Monday, August 18, 2008

Reading notes: Siegfried Kracauer – The Hotel Lobby


Kracauer - primarily known for film theory – Theory of Film and From Caligari to Hitler. This essay is an extract from Mass Ornament. He fled Germany under the Nazis and worked afterward in America. He was a student of Simmel and was influenced by him. Early in his career looked and daily phenomena and their impact on and significance in human life.

In the Hotel Lobby, he sees the lobby as an “inverted image” of the House of God – any house of worship. These spaces, he says, are both specifically equipped by their function to create equals of the people that inhabit them, despite their divergent functions. In a religious congregation, the differences between them disappear because of their united focus on god – they see their lives as serving the same destiny. Equality in the hotel lobby is instead established by a relationship to nothing. The sitters in a hotel lobby are, in the act of sitting in the lobby, focusing their energy on nothing at all, whereas in the church, the congregation’s members focus their energy entirely on the same object. The House of God is a place where people congregate to encounter a certain unknown Someone, whereas the Hotel Lobby is a place where people congregate to become anonymous and encounter no one. He emphasizes the importance of Silence as it is observed in those places (example from Der Tod in Venedig), and the aims of those specific silences – in the lobby, it underscores the anonymity of the people occupying the space and acts almost as a barrier between the individuals, whereas in the house of god, silent prayer unites the anonymous worshipers in their attempt to find god. Both spaces also allow for a detachment from daily life – one with meaning in the case of the church and one entirely without meaning in the hotel lobby. Silence underlines the sense that the people in those spaces regard one another as equals.

The hotel lobby has no specific purpose “dictated by Ratio,” but does accord a certain distance from the everyday – a kind of perspective that allows the inhabitant to regard daily life from afar. Kracauer is fascinated by the recurrent role of the hotel lobby in detective novels and seems to imply that the hotel lobby is the ideal setting for action performed by the detective novel’s “emptied-out individuals” (“who, as rationally constructed complexes, are comparable to the transcendental subject”). The congregation emerges, seeing itself as having a purpose, while the individuals in the hotel lobby are stripped of a purpose. Thus, the lobby-sitters approach a kind of existential nothing. The house of god creates a community where there had been none before.

Beautiful passage:

“But if the meaning of this anonymity becomes nothing more than the representation of the insignificance of this beginning, the depiction of formal regularities, then it does not foster the solidarity of those liberated from the constraints of the name; instead, it deprives those encountering one another of the possibility of association that the name could have offered them. Remnants of individuals slip into the nirvana of relaxation, faces disappear behind newspapers, and the artificial continuous light illuminates nothing but mannequins. It is the coming and going of unfamiliar people who have become empty forms because they have lost their password, and who now file by as ungraspable flat ghosts. If the possessed an interior, it would have no windows at all, and they would perish aware of their endless abandonment, instead of knowing of their homeland as the congregation does. But as pure exterior, they escape themselves and express their non-being through the false aesthetic affirmation of the estrangement that has been installed between them. The presentation of the surface strikes them as an attraction; the tinge of exoticism gives them a pleasurable shudder.”

Kracauer uses a SPATIAL model to explain the effect of a space on the people who occupy it.

1 comment:

Rimca said...

Well written article.