From Assembled Images To Assembled Texts: Literary Montage In Weimar Germany
history of material texts
History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology
During the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), montage emerged as a key formal innovation across the arts, sparking new developments in photomontage, assemblage, typography, and literature. While numerous examples of montage in literature exist from the period, their material and stylistic diversity present a significant hurdle to a comprehensive account of literary montage. I propose that literary montage emerges alongside photomontage as a reaction to transformations in the distribution and materiality of print. Literary montage is not a translation of or reaction to montage in the visual arts, but a parallel development that responds to similar political and representational concerns. I offer readings of montage experiments in literature from avant-garde artists Raoul Hausmann, Johannes Baader, and Kurt Schwitters, alongside readings of canonical montage texts by Walter Benjamin and Alfred Döblin. I argue that literary montage engages with literature both as a process and a product. The authors of this study use literary montage as an engagement with the specific materiality of and material conditions for literature and its production, using the various components of literature and its production, from the print apparatus, the print product itself, and the role of the author, as ready-mades they can deploy to refashion literature. They seek to reanimate literature in response to its perceived rigidity, conservativism, and inexpressiveness in order to create new possibilities for signification and political action. Rather than destroy literature or make something new in its place, literary montage combines the existing elements of literature, including its materiality and means of production, in new, surprising constellations which rejuvenate and reanimate not only the formal possibilities of literature, but also its role in society and material basis.