Elena Vogman (Free University of Berlin), "Dance of Values: Sergei Eisenstein's Capital Project"

Tuesday, April 30, 2019 - 6:00pm
214 Pupin Hall, Columbia University
Event Category: 

Eisenstein’s adaptation of Karl Marx’s Capital (1927–1928) is a phantom in a double sense: although never realized, it has nonetheless haunted the imagination of many filmmakers, historians, and writers to the present day (most recently Alexander Kluge). Furthermore, its first public ‘materialization’ in 1974—a ten-page fragment of the director’s work diaries—was marked by what remained absent: Eisenstein’s images and working materials. Dance of Values aims to conjure the phantom of Capital once again—only this time on the basis of the full scope of Capital’s archival body. This “visual instruction in the dialectical method,” as Eisenstein himself called it, comprises over 500 pages of notes, drawings, press clippings, expression diagrams, plans for articles, negatives from October, theoretical reflections and extensive quotations.  

The talk explores the internal formal necessity underlying Eisenstein’s choices in Capital, arguing that its visual complexity as well as its epistemic efficacy reside precisely within the state of its material: the dance of heterogeneous themes and disparate fragments, a non-linear, provisory, and non-articulated flow. Sequences from archival materials will serve not as mere illustrations, but as visual arguments of their own, leading to a more concrete understanding of Eisenstein’s stakes in Capital: a visual theorization of value. A close reading of Eisenstein’s archive allows not only for the reconstruction of morphological elements present in Marx’s theory of value, but also for the theorization of a crisis of political representation that extends to the present day. Employing an unambiguously morphological procedure, Eisenstein’s montage sequences produce a kind of surplus value entirely their own: a semiotic excess that stirs the materials and represented bodies into a dance analogous to Marx’s “dance” of “petrified conditions.” It is in this polymorphic and “diffuse” language—associated with the stream of consciousness of Joyce’s Ulysses—that Eisenstein saw the strongest critical and affective potential for the future cinema.

Elena Vogman is an author, independent curator and postdoctoral fellow in the research project “Rhythm and Projection” at the Free University of Berlin. She specializes on the history and theory of cinema and media, with a particular emphasis on forms of visual thinking, practices of montage and the relations between literature, ethnology, art and science. She wrote her dissertation on the concept of sensuous thinking in Sergei Eisenstein’s theory project Method. Her first book Sinnliches Denken: Eisensteins exzentrische Methode has been published by diaphanes (2018). Her next book, Dance of Values: Eisenstein’s Capital Project reconstructs Eisenstein’s theory of value, analyzing how Marx’s Critique of Political Economy appears in the visual form of montage.