Of all the ﬁlms ﬂeetingly invoked by Jean Baudrillard to elucidate and exemplify his dazzling theoretical and conceptual repertoire,1 few, if any, attract his attention more than – one might say, none seem to haunt him so persistently as – the early German silent ﬁlm The Student of Prague. Rather improbably, not only does he devote the entire Conclusion – characteristically, of course, anything but an actual conclusion – of his (1998a ) study The Consumer Society (hereafter CS) to a consideration of this arcane ﬁlm, but its key motif – of the human subject’s mirror-image stepping out of the frame and into the world as a demonic, and ultimately fatal, doppelgänger – refuses to leave Baudrillard in peace, making repeated, usually unannounced, appearances in, for instance, Simulacra and Simulation (1994a : 95), in Seduction (1990a : 168) and, more recently, Cool Memories III (1997a [1995b]: 11) and The Perfect Crime (1996c [1995a]: 148-9), the last of these concluding with a fragment unmistakably entitled ‘The revenge of the mirror people’. Given that so many of Baudrillard’s preoccupations – mirrors, reﬂections
and shadows; doubling, the demonic image and the precession of simulacra; seduction, duels and pacts; the trompe d’oeil, fractals and fragments; haunting, disappearance and death – might potentially be traced back in some way to his encounter with The Student of Prague, it is rather surprising that his discussion of this ﬁlm has received so little consideration. The ﬁlm seemingly escapes the attention of key commentators such as Kellner (1989), Gane (1991), Genosko (1994) and Merrin (2005), and even in Butler’s (1999) study the chapter promisingly entitled ‘Doubling’ contains no mention. Such an omission is even more curious when one considers that
Baudrillard is not the only writer to highlight the ﬁlm’s signiﬁcance and oﬀer a distinctive reading of its themes and imagery: the Critical Theorist Siegfried Kracauer opens his famous pioneering 1947 ‘psychological history’ of Weimar cinema From Caligari to Hitler with a detailed consideration of this ﬁlm, and the contemporary German theorist Friedrich Kittler (1986/ 1999) revisits it at length in his seminal genealogical exploration of modern
media technologies Gramophone, Film, Typewriter.2 How might their divergent historical discussions, the ﬁrst involving a kind of socio-psychoanalysis of ﬁlm and its audiences, the latter tracing the startling aﬃnities between psychiatric and cinematic imaginations, provide a frame for, or counterpoint to, Baudrillard’s own account so that one may tease out the ﬁlm’s wider signiﬁcance for his ‘fatal theory’? It is this question that concerns me in this chapter.