Hollywood, exile, and new types of pictures: Günther Anders's 1941 California diary "Washing the Corpses of History"

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Key aspects of Günther Anders’s critique of modernity, which is mainly advanced in the two volume work The Obsolescence of Human Beings (1956; 1980), are developed via diary notes compiled between 1939-1943 in California, during long years of exile in America. This article turns to The Obsolescence 1, the unpublished film scripts Anders produced whilst in Hollywood, and the wider intellectual and historical contexts from which Anders’s work emerges to situate the key text “Washing the Corpses of History”, the only stand-alone Californian diary he published. By linking this darkly humorous reflection on Hollywood cinema back to the film scripts, which are themselves heavily invested in a surrealistic kind of humour, I show how the later works caricature the condition of exile in order to advance what is now widely acknowledged as one of the most radical critiques of modernity advanced in 20th Century German thought. In doing so, this essay hopes to make a contribution to the discovery of a unique body of work, that, in the last twenty five years, has given rise to over 50 academic book publications in German, French and Italian. Although Anders’s work bears close affinities to that of his contemporaries (to which he had close ties), it nevertheless radically stands apart through its investment in using “imagination as an empirical method” to confront its reader with the unfelt consequences of ever more powerful technological objects. As such, it is testament to the enduring analytical, critical and diagnostic potential of modernist thought.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Published in conjunction with the author's translation of Günther Anders's “Washing the Corpses of History: The Hollywood Costume Palace," which can be read at https://modernismmodernity.org/articles/washing-the-corpses-trans.


  • translation
  • film
  • exile


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