WHAT MAKES AN EXCERPT? The Video Essay as an Experiment Performed on the Work of Art


By Vinzenz Hediger



There is no doubt that the video essay challenges established genres and academic divisions of labour, in the same way that Adorno attributed to the written essay. The question is what exactly we mean when we talk about ‘criticism’ (Kritik) in relation to the new forms of digital criticism. To answer this question, my contribution takes a clue from the notion of criticism developed by the German Romantics. Criticism in the sense of the Romantics, writes Walter Benjamin, “is a kind of experiment performed on the work of art which awakens the art work’s inherent potential for reflection, through which the work acquires a consciousness of itself”. If we define film as a medium of reflection, i.e., as a medium that always already contains its own critique, we can conceive of the video essay precisely as the “experiment performed on the work of art” that Benjamin describes. In order to substantiate this claim, this contribution focuses on what may be described as the material of the essay, the excerpt, and asks what exactly an excerpt does.


Vinzenz Hediger is Professor of Film Studies at Goethe Universität Frankfurt.