Absolute Relativity: Weimar Cinema and the Crisis of Historicism

Nicholas Walter Baer

Research output: ThesisThesis fully external


This dissertation intervenes in the extensive literature within Cinema and Media Studies on the relationship between film and history. Challenging apparatus theory of the 1970s, which had presumed a basic uniformity and historical continuity in cinematic style and spectatorship, the 'historical turn' of recent decades has prompted greater attention to transformations in technology and modes of sensory perception and experience. In my view, while film scholarship has subsequently emphasized the historicity of moving images, from their conditions of production to their contexts of reception, it has all too often left the very concept of history underexamined and insufficiently historicized. In my project, I propose a more reflexive model of historiography--one that acknowledges shifts in conceptions of time and history--as well as an approach to studying film in conjunction with historical-philosophical concerns. My project stages this intervention through a close examination of the 'crisis of historicism, ' which was widely diagnosed by German-speaking intellectuals in the interwar period. I argue that many pioneering and influential films of the Weimar Republic registered and responded to contemporaneous metahistorical debates, offering aesthetic answers to ontological and epistemological questions of the philosophy of history. In my analysis, the films' extraordinary innovations in aesthetic and narrative form can be associated not only with technological advances and sociopolitical ruptures, but also with concurrent efforts to theorize history in an age of 'absolute relativity.' Combining archival research, theory, and formal analysis, my work thus contributes to scholarship on German cinema, placing films of the Weimar era in constellation with developments in Central European intellectual history
Original languageEnglish
  • Kaes, Anton, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

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