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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.