The older and allegedly more conventional humanistic discipline of philology and the field of the “new” media of film that were emerging into their maturity in the early twentieth century are not commonly aligned. The institutional spaces they occupied—a cloistered academy and the popular “public sphere”—are seen as antithetical to one another. Letters between the contemporaries Erich Auerbach and Siegfried Kracauer suggest another story. This essay explores Auerbach’s and Kracauer’s interest in the enormous power of the cultural products they studied: the plays of seventeenth-century French classicisme and the mass-produced cinema of the early twentieth century, respectively, in critical fashion. Auerbach’s familiarity with Kracauer’s early essays may have alerted him to questions at the heart of the latter’s critique of the culture industry and helps explain the remarkable agreement between Kracauer’s account, in essays written during the mid- to late 1920s, of how a modern urban public “consumed” movies and Auerbach’s description of the audiences of early modern French tragedy in the to all appearances highly academic book The French Public of the Seventeenth Century, completed in 1933.

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