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Siegfried Kracauer — “the realism of salaried employees”

Those are a few facts. They roughly outline the territory into which this little expedition — perhaps more of adventure than any film trip to Africa — is to journey. For as it seeks out employees, it leads at the same time to the heart of the modern big city. Sombart once observed our big German cities today are not industrial cities, but cities of salaried employees and civil servants. If it holds true for any city, it holds does for Berlin. Here, the economic process engendering salaried employees en masse has advanced furthest. Here, the decisive practical and ideological clashes take place; here, the form of public life determined by the needs of employees — and by people who for the most part would like to determine those needs —is particularly striking. Berlin today is a city with a pronounced employee culture: i.e., a culture made by employees for employees and seen by most employees as a culture. Only in Berlin where the roots and the soil are so reduced that weekend outings can become the height of fashion, may the reality of salaried employees be grasped. It also comprehends a good part of Berlin’s reality.

Does this reality submit to normal reportage? For a number of years now, reportage has enjoyed in Germany the highest favor among all types of representation, since it alone is said to be able to capture life unposed. Writers scarcely know any higher ambition than to report; the reproduction of observed reality is the order of the day. A hunger for directness that is undoubtedly a consequence of the malnutrition caused by German idealism . Reportage, as the self-declaration of concrete existence, is counterposed to the abstractness of idealist thought, incapable of approaching reality through any mediation. But reality is not captured by being at best duplicated in reportage. The latter has been a legitimate counterblow against idealism, nothing more. For it merely looses its way in the life that idealism cannot find, which is equally unapproachable for both of them. A hundred reports from a factory do not add up to the reality of the factory, but remain for all eternity a hundred views of the factory. Reality is a construction. Certainly life must be observed to appear. Yet it is by no means contained in the more or less random observational results of reportage; rather it is to be found solely in the mosaic that is assembled from single observations on the basis of comprehension of their meaning. Reportage photographs life; such an assemblage would be its image.

from The Salaried Masses: Duty and Distraction in Weimar Germany (1929-30.) Translated by Quintin Hoare. Verso. 1998.


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