As part of the growth industry that has come to be known as “cultural studies,” Otto Karl Werckmeister is both idiosyncratic and typical. Although he has been living in the United States since 1965, this Berlin-born scholar has never really unpacked his bags. He continues to publish much of his work in Germany, where his writings have generated an enthusiasm altogether unmatched on our shores. Yet his appeal is not limited to an exclusively German audience. He belongs to, and is read by, an international band of neo-Marxist critics of what was once sneeringly dubbed “late capitalism.”

Werckmeister, who currently teaches at Northwestern University, has long pursued a calling as a medieval art historian. Attracted to thorny exegetical problems, he began by investigating occult numerological aspects of early medieval images—themes that seemed to gratify a yearning for special knowledge closed to the unthinking...


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