Human insensitivity as normality

Kracauer’s novel, Ginster (1928), reverses the burden of vitalism to revolve around the feeling of death. But death is not presented as transcendence or covered of a sublime halo, but accompanies the war that, as a scenario, frames the misadventures of the subject Ginster.

The question for life is in the narrative an answer through the centrality of death that nevertheless remains attached to a material core, the figure of the old woman towards the end of the work indicates the presence of death: “ She did not invite him with clear words, but smiled wryly. In any case, the mouth wide open, toothless, could only imply a wry smile. Like an imposing crater, his mouth opened in the white dead landscape of his face”. But unlike the consecrated idealistic interpretation and its expression of a relationship between life and death with overcoming pretensions, death in Ginster appears as the enigma of life. So the feeling is put in brackets: the Ginster character does not generate identification in the lowest or the best of his behavior, irony works for it. Thus, to avoid sentimentality and identification through feeling, Kracauer makes his protagonist a coward.

Also if you consider the last chapter not resulting representative of the novel, the death of the uncle confirms the centrality of the existential theme that is reinforced in the last words of the story: “In bed he puts a reflection on what war will beginning now. He cried of fatigue at the thought of the dead uncle, himself, countries and human beings”. Here the connection between the meaning of death, the sense of existence (or its absence) that is evidenced in modernity and its conception of the human is clearly expressed; but what the construction of the protagonist has achieved is a distance that facilitates the explanation of the problem.

The Ginster biography produces a distance of feeling: even war, an episode that imposes the shock of feeling to its highest extent, is introduced to the distance and sometimes the arbitrary of a volatile and dispersed subject.

The component that Krakauer incorporates to achieve its objective of doubly destroying the ideological imprint of the biographical form and that of the “superficial opposition” linked to it, is that of surrealism. Kracauer endorses the surrealist revolutionary impulse, incorporating it not only as an aesthetic rupturism, but also as an element of ideological transformation that allows the restoration of the image of the human being. Thus, the march of history, the true foundation of bourgeois positivism in the biography, is broken down into the creation of the fictional character Ginster. That a fictional character writes his biography is already in itself a component of unreality that comes to show the fragility of biographical certainty. But unreality is here the redemption of the real, a passage towards the unmasking of bourgeois despair: the fiction of the biographical subject highlights the absurdity of the real war.

Another mechanism to which the novel appeals is also given by the title that puts into play a double unreality: Ginster is not “himself” and the novel is not written by Ginster. The fact that it is published anonymously reinforces this intention of Kracauer. With this device it achieves two objectives: on the one hand, destroy, through a game as a parody, the true appearance of biography as a mode of bourgeois expression, and secondly, introduce the problems of human feeling into fiction that refer to its existence: love, sexuality, death. This second point constitutes the constructive aspect that gives substance to the destruction of the foundation of the biographical form and is directed to thereby redeem bourgeois unreality. Kracauer seems to suggest the search for the meaning of existence as a movement of transformation of a fragmented world.

S. Krakauer

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