Since the 1970s the German filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg has produced a series of highly unusual essay films and written lengthy diatribes promoting and defending them. This article reads Syberberg's essayistic output across media as a project of calculated self-delegitimation, which stages an essayistic subjectivity that is inconsistent, petty, and self-defeating. For Syberberg, this project is a matter both of content and of form: his films and books are highly essayistic, but they are unusual essays. Syberberg constructs a unique tradition of essayism for himself that depends on excess, monumentality, and self-contradiction. This aesthetic of self-defeat, which Syberberg developed in the 1970s, was inspired by the subject of one of his earliest essay films, Winifred Wagner (Richard Wagner's daughter-in-law), and it eventually contributed to Syberberg's embrace of right-wing ideology.

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