The "Ornament of the Crowd" between Text and Image: Functions of Anonymous Crowds in Representations of the City

Main Article Content

Charlotte Krauss


Among   the numerous depictions of the city in literature as  well as   in the pictorial art of the 1920s, essential    elements are street alignments, factory buildings and the crowd:  pedestrians, passengers, workers,   schoolchildren, customers, soldiers, ath­letes, spectators, and onlookers symbolize a life that has been greatly changed by industrialization           and modern transportation. The mass fills          the streets and buildings, it is impressive or even terrifying  –  but in any case, individuals dissolve into the mass. If at all, figures known by name emerge from the crowd only in brief moments (for example, in    John Dos Passos's Manhattan Transfer). Crowds even tend towards abstraction: the contemporary architect and cultural critic Siegfried Kracauer identified the Ornament                of the mass in the strongly symbolically charged depictions of crowds  –  his text with the same title is from 1927.                          

My lecture will analyze the representation  of anonymous crowds in  three very different but almost contemporaneous works: in Dos Passos’s metropolitan novel Manhattan Transfer  (1925), in Walther Ruttmann’s film Berlin, Symphony of a Metropolis (1927), and in      Frans Masereel’s The City (1925),  a history without words consisting of one hundred woodcuts, precursor of the graphic novel. A reading with Kracauer of the anonymization and abstraction of crowds and a comparison of representation through text, image, and film will help define the functions of the crowd in the 1920s metropolitan narrative.    

Published: Nov 14, 2022

Article Details

Characters without Names: the Anonymous and the Crowds