The Chatter of the Visible

Montage and Narrative in Weimar Germany
Patrizia C. McBride
An examination of the aesthetics and “chattering” effects of Weimar-era photo montage


The Chatter of the Visible examines the paradoxical narrative features of the photo montage aesthetics of artists associated with Dada, Constructivism, and the New Objectivity. While montage strategies have commonly been associated with the purposeful interruption of and challenge to narrative consistency and continuity, McBride offers an historicized reappraisal of 1920s and 1930s German photo montage work to show that its peculiar mimicry was less a rejection of narrative and more an extension or permutation of it—a means for thinking in narrative textures exceeding constraints imposed by “flat” print media (especially the novel and other literary genres).

McBride’s contribution to the conversation around Weimar-era montage is in her situation of the form of the work as a discursive practice in its own right, which affords humans a new way to negotiate temporality; as a particular mode of thinking that productively relates the particular to the universal; or as a culturally specific form of cognition.

“McBride emerges here as a leading interpreter of modernist aesthetics in Germany. She has the rare and enviable ability to mediate between probingly close readings and theoretical reflection in ways that shed important light on the category of montage as it developed between avant-garde and modernism in the cultural effervescence of the Weimar Republic.”
—Russell Berman, Stanford University

The Chatter of the Visible is a wonderful book. Patrizia McBride knows her topic inside and out and manages to bring a refreshing new perspective on Weimar visual culture in a way I think few scholars working today could match. Her account of Weimar montage as ‘world making’ is at once innovative and compelling, expansive and extremely precise.”
—Michael Cowan, University of St. Andrews

The Chatter of the Visible: Montage and Narrative in Weimar Germany has all the intellectual makings of becoming a major go-to and reference for Weimar culture studies written in English. It is one of the theoretically most accomplished studies in that field, which will simultaneously fulfill a complementary need for more historically oriented scholarly work in the area and era. This is the case for literary scholarship as well as for culture and visual studies, to all of which this book is of eminent importance.”
—Rainer Rumold, Northwestern University

“Patrizia McBride’s seminal study examines the relationship between montage and narrative in Weimar Germany. In its masterful analyses, the book provides a detailed presentation of the various facets of montage narratives as an interface of technology, perception, and materiality. In doing so, it develops a theory of narrative that spans different media and discourses and is thus pathbreaking for Literary Studies oriented toward the history of knowledge and media studies.”
—Elisabeth Strowick, Johns Hopkins University

“Patrizia McBride’s study impressively complexifies our understanding of montage. Without simply rejecting its modernist conceptualizations as a primarily antinarrative force of rupture, the readings presented show how in response to the contemporary crisis of narrative sensemaking, Weimar authors and artists profiled montage as an innovative, phenomenological means of narration.”
—Claudia Breger, Indiana University

“Reconstructing the complex ecology of old genres and new media in the interwar years, McBride develops a striking vision of montage as a practice of storytelling native to the modern technological surround. Against one-sided interpretations of montage as a strategy of deconstruction and protest, The Chatter of the Visible reminds us that every montage cut also entails a suture, and that political interventions can be found not just in critique but in connection and correspondence as well.”
—Devin Fore, Princeton University

“This is by far the best book written on the topic of montage and narrative in Weimar culture so far. It establishes historical and theoretical parameters one will have to work with in the future. McBride states that the aesthetic means of montage appeared as a most fitting correlate to the multiple traumas woven into the historical fabric of Weimar Germany.” 
—Paul Michael Lutzeler, Washington University

Cover: Hannah Höch, Hochfinanz (High Finance) (1923). Photomontage and collage on paper. Galerie Berinson, Berlin. Copyright 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

Patrizia C. McBride is a Professor of 20th-century German literature and culture and aesthetic theory since the eighteenth century at Cornell University. Her previous books include The Void of Ethics and Legacies of Modernism, co-edited with Richard McCormick and Monika Zager.

Praise / Awards

  • "The Chatter of the Visible is a must-read from cover to cover."
  • "McBride’s account reveals the overlooked narrative dimension and force of montage aesthetics and offers alternative modes of envisioning cohesion and world making in a new media environment."
    --Honorable Mention, MLA Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 246pp.
  • 26 figures.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2016
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07303-0

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  • $74.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2016
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05303-2

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  • $29.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2016
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90066-4

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  • Weimar, Weimar-era, photo, montage, 1920s, 1930s, experimental, Dada, Constructivism, New Objectivity