Some Ideas for Weimar German

Some Ideas:

the stranger

When Simmel uses the phrase “potential wanderer” he could very well be referring to that particular soul that we see in many avenues of life; the type that, while they may maintain their social acceptability, they bear the “marks” of a different upbringing and/or culture. He introduces notions of spatiality into his concept of the stranger, largely due to the effect that space, distance and geography can have on our own psyches and general psychological developments. Unlike the conventionally adopted image of the “stranger”, Simmel’s concept relies on the stranger being “familiar”, albeit an initially counterintuitive thought. His stranger is one that may or may not want to be, but nevertheless bears specific characteristics that mark him as the “other.” He is by nature an import, as he has not only seen his own genesis in a different context, but also carries with him the indications of his own foreignness. We can see applications of this type of scene in the xenophobia of both modernity and antiquity. The characteristics that identify the “home” culture atomize as the “other” becomes both more socially relevant as well as prevalent. Many modern cultural theorists today believe that the concept of “other” is a necessary component to both developing and maintaining one’s own culture, as they are the very characteristics which differentiate between one society and another.

The necessity of a stranger in a group to progress and maintain the culture in which they exist is often overlooked.  However the tragedies that humans are capable of when deprived of an outside and often sobering viewpoint is monumental.  The Weimar era took place in between the two world wars and directly preceded one of the most destructive empires in the history of man.  The apathy towards Germany from neighboring countries in Europe after the first world war led to the uncanny situation in Europe that paved the way for the biggest conflict in human history to date.  Hitler’s empire is a perfect example of what an ideology can do within a prominent culture without the sufficient presence of a counter-intuition.  Obviously the scale of the second world war is far greater than that of a singular community, but as technology advances different societies come into far more interaction with each other providing a larger and more important role for the strangers within each and every society to make people think.


Further, as I read the post, it got me thinking about the stranger’s perspective, specifically when Ryan mentioned that “cultural theorists today believe that the concept of ‘other’ is a necessary component to both developing and maintaining one’s own culture, as they are the very characteristics which differentiate between one society and another.” I felt that this was a great point because we spent a lot of time in class talking about the societies that might be benefitting from the stranger, yet we did not address much of the benefits the stranger might actually be experiencing by making appearances in different societies or cultures. I think Ryan touches on the stranger’s experience by being all-inclusive when referencing “one society or another.” While I am not sure whether he was including the stranger’s society in his thought or not, he sparked some questions on my end. I thought it might be interesting to consider questions such as: Where has the stranger been? How evolved or experienced is the stranger? Perhaps the stranger is experiencing growth through his or her immersion into a well- or better-developed culture than the one from which he or she originated? Instead of the stranger offering some objective insight, is it possible that the stranger is gaining objectivity via his or her immersion or travels? I believe that the evolution that takes place between a stranger and a society is one of a reciprocal nature where both parties benefit.

the uncanny

  In his article “The Uncanny”, Freud sets out to define linguistically concepts that belong more to the world of emotion and sensory perception. Freud states that the word Uncanny “belongs to the realm of the frightening, or what evokes fear and dread”. The main point of his writing is to find the common ground that “allows us to distinguish the uncanny within the field of the frightening”. The first point of his analysis begins with the examination of the word unheimlich. The word unheimlichderives from the opposite word heimlich, which presents two different ideas, one relating to what is familiar and comfortable and the other to what is concealed and kept hidden. Freud states that unheimlich is “ clearly the opposite of Heimlich”, but he quickly goes on to say the converse is not true– “ not everything new and unfamiliar is frightening”. The unheimlich then is important precisely because it is it includes in its understanding notions of heimlich–therefore the two are not absolute antonyms. It is the element of the familiar that makes it strange, unsettling and uncanny–things known or familiar to us appear transformed so as to become eerie—things are not as they ”s hould be”. 

Freud examines locales for producing the uncanny, focusing on literature: “many things that would be uncanny if they occurred in real life are not uncanny in literature and that in literature there are many opportunities to achieve uncanny effects that are absent in real life.” By presenting concepts from literature and the arts, Freud shows how the familiar and strange are intimately woven together (for example, take the story of the Sand-Man, who tears out children’s eyes). It is here that his application of the uncanny informs and is most relevant to understanding the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). 

You can find various examples of the uncanny in the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). The mise-en-scène of the film presents a fantastic world of the unheimlich – something that is familiar but at the same time makes one uncomfortable. This is presented at the beginning of the film with Francis speaking to another person in a rather normal looking setting. However, once his story commences with “The little town where I was born”, the scene fades and an abstract town on a hillside with angular roofs appears in view, presenting Francis’s internal state of mind. The everyday outside environment including the sidewalks, streets and rooftops of buildings are all familiar to us and yet are uncanny in that they are distorted by light, angles and lines. Other items that we are familiar with that have become distorted in the film include everything from Cesare’s coffin that has unequal cut doors, to a ball and chain on a prisoner where the ball looks more like a hexagon of stone. Even furniture that is familiar to us becomes uncanny–Alan’s room looks familiar, but the chairs have elongated long backs and at the clerk’ s office where Dr. Caligari is waiting, the clerk is sitting on what looks like a modified chair that is about 5 ft. in height to match the similarly tall desk. Much of what we view in Robert Wiene’ s film then correlates with Freud’s notions of the uncanny.

 I agree with the importance of unheimlich not being the direct antonym of heimlich.  In this sense the essence of the unheimlich is captured: something that is not in the realm of black-and-white understanding.  Yet the unheimlich dwells in, and depends upon, the realm of the familiar.  Your description of this in action in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a powerful tactic employed by the film.  What on paper is a seemingly believable story of a madman is shown visually as the projection of psychological instability. 



Kristeva treats the concept of the abject as if it were some vague “other” that, while it is not an object in and of itself, bears within it a stark dividing line between ourselves, and the very things which we have determined will not identify with us. It then finds its definition in exclusivity; standing as a start contrast to the competing object. There is indeed an ontological application to be noted here, as our perspectives and respective subjectivities are formed by our philosophy of being itself. For me to identify my being with humanity, life, etc. is to necessarily partake in abjection; in designating such characteristics of my own being, I, by default, exclude the possibility of that which those characteristics are not. Interestingly, when one defines himself in a certain manner, it is often a response to that very thing which he does not wish to be. Thus, in partaking, willingly or not, in aspects of these undesirable realities, we strengthen our own self-definitions.


In relation to Kristeva’s writing, the best way to relate this process for me is through the ego and super-ego. I believe that these two things help emphasize and influence what is abject to one person or another. What people desire is known as their ego but what governs their desires is their super-ego. From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, I believe that what is described in Kristeva’s excerpt is the collaboration between ego and super-ego to distinguish what is abject and unsettling that causes one to be literally ‘besides himself’.


The abject helps us construct our identities in that it helps us identify what it is we do not want. This helps us create a moral compass that in turn, helps project our morals, beliefs, likes, and dislikes.  Further we construct our ideas about strangers based on our morals and how they line up with our own beliefs.


A few good examples not only used in Kristeva but mentioned in Lechte also are those of being Jewish and finding any meat that is not Kosher abject. This is because there has been provided a moral compass or idea set that causes certain people to view un-kosher meat as abject. On a broader example, the image of a corpse is abject. It is abject because the body is something that is symbolic of both life and death. It was once an animate object, but no longer does it possess any life. The gray areas seem to be the most uncomfortable and abject to people.


 I have found that the things people dislike the most about others are also the things we dislike most about ourselves. If someone is a bad reminder of someone or something else in their life that they do not care for, they tend to take a negative thought toward them.


People have preferences of things. It is this conscious, outward desire that can be simplified down to an ego choice. Take, for example, the girl who wants to be nothing like her mother, finds her abject. Yet she looks exactly like her. Her ego acts on this, dying her hair, modifying her look, taking interest in things her mother would disapprove of. By throwing herself into a constant state of change, she separates herself from the abject idea of her mother. But only temporarily. Because regardless of her efforts, she will always be aware that she looks exactly like her mother. Thus, putting her back at start and being both separate from- and the same as- the abject idea itself.


According to the article, a corpse possesses this same duality of sameness and oppositeness. What once was living, breathing, feeling and animate, now is stagnant and lifeless. This makes it abject to people as they do not know how to perceive it. This is why in the Golem, townspeople have a difficult time accepting his existence. It is disturbing for people to know that a man, who is alive and animate, was recently dead and lifeless, and then reanimated.


I also find this anomaly occurring today in people’s view on stray hairs. While most people, especially women, favor their hair while attached to their head, once it falls out and comes into contact with their mouth, eyes, food, etc. it becomes abject and disgusting. Somewhere between the follicle’s connection with the scalp and its placement in the food, the popular opinion on it completely shifts.


Expresioninsm in film – I don’t have anything

The fantastic

 In the movie, Metropolis, we can wee that Maria’s character is one that changes through the movie the most because of they way she is used in the storyline. Through Maria, Lang is able to show the viewers the capability a woman has to overcome authority with the use of technology and science. Maria starts out as someone who is desired by those around her but she possesses the power to take control of those who want her. As the film moves forward we see Maris character be sympathetic when we see her with the kids and the way she is able to interact and make the kids feel comfortable around her. The storyline brings a new dynamic to how a character is perceived in a film because Maria is kidnapped and replaced with a robotic Maria. Once Hel (robotic Maria) takes Maria’s place in the film; Hel’s mentality about morals and authority were opposite to Maria’s, so Mel’s intent is to go against the system Maria has been under. People that have to deal with both Maria and Hel in the film are confused with the way Maria’s character had changed in a short amount of time, which brought shock among the characters that desired and cared for her. Once Hel is destroyed and Maria is saved, we find Maria to be in a state of disbelief and seeming to look for help from anyone that was willing to provide it. My views of Maria are similar to the way Huyssen studied Maria as he stated there is a “split of Maria into an asexual ‘good’ Maria and an oversexed ‘bad’ Maria. As I stated before, Lang shifts Maria’s character with use of technology and science in order to project a possibility in shift in a person’s mentality and the way she is perceived by other characters in the film.

Maria is caught up in a frenzy of dualistic personae, exhibiting startlingly different and seemingly incompatible characteristics throughout the production. To begin, Maria is depicted as possessing the archetypically female characteristics; she is portrayed as good-natured, kind, mother-like and even doting in her personality. Religious undertones are cast behind her own personal character in the film, with her very name intended to vaguely call to mind the virginal and immaculate image of Our Lady. What’s more, she parallels conventional Mariology in her characteristic and sweeping advocacy on behalf of the people, and her prompting them to better action. In his characterization of Maria, Lang may have done more than he intended; he depicted the obscure, yet theologically profound Jewish roots of the Catholic faith in his obvious association of Metropolis’ Maria with the Blessed Virgin. The Hebrews history of Queen Motherhood of the Davidic Kingdom and, by extension, advocacy on behalf of the people and the subsequent prompting of those subjects.

            There are two sides to the coin, however, as Maria’s conventional persona is juxtaposed against her subsequent objectification. Lang creatively leaves the viewer with certain room for hope, however, as even though in robotic form, traces of Maria’s sanctity and virtue are shown to push ever so slightly through the monotonously robotic surface. Thus, the technological aspect of the film creates an interesting dilemma for the viewer; the conventionally and archetypically feminine characteristics of Maria are drowned out by the inhuman humming of machines. Her persona prevails some, eventually; the uprising of those whom she had initially defended resulted in a restoration, of sorts, to her former virtuous self.

Lang’s film portrays Maria as a character that does not develop, but has two sides to it: the caring, innocent, motherly figure and the coldhearted de-humanized robot tat sows discord and represents an objectified female. Initially, the character of Maria is the personification of the good, the innocent, the human in an objectified urban space. Already at this early stage in the prelude Maria’s character shows typically female traits: she is caring for those that cannot defend themselves, the innocent children and the workers that do not have the strength to protest against their master. She is set in scene in a cathedral that emphasizes associations of Maria, the mother of Jesus, a motherfigure with whom she not only seems to share her name. But she also appears active and strong since she is the initiator who summons the workers to swear them in and unite them in the organization of a revolt against Joh Fredersen, the master of Metropolis who rules heartlessly and ruthlessly. Maria stresses the importance of the heart as a mediator in the liberation of the workers, and in the transfer from Maria’s physical features into the robot it is the heart that beams rhythmically in the robot. Interestingly the electric rings that appear in the process of the transformation around the robot also resemble the halo of a saint, though the robot itself does then not show the human traits like Maria does. The use of technology is necessary to mediate the objectification of the female, and the objectification of the de-humanized workers. Throughout the film the human beings are objectified and deprived of their humanity, which becomes obvious right at the beginning with the incident in the M-Machine. The invention of the robot is just the enhancement of the development into a de-humanized world: “No one will be able to tell a Machine man from the mortal”, says the character Rotwang in the film. This refers to the pure physical resemblance between robot and man. But taken a step further, one can state that within Metropolis no one will be able to tell a mortal from a Machine man since the hard working conditions drag the human out of the human bodies, a process Freder goes through after he has taken over Gregory’s position at the clock, and a process that Maria is forced to undergo by Rotberg to serve his purposes. The objectification of Maria begins with Rotberg claiming her as his property: “The woman is mine”. True, she has been the object of Freder’s love before, but he hasn’t objectified her in a dehumanizing way. Rotwang “uses” her as a “tool” to sow discord between Freder and his father and between the workers and Maria, their leader figure. As a dancer on stage the objectified “Maria”/the robot is an object of lust for the spectators around her. Eventually the workers turn against the robot “Maria” and destroy it, so that at the end of the film Maria appears as the motherly figure that she has been throughout the film.


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