Miniature Metropolis: Literature in an Age of Photography and Film

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9780674416727: Miniature Metropolis: Literature in an Age of Photography and Film

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Europe’s modernizing metropolises offered a sensory experience unlike anything that had come before. Cities became laboratories bubbling with aesthetic experimentation in old and new media, and from this milieu emerged metropolitan miniatures―short prose pieces about the experiences of urban life written for European newspapers. Miniature Metropolis explores the history and theory of this significant but misrecognized achievement of literary modernism.

Andreas Huyssen shows how writers from Baudelaire and Kafka to Benjamin, Musil, and Adorno created the miniature to record their reflections of Paris, Brussels, Prague, Vienna, Berlin, and Los Angeles. Contesting photography and film as competing media, the metropolitan miniature sought to capture the visceral feeling of acceleration and compression that defined urban existence. But the form did not merely imitate visual media―it absorbed them, condensing objective and subjective perceptions into the very structure of language and text and asserting the aesthetic specificity of literary language without resort to visual illustration. Huyssen argues that the miniature subverted the expectations of transparency, easy understanding, and entertainment that mass circulation newspapers depended upon. His fine-grained readings open broad vistas into German critical theory and the history of visual arts, revealing the metropolitan miniature to be one of the few genuinely innovative modes of spatialized writing created by modernism.

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About the Author:

Andreas Huyssen is Villard Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.


Miniature Metropolis provides a methodology for others who wish to consider the seemingly incidental writings of Modernists that have so often been eclipsed by less modest parts of their oeuvres. With original arguments and meticulous analyses, this fine study deepens our knowledge of familiar authors, and through the light it casts on its subject, it also brings into focus the current challenges to the literary mode posed by digital media and new related social practices. (Elaine Morley Times Literary Supplement 2016-01-08)

Andreas Huyssen’s Miniature Metropolis moves creatively in and beyond the wake of [Walter] Benjamin’s subtle readings of urban writing... There is much to admire about Miniature Metropolis: Huyssen’s enormously nuanced readings of individual texts; his extraordinary ability to open up new vistas even when writing about authors whose work has received considerable attention in the past; his masterly strategies of situating even very small texts in much larger contexts while detecting the echoes of historical transformations in the folds of specific linguistic and conceptual figures; his at once con dent and open-minded reliance on Frankfurt-style critical theory while staying entirely clear of ahistorical dogmatism or conceptual clichés... What is perhaps most impressive about Miniature Metropolis is Huyssen’s unflagging commitment to literary modernism itself, his at once passionate and utterly non-nostalgic dedication to texts and contexts in which literary practice saw no other way but to engage with other media to assert its own differential logic... If German modernism has frequently gotten bad press in recent decades, Huyssen’s readings resharpen our sense of the ongoing relevance of this period and their literary interventions. (Lutz Koepnick Modernism/modernity 2016-04-01)

Buttressed by uncommon erudition and far-reaching interpretive insight throughout, the book proposes a critical taxonomy of [the] highly compressed, elliptical, largely urban form of writing, which was employed by luminaries ranging from Baudelaire, Rilke, and Kafka through Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, Louis Aragon, and Robert Musil and on to Adorno... Never dull, frequently illuminating, and always elegant in its argumentation, Miniature Metropolis is apt to spark debate among scholars and to become a standard work in disciplines as diverse as media studies, urban studies, and comparative literature. Although some of the writers Huyssen addresses―the poet-physician Gottfried Benn, Ernst Jünger, and others―may be fairly obscure to American readers, his approach offers ample rewards, and many new discoveries, to all who continue to take an interest in compressed forms of writing, those spiders’ webs that still hold us in their grip. (Noah Isenberg Bookforum 2015-06-01)

This book will serve as an invaluable guide to the wide variety of miniature writings that emerged in the modern age. Huyssen’s close readings of these literary gems highlight the ways in which they responded to new modes of sensory experience. A brilliant study of literature in the era of visual media. (Anthony Kaes, University of California at Berkeley)

This is a unique, deeply thought, and important work that brings new insights into the literary forms of modernism, and their relations to other media. (Anthony Vidler, The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union)

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