Nachrichten aus der ideologischen Antike - Marx/Eisenstein/Das Kapital

Nachrichten aus der ideologischen Antike - Marx/Eisenstein/Das Kapital

“If, in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises from their historical lifeprocess as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process.”

Karl Marx1


"The proclamation that I'm going to make a movie of Marx’s Das Kapital is not a publicity stunt. I believe that the films of the future will be found going in this direction (or else they’ll be filming things like The Idea of Christianity from the bourgeois point of view!). In any case, they will have to do with philosophy. It is true that I won’t get to this for another year or a year and a half, since the field is absolutely untouched. Tabula rasa. And it will be necessary to do a lot of sketching before trying to treat such an enormous theme without compromising it. I'd really like for you to look at October more or less from the point of view I’ve just outlined. You'll see a multitude of this sort of step-beginning with the awkward, even vulgar, even shameful symbolism-and going to the Gods and Kerensky’s Rise, which, like the battleship’s lions, serves as a ladder to a completely different idea of cinema.”

Sergei M. Eisenstein2


“It is always good to have a new Kluge, provided you know what lies in store for you. His latest film, News from Ideological Antiquity – some nine hours long – is divided into three parts: I. Marx and Eisenstein in the Same House; II. All Things are Bewitched People; III. Paradoxes of Exchange Society. Rumour has it that Kluge has here filmed Eisenstein’s 1927–28 project for a film version of Marx’s Capital, whereas in fact only Kluge’s first part deals with this tantalizing matter. The rumour has been spread by the same people who believe Eisenstein actually wrote a sketch for a film on Capital, whereas he only jotted down some twenty pages of notes over a half-year period. And at least some of these people know that he was enthusiastic about Joyce’s Ulysses during much the same time and ‘planned’ a film on it, a fact that distorts their fantasies about the Capital project as well. Yet if Eisenstein’s notes for film projects all looked like this until some of them were turned into ‘real’ – that is to say, fiction or narrative – films, it is only fair to warn viewers that Kluge’s ‘real’ films look more like Eisenstein’s notes.”

Frederic Jameson3


October 12, 1927

It’s settled: we’re going to film CAPITAL, on Marx’s scenario-the only logical solution.

Sergei M. Eisenstein4


March 8, 1928

Yesterday thought a lot about CAPITAL. About the structure of the work which will derive from the methodology of film-word, film-image, film-phrase, as now discovered (after the sequence of “the gods”). The working draft.

Take a trivial progressive chain of development of some action... For instance: one day in a man’s life. Minutieusement set forth as an outline which makes us aware of departure from it. For that purpose only. Only as the critique of the development of associative order of social conventions, generalizations and theses of CAPITAL. Generalizations, from given cases to ideas (this will be completely primitive, especially if we move in a line from bread shortages to the grain shortage [and] the mechanics of speculation. And here, from a button to the theme of overproduction, but more clearly and neatly.)

Sergei M. Eisenstein5


April 4, 1928

“... The ironic part outweighs the pathetic one. The German romantics already knew the advantage of irony over pathos. For purposes of intensification, pathos had to be made fantastic and hyperbolic. The living historical material did not allow that, however. The picture therefore revealed a split." (Leningrad newspaper Kino, discussion on OCTOBER, article by M. Bleiman.)
In connection with CAPITAL, 'stimuli', that is, suggestive materials, should be introduced. So, for instance, that excerpt from Bleiman suggests elements for pathos in CAPITAL (Say, for the last ‘chapter’-dialectical method in practical class struggle).

In those ‘great days’ I noted on a scrap of paper that in the new cinema, the established place of eternal themes (academic themes of LOVE AND DUTY, FATHERS AND SONS,TRIUMPH OF VIRTUES,etc.) will be taken by a series of pictures on the subjects of ‘basic methods’. The content of CAPITAL (its aim) is now formulated: to teach the worker to think dialectically.
To show the method of dialectics. This would mean (roughly) five- nonfigurative chapters. (Or six, seven, etc.) Dialectical analysis of historical events. Dialectics in scientific problems. Dialectics of class struggle (the last chapter).
“An analysis of a centimeter of silk stocking." (About the silk stocking as such, Grisha 1 copied out from somewhere-the silk manufacturers’ fight for the short skirt. I added the competitors-the textile masters’ for long skirts. Morality. Clergy, etc.)
Still very complicated to think ‘somehow’ in ‘extra-thematic’ imagery. But no problem... ça viendra!

Sergei M. Eisenstein6


Marty Kirchner: This may not be the best place to start since we haven’t even seen all of Kluge’s film yet, but I think we should talk about whether either Kluge or Eisenstein are actually interested in making a film version of Capital. Perhaps we could approach the question of what Kluge is trying to do with this film, and what Eisenstein would have wanted to do with his. I may be wrong, but I don’t think either filmmaker sets out to make Marx’s ideas more accessible, the way, say, David Harvey does in his book, A Companion to Capital. My guess is that Eisenstein’s ambitions were quite different than Kluge’s; and not only for the obvious reasons; film had a very different meaning then than it does today. Still, I wonder to what extent even Eisenstein sought to use film to bring Capital to the masses.

Stephen Squibb: I think this is an excellent place to begin. Especially when we consider the context of Eisenstein’s initial idea. He is trying to edit October down for the rapidly approaching anniversary of the revolution. He is very late, and so is prescribed amphetamines to help him work. Sleeping very little, and heavily drugged, Eisenstein begins to make his famous notes towards a film version of Capital. This is also in the general vicinity of his meeting with Joyce about the possibility of filming Ulysses. So we have these two poles: the October revolution and Ulysses. And perhaps it is interesting to think of Capital as taking place somewhere in between these, both literally and figuratively. The question might then be – what, or which, is Capital for Eisenstein in this moment? Ulysses or revolution?
For Kluge’s part I agree that this question of accessibility, or of the cinematic as such, is not so central. Given that, though, does his attempt, all nine hours of it, represent something like the truth of Eisenstein’s unrealized desire – or its betrayal?

Boško Blagojević: In his monumental portrait of the popular Romanian revolution of 1989, Harun Farocki observed that film seemed destined since its invention to make history visible. This relation between history and film – the former making the latter possible – is dialectically resolved by Farocki with a technological promise from one century, the one out of which film technology emerges, to the next: if film is possible, then history too, must be possible. Visibility and legibility are not the same things of course. In its density, in its arduous ambition, perhaps Kluge’s film, too, works at something like deepening the contemporary historical imagination.

Kirchner: With all the intertitles, Kluge’s News makes reference to the bygone era of silent film, the era Eisenstein would have been working in when he would have made his version. To what extent would Kluge see Capital the way he sees silent film, as a memory of a bygone era?
If, for Marx, history is the history of class struggles, Eisenstein’s film really would have made history legible, even if what he had planned was a fictional narrative. Farocki’s film Videograms of a Revolution, seems in some ways more Vertov than Eisenstein; however, I read somewhere that Eisenstein’s October and Farocki’s Videograms, could be thought of as films that bookend 20th century Central European history, both for the events they document, and in the technological and formal means by which those events are represented.

Marty Kirchner, Boško Blagojević, Chris Reitz and Stephen Squibb in conversation7

  • 1Karl Marx, cited in Annette Michelson, “Reading Eisenstein Reading Capital,” October 2 (1976): 26:38.
  • 2Sergei M. Eisenstein, cited in Leon Moussinac, Sergei Eisenstein, trans. D. Sandy Petrey (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.,1970), 28-9.
  • 3Frederic Jameson, “Marx and Montage,” New Left Review 58, July-August 2009.
  • 4Sergei M. Eisenstein, “Notes for a Film of Capital,” transl. by Maciej Sliwowski, Jay Leyda and Annette Michelson, October 2 (1976): 3-26.
  • 5Sergei M. Eisenstein, “Notes for a Film of Capital,” transl. by Maciej Sliwowski, Jay Leyda and Annette Michelson, October 2 (1976): 3-26.
  • 6Sergei M. Eisenstein, “Notes for a Film of Capital,” transl. by Maciej Sliwowski, Jay Leyda and Annette Michelson, October 2 (1976): 3-26.
  • 7Marty Kirchner, Boško Blagojević, Chris Reitz and Stephen Squibb, “Good News: On Kluge’s Ideological Antiquity,” Idiommag, November 10, 2010.
UPDATED ON 21.04.2018