Alexander Kluge (born 14 February 1932) is a German author, philosopher, academic and film director.
Early life, education and early career
Kluge was born in Halberstadt in present-day Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.
After growing up during World War II, he studied history, law and music at the University of Marburg Germany, and the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main in Germany. He received his doctorate in law in 1956.
While studying in Frankfurt, Kluge befriended the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno, who was teaching at the Institute for Social Research, or Frankfurt School. Kluge served as a legal counsel for the Institute, and began writing his earliest stories during this period. At Adorno's suggestion, he also began to investigate filmmaking, and in 1958, Adorno introduced him to German filmmaker Fritz Lang, for whom Kluge worked as an assistant on the making of The Tiger of Eschnapur.
Kluge directed his first film in 1960, Brutality in Stone, a twelve-minute, black and white, lyrical montage work which, against the German commercial (Papa's Kino) cinematic amnesia of the prior decade, inaugurated an exploration of the Nazi past. The film premièred in 1961 at what would become the showcase for the new generation of German filmmakers, the Westdeutsche Kurzfilmtage (now known as the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen) in Oberhausen, Germany.
Kluge was one of twenty-six signatories to the Oberhausen Manifesto of 1962, which marked the launch of the New German Cinema. That same year, with filmmakers Edgar Reitz and Detlev Schleiermacher, Kluge established the Ulm Institut für Filmgestaltung, to promote the critical and aesthetic practices of Young German Film and the New German Cinema.
In 1965 he was a member of the jury at the 15th Berlin International Film Festival.
He has gone on to direct a number of films which have an inherent critique of commercial cinema and television through the creation of a counter-public sphere and their deployment of experimental forms, including montage. They include Abschied von Gestern (Yesterday Girl) (1966), an adaptation of Kluge's story "Anita G."; Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: Ratlos (Artists under the Big Top: Perplexed) (1968); and The Assault of the Present on the Rest of Time (1985).
In 2017, Kluge and his studio are featured in the film Finite and Infinite Games by artist Sarah Morris. The film, which focuses around the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany, includes debate between Kluge and Morris on architecture, music, and the religious philosophy of American academic James P. Carse.
In 1987, Kluge founded the television production company Development Company for Television Program mbH (DCTP), which produces late-night and night-time independent television slots on the private channels RTL Television, Sat.1, and VOX.
Much of the DCTP programs consist of television documentaries by Kluge (often characterized by the lack of spoken narration and a heavy reliance upon text as well as graphical montages and image editing) as well as many interviews Kluge leads with various international personalities from the fields of arts, entertainment, science, philosophy, and politics. Some of the interviewed are fictitious characters portrayed by professional actors Helge Schneider and Peter Berling, or factual people parodied by the two, including, but not limited to, Adolf Hitler, historical Roman generals, Napoleon's political advisors, or the lawyer of Michael Jackson.
Beside Kluge's own productions, DCTP also co-produces so-called Magazinsendungen, which are investigatory programs in cooperation with Der Spiegel (SPIEGEL TV), Stern (stern TV), Süddeutsche Zeitung (Süddeutsche TV), Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ Format), and the British Broadcasting Corporation.
- "We don't perceive a contradiction between writing books, making films or producing a television program. These days you can't choose how you want to express yourself anymore."
- —Alexander Kluge
Kluge is also one of the major German fiction writers of the late-20th century and an important social critic. His fictional works, which tend toward the short story form, are significant for their formal experimentation and insistently critical thematics. Constituting a form of analytical fiction, they utilize techniques of narrative disruption, mixed genres, interpolation of non-literary texts and documents, and perspectival shifts. The texts frequently employ a flat, ironic tone. One frequent effect approximates what Viktor Shklovsky and the Russian formalists identified as defamiliarization or ostranenie. In an interview with 032c magazine, Kluge described his point of view on writing with a quote by Georg Büchner: "I've always wanted to see what my head looks like from above." Kluge explains that when "writing literary texts, you look—if you're going about it correctly—down to yourself, to your head from above. Then you no longer have a relationship with yourself. At the most, you have trust in yourself that a text will emerge from this and that you still have the sovereignty and the strength to throw it away if it amounts to nothing." Kluge has used several of his stories as the bases for his films.
Kluge's major works of social criticism include Öffentlichkeit und Erfahrung. Zur Organisationsanalyse von bürgerlicher und proletarischer Öffentlichkeit, co-written with Oskar Negt and originally published in 1972, and "Geschichte und Eigensinn", also co-authored with Negt. "Öffentlichkeit und Erfahrung" has been translated into English as Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere and "Geschichte und Eigensinn" was translated into English as History and Obstinacy, published in 2014 by Zone Books.
"Public Sphere and Experience" revisits and expands Jürgen Habermas's notion of the public sphere (which he articulated in his book Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere) and calls for the development of a new "proletarian public sphere" grounded in the life experience of the working class. "Geschichte und Eigensinn" continues this project and tries to rethink the very nature of proletarian experience and develops a theory of "living labour" grounded in the work of Karl Marx.
He has also published numerous texts on literary, film and television criticism. In discussing his literary technique of blending fiction and reality with author Gary Indiana, Kluge also offers a critique of the media industry's presentation of "reality", which he asserts is intrinsically false:
...Human beings are not interested in reality. They can’t be; it’s the human essence. They have wishes. These wishes are strictly opposed to any ugly form of reality. They prefer to lie than to become divorced from their wishes...[they] forget everything and can give up everything except this principle of misunderstanding reality, the subjective... If this is real, then the media industry is realistic in telling fiction, and the construction of reality founded on this basis can only lie. This is one of the reasons why history isn’t realistic: it’s not documentary, it’s not genuine, and it’s not necessary.
Since 2016 Kluge has been collaborating with the American writer Ben Lerner. Their collaborations are collected in The Snows of Venice, published in 2018 by Spector Books.
His awards include the Italian Literature Prize Isola d'Elba (1967), and almost every major German-language literary prize, including the Heinrich von Kleist Prize (1985), the Heinrich-Böll-Preis (1993) and the Schiller Memorial Prize (2001).
Kluge received the Hanns-Joachim-Friedrichs-Award for TV Journalism (2001).
He has also received the Georg-Büchner-Preis (2003), Germany's highest literary award.
In recent years Kluge received the triennial Adorno prize of 2009.
In 2010 Kluge received the Grimme Award, one of the most important German television awards, in the category "Special mention" in honour of his lifetime achievements.
- 1962 Lebensläufe (Case Histories, also published earlier in English as Attendance List for a Funeral) — this collection includes the story "Anita G.," which Kluge adapted into cinematic form as Yesterday Girl.
- 1964 Schlachtbeschreibung (The Battle)
- 1973 Lernprozesse mit tödlichem Ausgang (Learning Processes with a Deadly Outcome) — this work is one of Kluge's original contributions to the science-fiction genre.
- 1977 Neue Geschichten: Hefte 1–18: "Unheimlichkeit der Zeit" (New Histories: Notebooks 1–18: "The Uncanniness of Time") — a collection of several hundred stories, some only one-page long, interspersed with documents, charts and images.
- 1984 Die Macht der Gefühle (The Power of Feelings)
- 2003 Die Lücke, die der Teufel läßt. (The Devil's Blind Spot) — this collection of 500 stories includes some earlier works; an abridged English-language version appeared in 2004.
- 2006 Tür an Tür mit einem anderen Leben. 350 neue Geschichten. — a collection of 350 new stories.
These two volumes together contain the central works of Kluge's and Oskar Negt's collaborative philosophy as well as Kluge's literary work. Some new material was published in each edition.
- 2000 Chronik der Gefühle (Chronicle of Feeling) — a two-volume edition (Basisgeschichten and Lebensläufe) including the works Schlachtbeschreibung, Lernprozesse mit tödlichen Ausgang, Lebensläufe and Neue Geschichten. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Critic Matthew D. Miller describes this work as a "modern epic."
- 2001 Der unterschätzte Mensch (The Undervalued Man) — a two-volume edition including Suchbegriffe (26 conversations and interviews first published in a book format), Öffentlichkeit und Erfahrung, Die Maßverhältnisse des Politischen (a completely updated and revised edition Oskar Negt's and Alexander Kluge's critique of Realpolitik), and Geschichte und Eigensinn. Frankfurt am Main: Zweitausendeins.
His sister, Alexandra Kluge, was a film actress.