"if I cannot dance I don t want to be part of your revolution," ( Ausschnitt) Full HD Film 4`18, variable dimensions
Research into the essay-film is a relatively new field and an agreed definition has not yet emerged. The debate has unfolded on several levels concerning the question of genre, intermediality, the essay-film as film theory, and the essayistic as a structure for producing critical knowledge.
As a distinct genre, the essay goes back to 16th century philosopher Michel de Montaigne, who devised it as a form for testing subjectivity, ideas and society by weighting thoughts. With shifting emphasis, the essay was influential for a variety of critics in later centuries such as De Sade, Ralph W. Emerson or Friedrich Nietzsche. In the 20th century its significance was highlighted by Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno and Roland Barthes, who elaborated it in different directions as a genre between literature and philosophy.
Most relevant for the discussion of the potential of the essay for critical thinking is Theodor W. Adorno’s text The Essay as Form (1958). Here he conceptualized the essay as the most advanced articulation of knowledge as “the critical form par excellence (...) it is the critique of ideology,” and thus the immanent critique of intellectual constructions. For him, it allowed a complex and self-reflective approach to any given topic, opposing methods of rational logic established by Descartes for scientific knowledge in the empirical tradition. For Adorno, the basic function of the essay is to criticize any form of knowledge that is
conceived as objective or naturally given and therefore, in his eyes, ideological. For him, the critical potential of the essay lies in its ability to reveal the ideological framework of every conception, thus fostering doubt as to the very method of thinking. This is achieved because the essay introduces a form of knowledge which is self-reflective, open, fragmentary, associative, or even antagonistic as opposed to total and systematic.
For Adorno, knowledge in the essay is considered as a form of interpretation. Subjective in its focus, it exposes any claim to objectivity. It is a cautious, tentative mode of approach from a multitude of perspectives opposing the sharp-edged single focused analyses in rational science. Knowledge in the essayistic form is not logically deduced through a coherent argument in a chain of subordinated arguments, but instead arises in a meandering network (Geflecht) comparable to the movement of thoughts. The elements within an essay are loosely arranged. They have alternating effects on each other and generate, as it were, force fields (Kraftfelder) that overlap. Knowledge in this form is only possible in the particular – not as a general conclusion. The loose and fragmented structure which Adorno attributes to the essay is constantly counterweighted by a striving towards continuity and is an entity which cannot be fixed. It is this structure of non-identity, which ensures that meaning is still possible, although only partially and fragmented. The essay is in Adorno’s view also a form that intrinsically comprises moments of freedom for writer and reader as each can participate in the production of meaning and isn’t exposed to fixed results. Heidi Brunnschweiler, Curator, "Songs from the end of the world"