Two Quick Thoughts for Friday – With Herzog

Thought 1:

Gilles Deleuze writes of the shift from the society of discipline to the society of control:

“A control is not a discipline. In making highways, for example, you don’t enclose people but instead multiply the means of control. I am not saying that this is the highway’s exclusive purpose, but that people can drive infinitely and ‘freely’ without being at all confined yet while still being perfectly controlled. This is our future.”

The genius of Werner Herzog comes to mind, since he has been making films in the jungle and in the wilderness for longer than most filmmakers.

But while Herzog no doubt was ahead of the curve, others are now on it, as we arguably see a shift away from the road movie with its ill-informed myth of freedom – from the Beats to Easy Rider – to a more desperate search for freedom from control as witnessed in Into the Wild and 127 Hours.

How interesting that madness and danger are everywhere in the wilderness. Maybe there is no escape.

Thought 2:

We are in the world. At no point in our brief existence can we look at the world from a separate vantage point such that we can identify it correctly. At no point does it not have an effect on us in the same way that we have an effect on it.

With-ness (after Jean-Luc Nancy): we are fundamentally with each other in this world. At no moment in time are we without others, no matter how alienating certain experiences that we do have can make us feel.

Perhaps for cultural reasons, we suffer from the illusion that we are not with each other, that we are not together.

There is a paradox here that needs explaining. Culture is the product of human society; that is, culture is the product of being with others, of not being alone. Culture is something that fundamentally, therefore, we share.

To say that a culture could produce a sense of alienation, then, is contradictory.

What produces the sense of alienation is the decision taken, somewhere, by someone, to say that ‘this is my culture’ and ‘that is your culture.’ Inevitably, because we are in this world together, we are with the world and with each other, these supposedly separated cultures come up against each other. Of course they come up against each other: the fundamental with-ness of the world cannot isolate or, as per the above thought, control men for long enough.

And so this thing, culture, which some humans feel makes them feel part of a society, is the very same thing that causes conflict – precisely at the moment when cultures are drawn together, not necessarily as they should be, but as they cannot but be.

In other words: there is only one culture, and when mankind tries to argue otherwise, it acts in a fundamentally uncultured fashion. Clashes of culture are proof of with-ness; dividing culture into cultures is the source of the clash.

The ‘one culture’ of which I speak is not this or that particular culture; it is all cultures. It is the plurality of cultures. With-ness fundamentally needs plurality; if we were all the same, we would not know that others were there for us to be with them. In other words, celebrate difference. It is the one true thing that we all share. Difference is our culture.

The relation to cinema: I wonder whether this is why almost all of the most moving films are for me films that involve acts of altruism. I shan’t give examples; but altruism is at its core an act of with-ness, it is communal, common, compromise, complicit, and complicated.

Sacrifice is even greater than altruism, and moves me yet further when I see it rendered well on film. Sacrifice: to make (facere) sacred, or other (sacer). To make oneself other (to sacri-fice oneself) is an act of such paradoxical with-ness that it is overpowering.

To tie these two thoughts together: these are thoughts for Friday. Not just for the day, Friday (today), but for the man whom Robinson Crusoe called Friday, that human that proved to Crusoe, had he eyes to see it, that we are always with others.

Although he’s not made a straight adaptation of it, the spirit of Robinson Crusoe sits in Herzog’s films. In The White Diamond, Graham Dorrington tells Mark Anthony Yhap about how the children in Guyana cannot see his airship because, like the aborigines failing to recognise James Cook’s ships in New Zealand, it does not register in their visual vocabulary.

Aside from the possible/likely apocryphal nature of Dorrington’s story (if he is referring to Maoris, they were seafarers before Cook arrived, so this cannot be true), only one thought seems to come to mind: what is it that Dorrington cannot see? Does Dorrington even ask himself – as he fails truly to register the man with whom he is speaking? – this question?

In my understanding of the film – but perhaps this is Herzog’s trickery – Dorrington does not seem to ask himself this question, as indeed he romanticises and almost fails to see Yhap, who otherwise hijacks Herzog’s film and becomes the centre of Herzog’s attention.

It is a pity that we have to go, after Leshu Torchin, into the cinema’s cave of forgotten dreams, to get a sense of with-ness, both with those around us and with those from our past.

But either way: if cinema can help to see that we are always and forever with others, then cinema may unite us yet.

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About wjrcbrown

I am a Lecturer in Film at Roehampton University. I am a sort of filmmaker.
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4 Responses to Two Quick Thoughts for Friday – With Herzog

  1. I think this is a useful way of talking about the modern political cinema/people to come. It is less about delineating a group’s difference than causing a local with-ness to come about. Of course it doesn’t operate on such a grand scale… but perhaps it is the beginning of a subjective realignment in this direction.

    • wjrcbrown says:

      I wondered that, if I want to like altruism, then un-with-ness must be there for with-ness to work. Maybe not because of the whole ‘difference’ thing. But I suspect, being a schizo between radical and conservative, who wonders that tautology/amen/it is as it is is about as far as we can get, that there is not more to it than my thought conveyed. But it was my Friday thought and I wanted to keep it that way. But yes – this ties in with my people to come direction at the moment – Nancy’s Being Singular Plural is proving interesting for this, though I have not finished it/seem to get little time to read it. I cited you in an essay today – on Ghobadi. I hope it gets published…

  2. Barnaby Rowe says:

    Interesting post Will. I always felt that Easy Rider in fact gave a more than balanced portrayal of these ill-informed aspects of the myth of freedom: the gormless, unwelcoming hippies in their ‘free’ commune, scratching for weeds in the dust; the spidery paranoia of the LSD sequence; the pessimism of the film’s finale. At least the guy from 127 hours escaped with his life (if not his arm). That Easy Rider has become emblematic of the the road trip myth is ironic and probably has much to do with the film’s marketing, both then in the late 60s and subsequently.

    Now I agree about the Beats, Kerouac in particular is much more guilty for partially founding that whole myth, but I want to let him off because that book is so *fun*…

    • wjrcbrown says:

      Yeah – this is mean on Easy Rider – and I know I am being mean. It sees through the road thing. But it’s still what set all those point road movies going… Thelma & Louise is interesting here, too – the road does not work – so they drive their car into nature/the Grand Canyon…

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