Surrealism forms the complement of the Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity, which came into being at the same time … [It] gathers up the things the Neue Sachlichkeit denies to human beings; the distortions attest to the violence that prohibition has done to the objects of desire.”39

While Sander’s legacy is evident in much contemporary documentary photographic practice, in Baker’s opinion only Eugène Atget provides an alternate historical precedent, since the productive mechanisms shaping both oeuvres were the related concepts of both system and archive. The surrealist link is forged here. Courted by Breton, Atget was “appropriated” by the Paris Surrealists. His image “L’Eclipse—Avril 1912” appeared on the cover of La Révolution Surréaliste, retitled “Derniéres Conversions”. 40

Sander’s original structure for People of the 20th Century was mapped out between 1925 and 1927 in a typewritten draft. The “existing social order” was to occupy a portrait atlas of seven volumes consisting of at least forty-five portfolios, each of twelve images. Here one

35 W. Benjamin, “Left Wing Melancholy”, Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Vol. 2, Pt. 2, ed. M.W. Jennings, H. Eiland and G. Smith, Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1999, pp. 423–27. Benjamin believed that leftist Neue Sachlichkeit literature was alienated from both the spheres of production and the working class, resulting in the aestheticisation of the political struggle. 36 Baker, op. cit., p. 77. 37 Ibid. 38 H. Foster, Compulsive Beauty, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1993. 39 T. Adorno, “Looking Back on Surrealism”, Notes on Literature, vol. 1, trans. S.W. Nicholsen, Columbia Univ. Press, 1991. Quoted in Baker, op. cit., p. 78. 40 For the most comprehensive account of Atget’s practice, see M. Nesbit, Atget’s Seven Albums, Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, 1992.

39 witnesses the “repetitive rhythm of accumulation” characteristic of the archive as the site in which knowledge will be produced. 41 Sander unwittingly promotes this system; the parameters of the archive are the parameters of loss and control. As Sekula has argued, archival structures occupy the space “between the discourses of science and art … between narration and categorization, between chronology and inventory”42:

“Inasmuch as Sander … depends upon the archival representational structure, it replicates the bourgeois stratification and hierarchy of knowledge, a stratification that was under attack at the very moment and historical location of Sander’s project— through the increasing rationalization of modern industrial life and through the increasing collectivisation of modern social life … This is itself an ambiguous, contradictory condition for a photographic project that was supposedly of a leftist, socially critical bent.”43

Sander had no less a champion than Walter Benjamin. In his “Little History of Photography”, Benjamin looked beyond the polished surface of Neue Sachlichkeit photography to discover something he named “the optical unconscious”, in the sense that “a space informed by human consciousness gives way to a space informed by the unconscious … It is through photography that we first discover the existence of this optical unconscious, just as we discover the instinctual unconscious through psychoanalysis”.44 However, Benjamin appears to ignore the major contradiction in Sander’s practice. In response to the assault of the avant-garde in the early part of the twentieth century, photography had maintained its mimetic iconicity. Physiognomic likeness in traditional single frame imagery amounted to more than restoring mimetic representation, it confirmed in the spectator “the continued validity of essentialist and biologistic concepts of identity. This foundational—if not outright ideological—promise is a latent argument made in every photographic portrait of the twentieth century.”45 Benjamin describes the predicament of the photographic portrait and what he considers the necessary preconditions for the resurrection of the genre. In consideration of the

41 See Rosalind Krauss’s seminal essay “Photography’s Discursive Spaces”, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1985, pp. 131–50. 42 A. Sekula, “Photography Between Labor and Capital”, Mining Photographs and Other Pictures: Photographs by Leslie Shedden, ed. B. Buchloh and R. Wilkie, Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, 1983, p. 197, quoted in Baker, op. cit., pp. 82–83. 43 Baker, op. cit., p. 83. 44 W. Benjamin, “Little History of Photography”, Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Vol. 2, Pt. 2, op. cit., pp. 512. 45 B. Buchloh, “Residual Resemblance: Three Notes on the end of Portraiture”, Face-Off: The Portrait in Recent Art, Institute of Contemporary Art, Univ. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1994, p. 56.

40 evidence submitted by Antlitz der Zeit, Benjamin maintains that Sander’s thorough, systematic and quasi-scientific approach to the proposed physiognomic survey of subjectivity is exemplary, while ignoring the fact that, while the organisation of the images is serial, it necessarily argues the case of social-democrat ideology, as espoused by Spengler, that a pre-ordained social ontology exists where individuals find their place in a hierarchically, cyclically structured social order, grounded in religion, nature, class, ethnicity and race.

This is the same “expressivist” model of identity that was investigated in the previous chapter with regard to Musil’s novel. What Sander had constructed was an ambivalent model of the social order, one that Robert Musil would have found obsolete and lacking. Sander’s People of the 20th Century was never completed. Sander never saw his major work published in his lifetime. Like The Man Without Qualities it was left for others to interpret and assemble later in the century. Like The Man Without Qualities it lacks a cohesive narrative structure and appears fragmented, interrupted, contradictory and ambiguous. Like The Man Without Qualities it invites close and thorough investigation, and offers rewards commensurate with the order of magnitude of the undertaking. Epic in proportion, essayistic in construction containing a complex combination of both documentary and fictional elements, and novelistic in form, August Sander’s People of the 20th Century assumes new relevance, as does Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, in our time, when issues of identity are once again assuming critical proportions:

“Inasmuch as photographers have realized the unconscious and social crisis posed by Sander’s photographic portraiture and typological practice, they may manage to achieve a truly political function for photography—to an extent, this legacy has been realized by Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Thomas Struth, among others. However to the extent that photographers remain blind to the obsolete historical aspects of Sander’s project, they end up repeating and replaying the historical crisis embodied there—not as tragedy, to quote from Marx, but as farce.”46

46 Baker, op. cit., p. 113.


“Don’t put my name on it … These are simply documents I make.” —Eugéne Atget1

“It reminded Ulrich of a photo he had seen a few days ago in a magazine … In the same issue there was also a picture of a champion swimmer being massaged after a contest. Two women dressed in street clothes, one at the swimmer’s feet, the other at her head, were solemnly looking down at her as she lay on a bed, naked on her back, one knee drawn up in a posture of sexual abandon, the masseur standing alongside resting his hands on it. He wore a doctor’s gown and gazed out of the picture as though this female flesh had been skinned and hung on a meat hook. Such were the things people were beginning to see at the time, and somehow they had to be acknowledged, as one acknowledges the presence of skyscrapers and electricity.” —Robert Musil2

In Eugène Atget’s time, the document was, photographically speaking, without status. A photograph was a good document if it could be said to be “true, exact, rigorous, it could be applied to art as well as to science, providing a ‘document vu’ to accompany the ‘document écrit’.”3 The photographic document was destined to live its days for the most part away from human vision, occupying its allotted space in the interstices of whichever archive its subject matter or end use determined:

“A documentary image should be able to be used for studies of diverse kinds, ergo the necessity of including the maximum amount of detail. Any image can at any time serve scientific investigation. Nothing is to be disdained: the beauty of the photograph is secondary here, it is enough that the image be very clear, full of detail and carefully treated so as to resist for as long as possible the ravages of time.”4

1Recounted to Paul Hill and Tom Cooper by , “Interview: Man Ray”, Camera, no. 74, February, 1975., pp. 39–40. Quoted in M. Nesbit, Atget’s Seven Albums, Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, 1992, p. 2. 2R. Musil, The Man Without Qualities, trans. S. Wilkins, ed. B. Pike, Knopf, New York, 1995, pp. 57–58. 3 A. Londe, La photographie moderne: Pratique et applications, 2nd edn, Masson, Paris, 1896, p. 72. Quoted in Nesbit, op cit., p.15. 4 A. Reyner, Camera Obscura, quoted in Cinquième congrès international de photographie, Bruxelles 1910. Compte rendu, process-verbaux, rapports, notes et documents publiés par le soins de Ch. Puttamanas, L.P. Clerc and E. Wallon, Bruylant, Brussels, 1912, p. 72. Quoted in Nesbit, op. cit., p. 15.

42 During this period, the photographic document generated neither discussion nor theory. By the end of the 19th century, however, the archive and its documentary content were playing an increasing role in the elaboration of both scientific and historical proof. “It became a standard way of expressing knowledge; it became a means to knowledge; and it put together pictorial forms of knowledge, though they were not yet taken up as aesthetic and exploited for their own sake. That would come later.”5

Atget’s documentary knowledge has been described by Waldemar George as “raw, frank and direct writing … Adget [sic] disdains panoramic views, grand syntheses, and synoptic tableaus. His preferred method is analysis, a magical analysis which transgresses the limits of perception, of visual knowledge.”6 In Nesbitt’s analysis, the power of Atget’s images of Paris lay in his vision, oriented as it was, of and from the culture of the populaire. Photographs that consisted of “… a mass of common detail” had appealed to the surrealists because of “difference”, which was essentially cultural:

“He was so unlike them. He had spent his life amassing a stock of documents, unfathomable documents that caught a side of the city missing from the usual bourgeois image; Atget’s documents put forward a popular Paris, without the high life, without the reveries of an ancien regime, without the bourgeoisie … Atget and his pictures seemed to belong to that Paris. They admired his pictures for their qualitative cultural difference; they could tell that those photographs stemmed from another. immensely sensitive, stubbornly popular culture, alien and at the same time half- familiar, strange and desirable … They wrote about it all as Surrealism; they saw it from the threshold of their class … Atget’s pictures reminded them that there was another version of modern life, a version that echoed from below. A version that unsettled when it did not echo them.” 7

After Atget’s death in 1927, his estate was divided between the Monuments Historiques and the American Berenice Abbott, whose efforts resulted in the publication in 1930 of Atget: Photographe de Paris, with a preface by Pierre MacOrlan. But it was the review in 1930 by Walter Benjamin that established the melancholy nature of Atget’s legacy:

5 Nesbit, op. cit., p. 16. 6 Ibid., p. 17. 7 Ibid., p. 5.

43 “They [the photographs] are not lonely but voiceless; the city in these pictures is swept clean like a house which has not yet found its new tenant. These are the sort of effects with which Surrealist photography established a healthy alienation between environment and man, opening the field for politically educated sight, in the face of which all intimacies fall in favour of the illumination of details.”8

The connections of representation were thus drawn—the document, photography, culture and politics. As a Marxist, Benjamin knew the impossibility of photographing (documenting) history or social structures. The visible, which photography is so adept at recording, contains no knowledge, and, according to Marx, obscures power relations. Appearance and reality are two separate, distinct entities:

“Appearances (the visible) are partial, incomplete, abstractions: they only show the superficial constellation of objects and events in the world. They are not unreal, but they do not tell their own story. The determinations—forces, relations, history— which have formed and sustained an object are not visible in its immediate appearance, yet it is only by assembling the totality of these determinations that we can have an image of the Real. Only knowledge of this totality is the Truth.”9

In contrast to the central projection of Western positivist thought, that knowledge of the visible was the only valid knowledge, Marxists sought to break the link between what was visible and what was true. More recently, theorists working within the discipline of semiotics have approached this same question, but from the viewpoint that the photograph has no “truth” function because objective truth as such does not exist. Photographs are constructions and the knowledge they contain is a system of meanings within representation, not the truth of the object. Photographic meaning is not fixed but fluid, mobile, dependent on time, place and open to interpretation. According to Don Slater, developments in late capitalist society have brought about the inevitable consequence of the plethora of images that we no longer accumulate but simply turn over. The arbitrary nature of these images brings about an underlying unease:

“… all these pieces of the world suddenly appear so diverse as to be homogenous. In their quality of awesome individuality and concreteness they are all identical. They

8 W. Benjamin, “Short History of Photography,” trans. Phil Patton, Artforum 15, February, 1977, p. 50. Quoted in Nesbit, op. cit., p. 7. 9 D. Slater, “The Object of Photography”, The Camerawork Essays: Context and Meaning in Photography, ed. J. Evans, Rivers Oram Press, London, 1997, p. 93.

44 offer up no meaning of themselves … the endless duplication of the world through slivers of two-dimensional brute realism—these release some unquiet doubts about the meaning of ‘the image’ … we reduce meaning in order to strengthen it.”10

Slater’s essay is extensive and inclusive. Like Musil, Slater posits a practice based on lived experience. He elaborates upon the limitations of photographic representation and meaning but tries to offer us some viable alternative to what he saw as the contemporary impasse. His analysis of the semioticians’ attack on documentary truth, which contends that photography is not truth but system, “is in a sense a step behind what everyone else knew and lived—for we have long since ceased to believe that any photograph, any representation, refers to the real world at all.”11 In Slater’s opinion:

“Documentary has always been a test case for realism, being that imagery which is defined by its engagement with the real, its loyalty and sense of responsibility to its object, its witness … But if documentary photography shows us that spectacular photography constructs a staged reality, the question for photographic practice becomes: Is there anything that the photograph no longer refers us to? If the photograph no longer points to reality can it be effective? … In terms of suggestions for practice … it would seem absurd … to collapse into a photography parasitically working over the text of dominant imagery … in order to escape into the endless self- reflexive comment on the image as representation, as mediation, as media … the photograph is a highly intentional material object, a ‘piece of the world’, as ‘determined’ as any other … A new photography of engagement, a new vision of politics, would construct new codes, new fantasy, new and deeper reservoirs of imagery drawn from lived experience and practical understandings.”12

During the 1970s, Thomas Struth began his photographic research as a direct response to the “devaluation” and loss of meaning of photography. It was his intention to work less on expanding the possibilities of photography, and rather to re-invest photography with a truer perception of things by returning to a simple method, the method that photography has made use of since its inception. His was a rigorous approach, no doubt influenced by the teaching he received from Gerhard Richter and Bernd and Hilla Becher in Düsseldorf. Initially a painter, Struth approached photography from a markedly “objective” point of

10 Ibid., pp. 110–11. 11 Ibid., p. 114. 12 Ibid., p.114-115.

45 view, one that found its early expression in minutely detailed, centrally composed black and white small-scale images of urban scenes. “Manifestly his work is neither forced nor emphatic, and whatever virtuosity it displays is no more than a perfect match between a direct and masterly approach to the medium and a sensitive and ample vision of reality.”13 Later developments include colour photographs of landscapes, European and exotic, museum and church interiors, portraits and records of journeys to Shanghai. Whereas the earliest series are mostly devoid of people, the interiors are populated with subjects being viewed in the act of viewing, very similar in concept to Atget’s “L’Eclipse—Avril 1912”.14

For Struth, photography is a communicative and analytical medium. His practice disdains the medium’s voyeuristic and fetishising aspects. Struth’s desire is “to make images that are the result of a process, a synthesis of impressions, knowledge, experience and visual capabilities”.15 Struth’s portraits have undergone a developmental process over time. In the earliest examples:

“the process of looking on the part of the photographer overpowered everything else, and viewers were invited to identify themselves with this position. Attention now appears to have shifted to the interaction between the viewer’s process of looking and the subject’s … Unintentionally, you ascribe to the photographer an almost old fashioned quality such as modesty or even courtesy, that refuses to reduce people to victims or objects of desire.”16

The large-format camera, with its resulting compositional simplicity and the inevitable stasis associated with the subsequent long exposure times, determines the characteristics of Struth’s method:

“Perhaps … he has given a new, recalcitrant dimension to the pursuit of archetypal images that is so deeply anchored in German photography of the 20th century. It is new, because in his case the archetypal does not lead to typology, and recalcitrant because, going against the temper of the times, he shows us that communication does

13 G. Tosatto, “The Time of Photography”, Still, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich, 1998, p. 9. 14 See footnote no. 40 in the previous chapter. 15 H. Visser, “Cultural Images”, Still, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich, 1998, p. 23. 16 Loc. Cit.

46 not need to be reduced to visual slogans, or photographs to illustrations of an image- critical model.”17

From the analysis of August Sander’s People of the 20th Century in the previous chapter, it is evident that Sander’s attempt to catalogue the social order of his time was modelled on a pre-industrial society, upon a typology of trades and professions when in fact it originated at a time when the proletarianisation and collectivisation of society made it impossible to conceive a comprehensive representation of the totality of Weimar society:

“Neither the residual, nor the emerging social types and professions could be integrated in a collective photographic portrait since the actual relationships between classes had been definitely extrapolated from the realm of representation.

In the same manner, one could argue that Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographic project of an industrial archaeology emerged at a historical moment (in the late 1950s) when the particular types of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century anonymous industrial architecture by engineers started to disappear, at first gradually and then rapidly.” 18

In the process of rescuing an architectural legacy, the Bechers reinstated the practice of Neue Sachlichkeit photography, attracting attention to the genre and in particular to the work of August Sander. Ironically, in the earliest years, the Becher’s typological black and white images attracted attention not as photography per se but as minimalist art, labelled as they were, “Anonymous Sculptures” (Anonyme Skulpturen). However it is the Neue Sachlichkeit legacy that informs the Bechers’ and Struth’s work. As Buchloh articulately states:

“Struth’s photographs establish a critical relationship with the melancholy legacy of the picturesque in Neue Sachlichkeit photography and the progressive aspirations of both contemporary sculpture and architecture. The longer one contemplates these images, the more obvious it becomes that Struth is also building an archive of … a globally disappearing world of the ‘real’ … an archive of the past that was still animated by utopian aspirations toward public experience, social interaction, and a sense of spatial and temporal reality.”19

17 Ibid., p. 24. 18 B. Buchloh, “Thomas Struth’s Archive”, The Renaissance Society at The Univ. of Chicago, 1990, p. 6. 19 Ibid., pp. 10–11.


With the 2005 publication of Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work, Susanne Lange has constructed a comprehensive volume involving their respective biographies, along with a comprehensive review of their oeuvre. Lange has also outlined the methodology they had devised for the photographic recording of basic forms of industrial buildings. Individually, the images are testaments to the clarity of vision and consummate technical skill that the Bechers have applied to their subjects:

“From the very beginning, individual examples chosen as prototypical of a particular of a particular construction form were photographed from different angles—so-called sequences—as well as in the context of their immediate vicinity and extended environs. In many cases they provided pictures of entire industrial plants along with other motifs. From the sequences, Bernd and Hilla Becher then took the most telling examples for the respective edifice and brought them together in separate groups of images. These tableaus, which usually present the object frontally and in isolation … serve to juxtapose typical forms of a construction type, whereby the formal variants are outlined by a comparative approach according to the principle of the similar and the dissimilar. Usually selected for exhibition purposes, such presentations were to remain the norm in the Bechers’ work for many years, and as of the early 1970s the artists termed them ‘typologies’.”20

Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne, holds the archive for both August Sander and the Bechers. Lange’s early research culminated in a doctoral thesis on the Bechers’ work. It is of considerable interest to quote her analyses at length.

Essentially, we can discern four criteria at work in the Bechers’ methodology. The first relates to the functionalist/constructive dimension of the objects. It is the focus of the functional description of the individual construction types undertaken by Bernd and Hilla Becher, and at the same time it constitutes the basis for the formation of groups, into which the objects are classified by specific function. The second focuses on the aesthetic dimensions represented by the architectures, by which I mean the ‘epidermis’ of the industrial buildings; their skin, and thus in the overarching sense the external shape of the entities that Bernd and Hilla Becher reflect through the medium of photography. The result and the visual document of this profound reflection is, as a third criteria, the photograph itself. By then constituting series and groups of

20 S. Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work, Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne, 2005, p. 9.

48 individual images on a metalevel of aesthetics, the fourth category outlines the conceptual side to their method.”21

Viewed en masse, on the museum wall, the typological portrayals of blast furnaces, cooling towers, pit heads etc. construct a visual narrative effect in the same way as Sander’s portrait typologies. So great is their visual impact, they take on a sense of the , as Rem Koolhaas recently remarked: “Minimum is the ultimate ornament … the contemporary Baroque”.22 Lange concludes,

“The Bechers’ view of the formal repertoire of industrial architecture has since played a decisive role in shaping that domain of our cultural heritage that was for many years not regarded as within the ambit of culture or art. Not only is the demolition of individual buildings or the disappearance of whole subsectors of industry irreversible, but the compendium of images compiled by the Bechers can likewise never be repeated; yet with its encyclopaedic thrust it possesses all the properties of visual memory, not only as regards the artists’ personal motivations, but also with a view to preserving contemporary phenomena that, conveyed through images, become a permanent part of the collective memory. This also underlines the special importance of the Bechers’ oeuvre. In the four decades since they embarked on their project of photographic documentation, what has now been accepted as a matter of course by cultural history was, when we look back at the 1960s, actually the elaboration of an artistic stance, one that has contributed decisively to a modified view of phenomena relating to a cultural and social history. For this reason, in the field of art, the Bechers’ oeuvre has a rightful place in those major social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s that endeavoured to break out of conservative value structures and a standardized view of history by raising new questions and offering a changed perception of things.”23

In a trend reminiscent of cultural productions of the Weimar period, much contemporary documentary style photography has adopted the photo-book as its primary means of reaching an audience.24 Another trend is work that exists as “fictionalised documentary”,

21 Loc .cit. 22 H. Foster, “It’s modern but is it contemporary? Hal Foster at the new MOMA”, London Review of Books, vol. 26, no. 24, 11 Dec. 2004. 23 Lange, op. cit., p. 10. 24 For an interesting analysis of this development and its relationship to the German illustrated magazine culture see Die Welt als Ganzes, ifa, Stuttgart, 2000. Also see The Photobook: A History, Volumes 1 and 2, eds. Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, Phaidon Press, London, 2004.

49 akin to the “realistic fiction” of the essay.25 Complex tableaux are created and then “documented” by the camera.26 Thomas Demand constructs life-size paper and cardboard replicas of scenes usually derived from media images. After the image is fixed, the construction is disassembled—only the photograph remains. Elger Esser exhibits large- scale prints of Veduten, views in which the colour is shifted to resemble the nostalgic qualities of early postcards. Thomas Weinberger superimposes, in exact register, photographs of the same scene photographed by day and by night resulting in images that shift our visual perceptions of light and colour and, as a consequence, space. Andreas Gursky has referenced Musil’s The Man Without Qualities directly and “has generated a photograph to look like a page from the book, though it is actually a medley of his favorite panoramic phrases.”27 Thomas Ruff and Wolfgang Tillmans have also made huge impacts on contemporary art in photomedia. Thomas Weski has named this trend “The Documentary Factor”, whereby “it is not a matter of a classical form of documentary photography whose aim is the mimetic photographic doubling of the motif, but of formulating a personal way of seeing that shows also the photographer’s relationship to the world.”28

Many documentary-style photographers have adopted the large-format camera, which, except for the use of colour film, dates back to the 19th century, when photography was employed primarily to survey, collect and classify. As a result, large-scale prints are increasingly encountered in the museum and gallery. One consequence of this is that the galleries must create new spaces to accommodate such works.29 Until these recent developments, documentary was not often exhibited in the contemporary art context, Allan Sekula’s “Fish Story” being one example. 30 Containing a pertinent essay by Buchloh on this very topic, Sekula’s highly political agenda is polemical. Reflecting the comparatively

25 See Good, p. 14, footnote no. 32. 26 See J.F. Chevrier, “The Tableau and the Document of Experience”, Click, Double Click, ed. Thomas Weski, Walter König, Cologne, 2006, pp. 51-61. 27 F. Stark, “Into the Millenium (The Criminals), Artext, no. 69, May/July, 2000. Stark’s own works directly reference Musil. See D. Ammirati, Frances Stark, Modern Painters, vol. 15, no. 1, Spring, 2002, pp. 114-115. 28 T. Weski. “The Documentary Factor”, Click, Double Click, Walter König, Cologne, 2006, p. 36. 29 Most recently, in a reflection of the trend in the commercial galleries in New York’s Chelsea district, The Metropolitan Museum, New York, has opened the Joyce and Robert Menschen Hall for Modern Photography, “a long, sleek, high ceilinged space … The inaugural installation includes … a Richard Prince cowboy, a Rineke Dijkstra bather, a Thomas Struth church interior … a Wolfgang Tillmans still-life … Bernd and Hilla Becher … And Thomas Ruff’s enormous … image of the World Trade Center mid-collapse …”. V. Aletti, “Critic’s Notebook, The Big Picture”, The New Yorker, October 1, 2007. p. 28. 30 A. Sekula, Fish Story, Witte De With, Rotterdam, and Richter Verlag, Düsseldorf, 1995. The essay is B. Buchloh, “Photography Between Discourse and Document”, pp. 190–200.

50 conservative contemporary political climate, Martin Parr comments, “Whereas traditional documentary photography can sometimes be inclined to preach, the absence of emotion in the new objective approach can be an effectively subversive way of introducing a political agenda.”31

The expression “documentary style” is attributed to American photographer who coined it to differentiate his lyrical style of observation from the more analytical investigations associated with pathology and forensics. Evans attributed his method to his study of Flaubert, stating “I think I incorporated Flaubert’s method almost unconsciously, but anyway I used it in two ways, both his realism, or naturalism, and his objectivity of treatment. The non-appearance of author. The non-subjectivity. That is literally applicable to the way I want to use a camera and do.”32 America has a long and vibrant history of documentary and transatlantic comparisons have always been made.

“Evans is one of the objectively recording photographers. He can be compared to Atget, the French photographic primitive who made thousands of plates of the Paris Streets. …To both Evans and Atget ‘life is beautiful,’ but Atget’s vision of life was full of horse buggies, headless dressmakers’ dummies, and corset shop windows; whereas Evans understands life in terms of steel girders, luminous signs and Coney Island bathers.”33

To Evans then, the last word on documentary, his appreciation of Atget.

“Eugene Atget worked right through a period of utter decadence in photography. He was simply isolated, and his story is a little difficult to understand. Apparently he was oblivious to everything but the necessity of photographing Paris and its environs; but just what vision he carried in him of the monument he was leaving is not clear. It is possible to read into his photographs so many things he may never have formulated to himself. …His general note is lyrical understanding of the street, trained observation of it, special feeling for patina, eye for revealing detail, over all of which is thrown a poetry which is not ‘the poetry of the street’ or ‘the poetry of Paris,’ but the projection of Atget’s person.”34

31 M. Parr, The Photobook: A History, Vol. 2, ed. M. Parr and G. Badger, Phaidon Press, London, 2006, p. 265. 32 W. Evans, Walker Evans at Work, Thames and Hudson, London, 1983. p. 70. 33 M. F. Agha, Introduction to John Becker Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1931, quoted in Evans, op. cit., p. 30. 34 Evans, op. cit., p. 8.


“But if there is a sense of reality, … then there must also be something we can call a sense of possibility.” —Robert Musil1

“A photographer responds to a world of things, which he at once sees, experiences and understands. When he is faced with stimulating subject matter, his immediate task is to make what sense he can of the components of seeing – camera distance, perspective, framing, light and gesture, all of which may be telling him important, perhaps contradictory, things at the same time. In addition he is bedevilled by connections his mind is making between what he sees and what he knows – what he has read and lived, pictures he has seen, how he was raised, and a thousand other things. To be a good artist means to devise a personal strategy for reconciling the elements of this rich assault.” —J. L. Thompson2

It has been the aim of this study to compare and contrast two bodies of work, one a typological collection of portrait photographs and the other an essayistic novel. Both authors attempted to create a portrait of their time. In this process we have investigated the essay as form, and the documentary style photograph as genre. Both Robert Musil and August Sander devised personal strategies for reconciling those elements that confronted them during a time of extreme flux. In The Man Without Qualities, Musil essayed The Vienna of 1913 from the perspective of Berlin and . He had the objective view offered by time and distance. Sander had no such remove. His essayistic investigation was, for the most part, centred on Cologne and its environs. Although much of People of the 20th Century was compiled in retrospect from Sander’s archive, each photograph shows the face of its time. Only in accumulation was Das Antlitz der Zeit apparent.

The photographer and the essayist have much in common. Both rely heavily on direct observation and lived experience. The writer has the advantage of recounting his experience over time. The photographer must respond in the instant. Only by accumulation can knowledge of his processes be revealed. Few photographers can

1 R. Musil, The Man Without Qualities, trans. Sophie Wilkins, ed. Burton Pike, Knopf, New York, 1995, p. 11. 2 J. L. Thompson, “Walker Evans: Some notes on His Way of Working”, W. Walker Evans at Work, Thames and Hudson, London, 1983, p. 10. 52 necessarily express their motivations in words for the benefit of all. Their message is in the image. Hence we must rely on interpretation and interpolation by the critic. Little is written of the photographic process, the mental and visual conjuncture that determines the “now” of the photograph from the moment before and after. The phrase “the decisive moment” is not appropriate here, intrinsic as it is to the legend of Cartier-Bresson. That expression belongs to a different practice and to exposures of shorter duration. Sander’s method invites an analysis of duration, not only because the exposure times were of several seconds. Jean Baudrillard addressed these issues with his own photographic process. “For Baudrillard the actual photographs are beside the point. It is what precedes them that counts in his eyes – the mental event of taking a picture – and this could never be documented, let alone exhibited.”3 Those writers who have approached the essay, by aligning it with the image, have provided us with insight into the analogous process of the photograph. Such insights as were revealed to Musil, Lukacs and Adorno and Good for the essay, bear witness for the photograph.

“for what in the essay has the form of a judgement is only a snapshot of what is not capturable except in a snapshot.”4

The steady accumulation of a lifetime of work, of lived experience, constructs a memory and constitutes a narrative, whether Musil’s, Sander’s, Atget’s or the Bechers’. Every narrative, every story, contains elements of truth and fiction. This is what Benjamin meant when, in “The Storyteller”, he describes “the slow piling one on top of the other of thin, transparent layers” that constitutes the present. Benjamin uses the phrase to describe how narrative is “revealed through the layers of a variety of retellings”.5 Musil’s and Sander’s stories, their narratives, the aural and visual respectively, will stand countless retellings. In each of them we see reflections of the other, for they are of the same time. The interpretation of one is rewarded by increased insight into the other. Musil constructed an essayistic novel at a time when the novel as genre was “in crisis”. Sander constructed a typological portrait archive at a time when the notions of both the portrait and the archive were considered similarly. Essentially, these crises were reflections of one and the same

3 S. Lotringer, “The Piracy of Art”, The Conspiracy of Art, Manifestos, Interviews, Essays, ed. Sylvère Lotringer, trans. Ames Hodges, Semiotext(e), New York, 2005, p. 17. 4 R. Musil, Robert Musil: Precision and Soul, Essays and Addresses, ed. and trans. Burton Pike and David S. Luft, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1990, p. xi. 5 W. Benjamin, “The Storyteller”. Illuminations. Fontana, Glasgow, 1973, p. 93, quoted in R. Durand, “A Common Measure”, Still, Schirmer/ Mosel, Munich, 1998, p. 116. 53 thing; they were a crisis of language, the . Crisis was the common legacy of their time, the time of the . In a modern, reunified Germany, traces of that crisis still manifest themselves. Examining Thomas Ruff’s portrait photographs Emma Dexter identifies young German adults of the late 20th century who “seem to have escaped the confines of history and race … Perhaps these portraits and those of bland post-war buildings taken by Ruff in the late 1980s are evidence of the abnegation of experience and memory in contemporary Germany recently identified by W. G. Sebald.”6

In turn film student, film critic and film maker, negotiates the complex inter-relation of image and language. Wenders expresses his concern for “that peculiar lack of past”, in recent German culture. He considers the word more powerful than the image and maintains that language implies a certain attitude, a relationship to the world.

“As the world of images breaks all bounds, and technological advances have made images practically autonomous, to the extent that they are already practically impossible to regulate, there is another culture, an opposite culture, where nothing has changed and nothing will: the culture of words, of readings and writing and telling stories. … Of course it’s possible to wreak havoc with words too. But alongside the slogans and the political phrases and the tabloids, there will always be the writers and poets … Nothing has substantially changed, from Homer and Plato, through Goethe and Kafka to our time. There’s one person who sits down to write, and others who sit down to read … Even in this country, writing has never gone away. Unlike America, pictures are unable to forge an identity here. … Images have been discredited here for once and for all. But to make up for that, we have our writing, as we have always done. There’s some truth in the old adage of Germans being a people of philosophers and poets. Our salvation … is our German language. It’s delicate, precise, subtle, loving, sharp and careful all at once. It’s rich.”7

In comparing the works of Musil and Sander we have investigated the essay form and its incorporation into the fictional framework of the essayistic novel. We have drawn comparisons between the portraits of both Austria and Germany as illustrated in words and photographs. Further, we have extrapolated those studies via Atget to the present with a brief examination of the work of Thomas Struth and Bernd and Hilla Becher. Each of

6 E. Dexter, “Photography Itself”, Cruel and Tender: the real in the twentieth-century photograph, Tate Gallery, London, 2003, p. 20. See W. G. Sebald, On the natural History of Destruction, trans. Anthea Bell, Modern Library, New York, 2004. 7 W. Wenders, “Talk about Germany”, On Film, Faber and Faber, London, 2001, p. 443. 54 the oeuvres, in its vision, rigour, complexity and thoroughness, exhibits the quality of Geist that Musil thought essential to the creative process. Each is an exercise in the construction of memory. Each reveals a subtle web of fiction woven into the fabric of the documentary that somehow makes each richer, more rewarding, more … real.

“Ignatieff: Where in your work is the division between fiction and non-fiction? Chatwin: I don’t think there is one …”8

“For Mario Vargas Llosa, a novelist Bruce openly admired, it did not matter whether The Songlines were strictly accurate or a charming literary fraud, ‘because to pass off fiction as reality, or to inject fiction into reality, is one of the most demanding and imperishable of human enterprises—and the dearest ambition of any story-teller’.”9

8 M. Ignatieff, “Michael Ignatieff: An Interview with Bruce Chatwin”, Granta, no. 21, Spring, Granta Publications, Cambridge, 1987. p. 24. 9 M. Vargas Llosa, “Gentleman of the Road”, El Pais, 26.9.93, quoted in N. Shakespeare, Bruce Chatwin, Vintage, London, 2000, p. 491. 55

“The Australian bush sinks into its customary evening sadness.” —Dorothy Hewett

56 Bibliography

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——— “The Essay as Form”, trans. Bob Hullott-Kentor, New German Critique, no. 32 Spring–Summer, 1984.

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Dargan I 63 Dargan II 64 Dargan III 65 Dargan IV 66 Dargan V 67 Dargan VI 68 Dargan VII 69