Document 176831

How to Open Your Eyes
Georges Didi-Huberman
o Ndnot Karun 'ilfoc:kl'WprDIMllOll
0 10D ~~~ FiJl" HMun FMOClIl FIIm!:Irodv.t.oon
o /ml!ff.;lce.1Wvn FarOl;1.l ~lIan
O w0 c~~ Harun F..odl filrnproduI,llOn
Certainly, the re exists no image th at doe s not simul t aneously Implicat e gazes,
gestures and thought s. Depending on the situation, th e gazes may be blind or
piercing, the ges tures bruta l or delicate, the thought s inept or sublime. But th ere
IS no such thing as an image that is pure vision , absol ute thought or sim ple
manipulation . It is espec ially absurd to try to disq ualify certain Images on the
grounds that they have supposedly been 'm anipulated'. All images of the world
are the result of a manipulation, of a conce rted effort In which the hand of man
intervenes - even if it is a mechan ical device. Only theo logians dream of images
\Ioll ictl were not made by the hand of man (the ache iropoietic images from the
Byzantine tradition, Meister Eckhardt' s ymagine denudari etc .j. The Question is
rather how to ascertain, each and every time - In each image - what exactly the
hand has done, In which way and to whic h purpose the manipulation took place .
We use our hands for better or for worse , we st rike or stroke, build or break , give
or take. We should , in front of eac h image. ask ourselves the quest ion of how it
gazes (at us), how It thinks (us) and how it touc hes (us) at the same time .
Aphotograph , certain ly taken by one of t ns fri ends. shows Harun Farocki In spring
1981 in front of the Arse nal film the atre In West-Berlin. which was runnmg a
programme of films organ ised by Filmkritlk. the journal he edi ted as part of a
ccnecuve. Sitting on a gate. the st em -Iacec film maker raises t ns fist towards
us spectators - like a demo nstrator. albe it a rather strange one: a so litary
Lifting one's thought to the level of anger (the anger provoked by all the violence
III the world. this Vio lence to which we refuse to be condemned). liftIng one's
anger to the level of a task (the task of denounci ng this violence wit h as much
calm and intelligence as poss ible).
1 ~ I lim/m htNnganel \10m GIIef,J/<Illrnl rom
fs$ll)'t;/m Hawn ~ Wenmotlagrapll,e
tlnoes Au/Ofe ~~ lmers,
Harun Farocki was part of the first graduate class of th e Deuts che Film- und
remsenakaoemie in Berlin In 1966. He was expelled from the film school as early
as 1969 beca use of his polit ical activism along with his com panions Hen rnut
Bitomsky, Wolfgang Petersen. Gunth er Peter Stras chek and Horger Meins. His
early studen t films, as Tilman Baumgart el has so apt ly put It. proceeded from a
'guerrilla' thinking which was fuell ed by political anger and borrowed it s form al
devices from Slt uattn nlsm, the French New Wave and Direct ctn eme.s Farockl
was making very harsh judgments on the most prominent directo rs of - vc ung
German Cinema " of th at tim e - Wim Wenders. Rainer Werner Fassbind er. Volker
Schlondorff - whom he accused, and would conti nue to be accusing for a long
time, of · confor ming to th e Idea everybody had of what a film was supposed to
eee aooa II 2Q3.
see Ibid, liP 25 103. <too I~man
llllumgilrtel, -B,ldms deS Kunstle1'5 a1s l u n ~r
M<tM . Mul\urrevGlu uon, Sallatiorn smus und
Focus·l hec,Hlin den Sludentenfilmen I'C"
Kerun Fa,oeklo, In Roll ~uri<:h end Ulrich
Kroest leds.), O!J( );,ger mil der' B'kJem.
OleFiime vIm He""n re roc ~i. Konslanl 1998.
1lJl· 155 177. See alsoKleus Kre 'n1e>er,
'Pap;e, sceee Slem Fa'ock,s fMIt! r ~ mt! '
'tlId" 1111. 27-45,
lhIfo<1......tely!lle phOUI wrt!I the ' a1se<1 fisl
IS ~ lllesumed lost !EcWol"S JlOtel.
0 39
be ". notably in their edl tmg or by the ir habit of resorting to the ceoomseo forms
of. for Instance. the snct-coumersnot."
In 1967 , Holger Mems had been the ca meraman on Farocki's film Die Worte
des vomueraen (The Words of the c naum a nj. who in turn noted tha t 'Holger
Melns' work at th e editing table consis te d of exam ining the shot s so as to form
his own judgement "." Shortly afterwards , Hotger Meins disa ppeared into the
underground, was arrested on 1 June 1972 to geth er with Andreas Baader and
Jan-Carl Raspe. was convicte d of terrori sm , and died on 9 November 1974 in
Wittlich prison on the 58'" day of his third hunger strike, which he had begun in
order t o prote st against th e conditions of his impri sonment, Farccki. like everyone
else , was to discover the photogra ph of his dead body in th e press - the image
of an emac iat ed body, Inci sed from the autopsy and sutured for whatever 'good
ouenc occas ion' prese nt s it self. An image Itself messed, di....ided and dividing
Farocki's gaze: between Its st atus as a horrific "police trophy" - a state image
which was deliberate ly wrrhou t duration and wt uc h, accord ing to Farock i. seemed
to say: ' look, we dIdn' t kill him , he d id it himse lf, and it was outs ioe cc r power to
prevent It · - and as a 'figure of Passion mscnoec' nonetheless in the image as
ti me endured, the time su ffered by this poor body,$
3 !\:a,~ n faroc~' . " La ll..B I Ul lufltllf li'
Intk , no.
55j1005, p 62
lifting, therefo re, one's tho ught of the image to th e anger provoked by time
endured, the time s uffe red by human beings In order to det ermine their own
H~,un Fa,oc~l, "RlSQue<sa .,e Imageli de
HQlger M'lfls" l l998), In ChrlsMlI 8lum~ngllf
ted.), R'ecoM41~ «pours,,,,", COU,be'vOle
2002, p. 29. r Rllik\IIChos LIte. ImateSot
HoIVr Ml!",,' . in; H.lnJI'I F~ odi . Nadldllld/
/lIlpI'1llI. eel.bJ Susame~,
hocolIu$ ~ Nn 'lO'V~ 'l
200 1. p. 288).
I IboG pp.'1 22
1 HalWlS l lldller ·hoJ'i<llilfllYll < !\:arun'
(l!J98), III rrak, no. 13/7002, p. n
7 Tn.odor WAdo,oo, .lJI'I ev. nt'>le
~gtll ed 1'.f8caue, ' [19M NOles surla
1,lIer,tW,., Palls 1984 {eu. 2009l, p. 261
{Il\todIDf W 4domo 'Tile Cu'Hl'Il' Realist On
Sie&lrled Mf;lCa_ ·, 10~ Gel....... Cnllque.
r-o.54/ 19911
So one had to take a st ance. To Intervene. Some of the photographs from
that time show Harun Farock i With placards or megapho nes In oubuc spaces.
All the while he was paying clo se attention to the films of Jean-Marie Straub
and Daniele Hulllet and Jean-luc Godard. In 1976 he staged two plays by
Heiner MOller, The BaWe and Tractor. together with Hanns zrscmer . - Workmg
with Harun". l isc hle r later .... rote . "Is both a trying and stimulatin g endeavour.
He obstinate ly, and seemi ngly without nesuanc n. maint ains th e primacy of the
profound Impr ess ion over Immed iate success , A pati ent msrstence on duratio n,
an anu-mhtttst persoecuve and a mate rialis t Impulse deter mine the ethic and the
aesthetic of tns work , There are beauti ful moment s where the flow of his thought s
meoverten uv sto ps because some thing new, something strange, th e uncanny
part of that which is familiar, has sudde nly cross ed his path. We the n witness
him wondering aloud, and this is when th e interlo cutor we always dreamed 01
re....ears himself. -. These words remi nd me of what Adorno said som ewhere about
Siegfried Kracauer, uus ' CUri OUS realist' : "He th inks Wit h an eye that ISastonished
almost to helples sness but then sudden ly flas hes into illuminat ion: '
Taking a stance in t he public realm - even if it means intervening on one's own
body and suffering (or some time. Such is the strateg ic pivot which, in 1969, the
film Nicht /6schbares Feuer (Inext inguishable Fire) represent s in Farockrs ent ire
oeuvre, A film for which t he artist still claims fu ll responsibility, sho wing it, for
instance, alongside his most recent insta llat ions in his exhibition at t he Jeu de
Paume in Paris a few weeks ago. t hat is thi rty years later.8 Inextinguishable Fire
is a lilm that combines action, passion and t hought. A film organised around a
surprising gesture: Ferockt's fist is no longer raised at us in a sign of rallying
(taking sides) . but rests on a tabl e for an unpredictable act ion (taking a stance).
But we should not be mistaken: th is fist , resting on a tab le in a neutral and calm
room , Is not at all aquiescent in its anger provoked by t ime endured, It adopts
this positio n because it forms part of a well t hought-out choreography, a carefully
elaborated dialectic. Firstl y, Farocki reads out aloud a test imony deposited by
Thai Bihn Dan, born in 1949, t o the Vietn am War Crimes Tribunal in Stockholm:
' wnne washing dishes on March 31" 1966 , at 7 ern. I heard planes approaching,
I rushed to the undergroun d she lter, but I was surprised by an exploding napa lm
bomb very close to me, The flames and unbearable heat engutreo me and I lost
consciousness . Napalm burned my face, both arms and both legs , My house was
burned as wel l. For 13 days I was unconscious, then 1 awoke in a bed in an FLN
Secondly. Farocki, In the manner of the best philosophers, presents us with an
aporia for tho ught, or to be more precise, an aporia for the thought of the image.
He addresses us, looking straight into the came ra: "How can we show you napalm
in action? Ana how can we show you the damage caus ed by napalm? If we show
you pictures of napalm damage, you'll close your eyes . First you'll close your eyes
to the pictu res ; th en you'll close your eyes to the memory; then you'll close your
eyes to t he facts; t hen you'll close your eyes to the connections between them. If
we show you a person wit h napalm burns, we'H hurt your fee lings. If we hurt your
feelings, you'll feel as if we've tried out napa lm on you, at your expense. We can
giveyou only a weak demonstrat ion of how napalm works.'?"
l et us halt t he speech and briefly reflect on the aporia, which is here arti cula ted
as three conjoi ned problems . An aest het ic problem: Farocki wants to address
his spectator's ' feeli ngs', and wants to respect t hem. A political problem: a few
seconds later, t he sensory tactfulness t urns into a linguistic punch as Farocki
brutally Questions that same spectator's 'responsibility'. 'If viewers '. he says,
'want no responsibilit y for napalm's effects, what resp onsib ility will they take
for the explanations of its use?,l1 (A reasoning which, incid entally, is inspired
by Bertolt Brecht), So you don' t want resp onsibility? Then it is also a problem
of knowledge [connaissanceJ, of mtsko owreoge [meconnaissanceJ, and of
B S€eChantat Pont!>"aM ted.), HfjRG .
Haron Fim d l/Rodruq Gtallam.
Palls 2009. p 200
9 Harun h rod;i. -fe u tne,t illgulble" (1969) .
ill BIQrnlmger(ed.) 2002. p. 15.
, 0 11)10 . pp. 15-16
11 Ibid.. P 16
acknowledgeme nt (reconnaissance], But how to invest someone with knowledge
who refu ses to know? How to ope n your eyes? How to disar m their def ences, their
prot ect ions, thei r stereotypes, their ill will. th eir ostrich polit ics? It is with this
question constant ly in mind th at Farock! con siders the problem of his enti re film,
It is with this question in mind that his gaze return s t o the camera lens, and this
is when he star ts to take act ion.
Thirdly, then, as can be read in the sce nario of Inextinguis hable Fire: -DOl l Y IN to
Farockrs left hand resting on the t able , Wit h hIS right hand he reaches crt-sc reen
for a burnin g cigarette and the n presses it into the bac k of his left arm, midway
betw een the wrist and elbow (3,5 seconds), Off-screen narrator: A cigarette bums
at 40 0 degrees. Napalm bums a t 3,000 degrees."u
l et us halt the Image and not forget th at this SImple crymg point - just as
one refers to the 'crying truth· - ttus poi nt of pain, of burnt skin, recalls oth er
images that emerged at th e time : the Vietnamese who immolated the mse lves
and more recently still, Jan Paracn burning on Wences las Squ are in Prague on
16 January 1969. Palach died from his terrible burns a mere th ree days later,
I recently lis tened again to the only rad io inter view he managed to give, in a
broken VOice, from his hospital bed, What is deeply moving Is that. as an example
of civil freedom, In the name of which he has just su ffered the wors t ordeal.
he spontaneously cites th e freedom of information. He basically says th at it is
prefe rable to immolate onese lf than to live deprived of th e world, cut off trom the
necessary 'images of the world '. He addresses th e world in th ese terms: 'Can't
you see that we're burning?', referring to the hell of totali tarianism, and turmng
this very addres s into an im age to be transmttte d.w It was to commemorate the
anniversary of his death that large demons tr ati ons were organised in Prague 20
years later; and It was for try ing to lay a wreath on his grave tha t v acrav Havel
was arrested on 16 Febru ary 1989 and subsequentl y sent enced to nine months'
im prison ment. A few month s before the dictatorship collapsed.
lifting one's thought to anger. lifting one's anger to the point of burning oneself.
In order to better. to cal mly denounce the viole nce of the world.
U lbod,p 16
13see Ge~,gts OI(li.Huberme n, -r imegt briikl-
(200 4),ln l.3urt IlIZifnmer"llln" (t d) ,
~fp;ltlrs ~ .....rO\lfde$uaw ....
~ GecJtXes
Illl. 11·52.
fJIdI.lfI.obetmatI. Nanl6 2006,
German and Frenc h use a similar expression - seine Hand ins Feuer legen;
mettre sa main au tev. lit erally 'pu tting one's hand in the fire' - to SIgnify a moral
or political engagement, one's res ponsibility when faced wit h tru thful conten t, As
though it had becom e necessary , in our cur rent historic conditions. to truly dare
'to put (Iegen) one's hand in the fire' in order to better underst and, to better read
(/ese n) this world from which we are suff ering - which we must state, repeat.
claim to be suffering from - yet which we refuse t o suf fer (lei den).
Inextinguish able Fire had far fewer spec t ato rs in 196 9 tha n in 200 9 , in the
beautiful white exhibition spaces at the Jeu de Paume. Histor ic and politic al
places - the Jeu de Peume, wit h it s revolutionary past. provides a near-perfec t
example for this - quite often turn into places of cultural cons umpt ion. Why not
- provided one remains attentive to an obvio us misunderstand ing: it is easier
to watch Inextinguishable Fire today. in the context of a pacified his tory of art.
than in the contex t of the burn ing political history in which this film effectively
wanted to interv ene, In the appeasement of th e whit e cube, you are therefore
less likely to think of the barbanc acts co mmitted in Vietn am (occasrc mog cause)
than of the arti stic actions (formal causes) which were notoriously fertile during
the 19505 , 60s and 70s ; those years of 'performances' for which the aptly titled
American exhibition Out of Actions attempted to provide a historic snapshot. U
l uckily, Farocki was not part of that picture . But what wou ld an art r nstcnen
spontaneous ly thi nk of when confronted with InextmgUl shable Firt!? He would
certainly thi nk of the Viennese Actionists on the one hand and of Chris Burden 's
famous Shoot on the other. But this would merely obscu re th e very s imple - yet
very dialectical - lesson of this film.
So let us compare. When, in 1971 , Chris Burden had himself shot in the arm
with a rifle, he remained, at least to my knowledge, quiet thr oughout tus gesture.
A famous photograph shows him st and ing upright but dazed from the shoc k,
with two holes in his arm . from which flows a trick le of mooo." His 'action'
was only ever disc ussed in refe rence to subse quent or preceding 'art works',
for Instance. Niki de Saint Pnane's Tirs or Gina Pane's Corps pressenti.... Chris
Burden himself late r referred to the gun shot as a minimalis t scul pture (In this
sense, his 'sculpture' Is the distant heir of the ' wall shot' by Marcel Duchamp
in 1942 for the cover of th e First Papers of Surrealism, th e date of th at work
itself implying a histo rical allusion, at a time when there was a lot of shooting in
Europe): "SUddenly, a guy pulls a trigger and, In a fraction of a seco nd. I'd made a
sculpture .'?" The cigarette burn on Haren Farocki's arm in 19 69 is Qu ite different
from the wound on Chris Burden's arm in 1971 . Burden 's inj ury was conceived
as an artwo rk , and this art work t akes place - and ends - when th e bullet is
tired. It is the refore a means unto its elf, an aesthetic mean s. Faroc krs burn. on
the contrary. is merely a means at th e beginning of a film that will last another
20 minutes (which is the ti me it effectively t akes to unders tand the t errifying
economy of napalm in place throughout th e world). Because his wound was an
U Paul Sch.mmel (ed I. Outo! AcIlOtl$. BetM!en
Perlol'l'llfnoe alld the Objecl, I !i4!J-1979.
loodOO/los Angeles 1998.
l ' See lIMlmte Bemand Oorleat . fOro'"
satNale. VIolen ce, Mpeme e! s~1ll
I'M de s a nllfl.'S 1950 1960, P3I' S 2004,
p, 304.
17Quoted In Ibid , llll. 375·376. (Mer~ Dery.
Escape \!tIQC' IY: CylIe rt~lt~f e 81 t~ ina
01 rneceflrufJ', New York 1996).
abso lute mea ns . Burden logically had no commentary to offer: there was no need
of language Since it was the rifle that had spo ken (had shot l and it was the body
that was speaking {was bleeding}. Farocxrs burn. on the contrary, calls for an
appraisal within the language and, more so, a rrnnrrrsseuon or an experi mental
retauetsanon (hence the ooccsue of a 'nerotsauo n of the art ist ' ): ·A cigarette
bum s at 4 00 degrees. napalm burns at 3 ,000 degrees."
To compare - this is precis ely what Harun Farocki had in mind with this setrinflict ed burn. It seem s to me th at his gesture was not so much a 'met aphor',
as Thomas Etsaessers put s it , than a cho reography of dialect ical comparison,
Or even a metonymy, if one cons iders this punctual wound as a Single pixel of
what Jan Palach had 10 suffe r in his entire body. It was . in any case, a carefully
considere d histor ic argument, which used real heat, at 4 00 or 3,000 degrees.
as its pIvotal point. The burning maoc was not an ultimate pomt or li s weakened
meteonor. but a rela tive point, a point of comparison: -wnen he's done speakin g,
the author (th is IS how, In 1995, farock i referred to himself in his msteueuco
SChmttstelle/lnterface, 1996) burns himself, although only on a single point of
skin . Even here, only a point of relation to the actual world. -
ulTI'Mllna$ nseesser. .Ilm>~ farock,
filmfQkllf, All,S!, Med,a Ihl)Ofl$I'.... tnomas
[I saes~r(ed.),
Hit/WI rarocll: WOtIung on
rile Soghl"nas, Amsterdam 2004 . pp, 17 IS
see Ge<l,ges Otddt..tlrrman, Quand res
IJN&eS p'l'tllletli po&!1QII l' OilII A I'h rsttHm.
I. "-'IS 2009
0 44
Haru n Farock i was born in 194 4, in a time when the world at large was still
threaten ed by an unpre cedented fury of political and military violence. It is as
thou gh not only the ashe s of the bombed cities had landed directly on his cradle,
but also th e thoughts written at the sam e time, thou gh at th e other end of the
world, by a few exiled Germans, among whom, from with in their own suffered
time (thei r dirty lives of exiles, their 'mutilated life'), thought had been able to
ntt itself to the level of politic al anger - as though they had been offered him
for his entire life. I think of Berto lt Brecht. of cou rse. and his ArbeltSjoumal. In
which nearly every single page reflects upon the question of the politics of the
Image.u But I also think of the Diale/mk de, Aufkfarung composed by Theodor
Adorno and Max Hc rkheimer dUring thei r American exile. Those are Indeed t wo
words dear to fa rock i - Dlalektlk des cribmg most accu rately tus own method of
working, of editing, and AufklBrung signifyi ng both the 'fight" of enlightenment
and the most menacing 'reconnais sance' actwuy of planes. as in those wars
replet e With cameras , which the filmmaker has quest ioned in severa l 01his film s,
among which Bi/der de, Welt und Insch rift des Krieges ( Images of the World
and th e Inscr iptio n of War, 1988) or in Installati ons such as Auge/Maschme
(Eye/Mac hine, 2000), The two authors of thi s famous work - writt en in 1944 certa inly did not rep resent what Brecht appreciate d most during me sta y in the
United States. For although Brecht discussed theatre and cinem a with Adorno,
nsteneo to Hanns Eisler' s records at home, took pleasure in Shocking everyone
by criticiS ing Schonberg, and attended, among others in June and August 1942.
the seminar in exile of t he Frankfu rt lnstltute w, he compared Horkhelmer to
a "clown" and a "mill ionaire [who ] can aff ord to buy hims elf a professorship
wherever he happens to be stay ing: n Still. Somel hing fundamen tal nevertheles s
links all these great enu-rascrsts who paid dearly for the ir freedom of thought . It is
precisely t hat which links t he Dialektik , th is word that speaks of negation. of tr uth .
of history and Au(kMrung , t he light of enlightenment whose histo ric work of sel freversal and of self-destructton th ey had all observed wit h t heir own eyes, filled
with anguish - an inext inguishab le burning of oneself. It would th us see m even
more accurate to describe this som ethin g as t he poss ibility of the worst to wtncn
our most precious values - th e light of enlightenm ent. th e ideal of community. the
truth of words. t he accuracy of images - are cons ta ntly exposed ,
All things kept In perspective. Harun Faroc ki co uld t hus be said to sh are with
Adorno and Hc rkhermer the fundamental Quest ioning t hat alms to underst and " t he
self-destruct ion of enlightenment " right up to "the power by whiCht he technology
is controlled ", as stat ed in the very firs t pages of Dialectic of Enllghtenmenr. u
Wtrj does " th e fUlly enligh tened earth radiatelsJ disaste r Uiu mpha nC ?U Why is
It that "knowledge, which IS power. knows no limits . eith er in it s ensl avement of
creation Of in Its deference to worldly masters"?" These are recurring quest ions
III the work of many t hinkers , such as Aby Warburg and Sigmund Freud. Walte r
Benjamin and Siegfr ied Gideon. Hannah Arendt and Gunt her Anders, but also
GIlles Deleuze or Michel Foucau lt. Guy Debord or Giorgio Agamben. Friedrich
Kittler or vuem Flusser. Jean Baudrill ard or Paul lIi rilio; t hey are common
questions . except t hat Farocki t ackles th em from t he vant age poi nt of s pecific
and intensive ob servati on : eu t hese phenomena of sett-oestrucuon toda y - today
admittedly as much as yesterd ay. yet today more tha n ever - involve a cert ain
work on images ,
M 8e<loIIllrtdI\, .Iou,"",de lrw.lil (1938
1955). Pans 1916, p. 265 (21 u.dI 19·121.
p. 216(24 ~ 1942 ), p. 282(9 Ma, 19421
and p.
313(13 Auc>Jsl1942).
.tI 1btcI., P
201 (Aug\ls1 19411 (()uoIe<I III
RK:M«l Wolin, flte ftJnM\Hl $C:IlOO/ RMsItt:d
iMla Ot/lefEssays 011 PoIifa I/IId SoctPry.
"""'" " "I
22 M,). HO'kI1elllle<" It>(!T W Adorno, La
Thus, when Adorno and Horkheim er note tha t "abst ract ion, the Inst rument
of enlightenment. st ands in th e same relati ons hip to it s obje cts as fate,
whose concept it eradicates; as liquidation [so t hat ] t he liberated fina lly
themselves become the 'herd ' (Trupp), which Hegel ident ified as th e outco me
of enngnteomenr'». Farockt would presumably add that today th e treatment of
images in the soc ial sphere in it s widest possible underst andin g - fro m military
aviat ion to urban t raff ic management , from the penitent iary to the shopping mall
-ccmrnanos both thi s abst ract ion and t he liquidat ion of peoples int o 'herds'. The
astonishing mont age which , In Dialectic of Enlighte nment . saw a chapter on the
'Culture Indust ry' (Ku/lurindus trie) foll owed by an explo rat ion of t he foundations
of enu-s ermttemw. is t oday echoed by r arockrs obs essive questioning of their
\lery articulat ion, wheth er In Images of the World and the Inscription of War or in
Aufschub (Respite , 2007 ).
D<a1e(:1!que de liJ R.iIson. fr"g~s
/lMo$OptwqlltS il 9441 , Pans 1974 (ed .
1983), pp 15 ' lid 19 {Di.1lec1ll: of
( 1lI,/:hreMle ni. PM OSCjl!lll:al fragmell!s,
PaloAlto 2002)
2J Illld..p,
24 11lId ., p. 22,
tee, pp, 30.3 1.
In the same way that certain philosophers want to maintain the ir thought at the
level of a cntical theory that deserves its name - we shou ld remember that Bertolt
Brecht and Walter Benjam in had a common project , a magazine called Krisis und
Kntik , and that Harun Farocki was an editor of Rlmkritik from 1974 to 1984 certain filmm akers have tr ied t o mainta in their pract ice at the level of what could
be called a critical montage of images; a montage of thought acce lerate d to the
rhythm of anger in order to better, to cal mly denounce th e violence of the world.
This is an ard uous task and, to be precise, a d ialectic al one. The cri tique of
enlightenment cannot dispense with the use of critical enlightenment. as
demo nstrated. for instance , by thework ofTheodor Adorno over it s long co urse (one
could , on the other hand , call nmrnsts. or 'cynics' in the mod ern understanding of
the word, those who indulge in the laziness or 'luxury' of abandomng enhghtenment
altogether to those who use It for to talitarian purposes : the fact is that you should
never surrender the Slightest mors el of the common good to the politica l enemy,
as Vict or Klempere~' no doubt knew when he ref used to surrender so much as 11
single word of th e German language to Goebbets] . Simil arly, a cri tique of images
ca nnot dispense wi th the use. practice and product ion of critical Images. Images,
no matter how terri ble the viole nce that instrumemauses them, are not ent irely
on the side of the enemy. From this point of view, Harun sarock t constr uct s other
images whic h, by countering enemy images, are destined to become part of the
comm on good.
like Aby Warburg who, th roughout his life. was obsessed with the dialectic of
what he called the mons /ra and astra - a dialect ic which, according to him.
ensh nned the entire 'tragedy of culture ' - and like Theodo r Adorno, who was
constantl y worried about the dialec tic of self-destruct ing reason , Harun Farocki is
relentlessly ask ing a terrible questi on (the same question. dare I say. which has
sp urred my work ' forever", as one so inadequately says, and wtuch, In any case.
orcvees me with the se nsation of tru e recognition when facing the filmm aker's
montages), The question is the following; why, in which way, and how does the
p roduct ion of images take part in the dest ruction of human beings?
Z7 V>el or KlIlmpe< er was a theorist and a ~l hol,
Illf\lI.. ned f(K his 19451.>0010 In - lmj u,l Te'~j
iThe-laIlguageof 1Il8Ihlld RelCll ;
A PhiloIol;Sl"S NOlebook. l oncon 20051I E(I~Of's _J.
04 6
First of all there are images fllat dispense with the very human beings they were
intended to represent: "Just as mechanical robots initially took workers in the
fac tory as th eir model. shortly aft erwards surpass ing and dis placing them , so the
sensory devices are mea nt to replac e the work of the human eye. Beginning with
my nrst work on this to pic (Eye/ Machine. 20 01), I have called such images that
are not made to entert ain or t o inform , 'operative images'. Images tha t do not
try to represent reality but are part of a technica l operation." ~8 But th e 'dialectic
of enlightenment' is more devious still , si nce the development of so phistica ted
technology is like ly to go hand in hand with, for Instance, the most brute! forms
of human indignity. Farock! notes in th is respect that when "the Nazis t ook the
first jet-orooeuec plane and remote-controlled weapons into the air. when they
miniaturised the electronic camer a so th at it cou ld be built into the head of a
rocket. there was more slave labour in Central Europe than ever before. And it is
incredible to watch films from Peenernun de, the base of the V2 and ot her rockets:
the high-powered weapon s being rolled on hand wagons ,.. " ~
Then there are images for des troying human beings : images whose tech nical
nature derives from their immedia te connec tion _ generally for reasons of
'reconnaiss ance' (Aufklarung') and gUiding ~ to armame ntattcn . " In 1991". writes
Faroeki, "there were tw o kinds of shots from the war of the Coalition Forces
egainstirao th at were something new, th at belonged to a visual category of their
own. The first shows a section of land, tak en from a camera in a helicopter,
an airplane or a drone - the name for unmanned light aircraft used for aerial
rec onnaissance . Crossing the cent re of the image are the lines marking the t arget.
The projectile hits . the detonation overloads the contrast range . the automatic
fade counteracts it; th e image breaks off. The second shot comes from a camera
installed in the head of a projectile. This came ra crashes int o its ta rget - and
here as well, of cou rse, the image breaks Off. I...] The shots t aken from a camera
that crashes into its t arget. th at is , from a suic ide camera, cling to the memory.
They were new and added something to the Image that we may have heard about
since the cruise missiles in the 1980s. but didn't know anyt hing specific about.
They appeared together wit h the word 'inte lligent weapons "ao
Needless to recall that these images. as beauti ful as video games . were offe red
to the fascination of all While. at the same time, photo-jo urnalists from all over the
world were strictly kept away from the battle fields by the US Army. which meant
that these images of technical processes, divided into squares by the viewfinder
and satu rate d with explosions . these abst ract and perfe ct ly 'contemporary'
images took the place of the images of resu/ls which a journalist could have should have - brought back from the ruins caused by all these 'surgical st rikes '
land those images would not in the least have seemed 'new', since not hing looks
morelike a burnt corpse than anoth er burnt co rpse). Farock i. in any case. asserts
that. the "operative war images from the 1991 Gulf War. which didn' t show any
oeccle. were more than Just propaga nda. despite rigid censorship. meant to hush
up the 20,000 deaths of the war. They came from the spirit of a war utopia .
Which ta kes no account of peop le, which puts up with them only as approved.
or perhaps even unapproved. victims . A military spokesman in 19 91 said, when
asked about the vict ims on the Iraqi side: 'We don't do body counts', This can
be translated as: 'We are not the gravediggers . This dirty work has to be done by
other people.:'·n
U liilrUll Fa,ocki. "LeIl<llnt de lIoe de ta
goerre"j2<103I, Ifalic, no,50/2{)04, ~, 449,
{RepMlw 1n Pootb'lilnd2009. pp. 90 1( 1).
:9 Harutl Fa'Geki, "rnlluern:es lfan S~ersal~s·
(2002), m r,aik
i Re~nnte d
fJ{l .
43/2t'lG2, p. 2G
In Ha", n Faroc~ " Ow Image
Doesn·1 M ~e II'" I'i!l(:e Dillie Prevwus 0"".
by Mic~ de
TMfiaull, MonlfeaI200S.,
pp 14J.l 53)
30 Famek, j2003 /, 2004, p. 445.
There are also ope rative Images simply dest ined to monit or human beings,
often under the pretext - accepted. if not applauded by a subs tantial part of
our frightened socie t ies - of keeping them from destroying themselves. This is,
to a certain extent . t he reverse side of the automation of work which Farocki
addressed in Eye/Machine : It can be seen operating In Counrer-Mus ic, in 2004,
which no longer t ries to demo nst rate the economy of a chemical product such as
napalm, but the economy of tra ns portation, of passages and flows of popul atio ns
in any given modern city .l.2 Christa Blumlinger has right ly poin ted out the presence
in Farocki's worK of t nrs "fundame ntal reflection on the contro l sccrety'w. which
reaches Its critical climax in t he fil m Gefangnisbilde r, In 2000, foll owed t he same
year by it s 'inst alled' versrcn ent it led Ich glau bre Gefangene zu sehen (which
tr ans lates as I Thoug/lt I Was Seeing coowcts. the near-perfect quotation of
Ingrid Bergman's reac t ion in Roberto Rosse llini's film Europe 51 when she sees
fact ory workers ).
3~ Su C~I~ lI:Omlm&e!'. - Memolrt du ir"''lI,l
e1lri'" de Ia ,d lNll1t
Vortoo/ filroc"
P'OPOSlle r lflStllllil_CcJn(~
l'I lIlI trr"'N'1oJ/It6
C"'amf .
H ~l~ I!'t l~
lin ¥IS. des Iellrrs ef ~ lecM'QOO:<.
11. 200 11 . PI! 53 68 . 110 \~OS tmk ,
p p, 101 lI O)
"" bd . p. 53. (p- 102).
J4 1l0l~ ~. MomO I 19U I. 198 3. , . 30 .
3S1'Ia,un h rOCki . 'COIltroll,ng OIlSe,. aUo,,·
[1999}. in crllljSpilceje II/1eUlfICs of
S<.rve;Ianee from ller'lilam ru &g 8roI/Ief,
ell Of ThoIoIllS \.e'fIrl. li<\sIuIIe /C""""llge
2002pp 102101. .\01!1! _~,
Even to thos e who have not read MIchel Foucault 's and Gilles Dejeuze's
fundamen t al texts on the 'control soc iet ies ' - not t o forget th e stories by William
S. Burroughs or Phili p K. Dick - the papers nearly every morning declare that
surveil lance devices, far f rom preventing the des tr uct ion of human beings.
mainly provide th em with a new, even more spe ctacular. existence. While
surveillance certa inly prod uces "an abst ract existence like th e Fordist facto ry
produc ed abst ract work ", as Farocki once wrot e. the word abs tract mus t here be
cons idered In t he precis e underst anding it was given by Adorno and Horkneener
In D,alecl lc of Enlightenment when th ey wrote t hat - enst racuc o. t he Instr ument
of enli ghte nment . stan ds I...) to it s objects (... j as Iiquidati on- i " . To convince
one self of th is, it suf fices to watch again. in Gefangnis bilder (Prison Images.
20 0 0 ), t t ns chill ing moment where th e camera has detect ed a fight in the prison
yard. and the gun tha t is linked to it - for suc h is the complete device : to monitor
and to destroy - fires a shot at one of the t wo priso ners withou t a warnmg.35
"In th e first mont hs of 19 99 , I was travelling to prison s in t he United States to
organise images prod uced by surveill ance cameras. It's a type 01 Image which is
st ili hardly meons eo . Most prisons In the Unite d St at es lie f ar away from cities.
and th ere's only a parkmg lot in f ront of th em. noth ing else t hat would suggest
any kmd of urban planning 10 create a public space. Instead of trave lling to
the prison. some feder al states gra nt visrto rs the opt ion to communicate with
inmates from home via a kind of TV tele phone. In California and Oregon I went
to prisons which had been built in largely uninhabi ted areas , which reminds one
th at some tim e ago prisone rs were sent to the cotornes. I...) My prison vtsns
were a ternfymg exper ience , One pnson direct or in California . who had been
trained as a pnest. told me th at the former governor was of Armenian ongm and
therefore did not tolerat e fences to be put under high volt age. It reminded him
too much of the German cam ps . {... jrn Campden, near Phila delphia, the prison
was the only building on the main road that was sti ll intac t . You could see the
common areas beh ind thick glass panels , and it sme lled of sweat like in a zoo.
The correcti onal of ficer who gave me a guided tour pointed at th e nozzle in the
ceiling, through which tear gas was to be funnelled In case of an emergency! t fus
never happened since it turned out that the chemica ls deco mposed when stored
for some time. I... ] After we had filmed in the Two Rivers Correctional Institute in
Oregon, I drank a cup of coffee with my camera man Ingo Krat isch on th e te rrace
of the adjacent golf club. It was hardly bear able. it was like one of those cheap
editing cut s aiming for maximum effect : from the hi-tech pris on {subprcletana t ] to
the artificially irrigated gOlf club (pensioners): the golf players were driving arou nd
in electric carts . Oppositions like the se suggest a connec tion. wX
Denouncing: tifting one' s thou ght to the level of anger. Protesting. separat ing,
OYerturning things th at seem to go without saying. But also es tablishing a
connection on one level bet ween things which, on another level, seem totally
antagOflistic . This, the n, is an act of montage : the Americ an prison and the
German camp on the one hand, the priso n for the dangerous and the golf cl ub for
the harmless on the other hand , But Farockl shows us th at th e camp - and, more
importantly, colonial history and. of course, the ques tion of slavery - is by no
means absent from the memory of this prison. while this golf club is really loca ted
nett to the priso n. It becomes apparent that Haru n Farock rs montages first and
foremost concern what Walter Benj amin called the 'opti cal unconscious', and on
this account. prese nt themselves to our gaze as a true critique of violence through
the 'images of the world', given th at viole nce often sta rts with the impleme nt at ion
of apparently 'neutral ' and 'Innocent' devices: regulating vis itor traf fic, build ing
a prison on a spe cific s ite, des igning the window panels of a common area in
a certain way, pcsttioning 'security' oevces in th e conduits inside th e ceiling,
reintroducing some sort of organisa tio n of labou r among th e prisone rs which is
presumed to be 'benefic ial' to the institution et c,
Acritique of violence, then. In order to criticise violence, one has to describe it
(which implies that one must be able to took). In order to describe it, one has
to dismantle its devices, to 'describe the relation'. as Benjamin writes. where
it constitutes it self (which implies that one must be able to disassemble and
reassemble the states of things). Yet if we are to follow Benj amin, es tabli shing
these relat ions implicates at least three dom ains, which Farocki tac kles
simulta neously in each inves tigation that he conduct s. The first is technique as
the realm of the 'pure means' that violence put s t o use: "The sphere of pure
means unfolds In th e most mate rial human realm - confli cts relati ng to goods.
For this reason technique [Technik) in the broadest sense of the word is its most
proper oomaln.?" The second t erritory in which one needs to consta ntl y question
violence is th at 'of the law and of justice 'n , Hence, Farockt's investigatio n on
Harun Fa,ilQ.< , "S,IdI!fSCll.l t, (~.c erflts)"
119991. In Bkml l lO&er ~ ed, l 2002 , pc. 94.95,
17 Waller Benjamin, ·CntlqLle de ~ _iolence"
11921i , In CEuvres, J, Pans 2000, p . 227
I' CIIlk!ue 01vcrer ce'. kO StIe<:fec1 wrWngs,
r: 19lJ
/ 926, CDmb,idce 1996)
II Ibid . fl. 210. (Itahc, b~ GO·H),
images wilt never be free from legal consequences, starting with the question dl
who "prod uced" them and to whom they belong , how to quote them and what risk
one Incurs when using them ... Finally, Walter Benjamin - des pite the intrin
philoso phical difficulties of his formulations" - makes it perfectly clear th at atilt
critique of vrcrence is the philosophy of its history (which] makes possible a
critical, disc riminating, and decisive app roach to its moment In time.~4CI C
it be, then, tha t the image IS in league with violence simply because it is <I't
mseperably technical. historical, and legal object?
lifting one 's thought to the level of anger. llft mg one's anger to the level of it
work. Weaving this work that consists of ques ucning t echnology, history, and the.
law. To enable us to open our eyes to the violence of the world Inscribed in the
see S'a',d Welgl'l°s receor CO!IlIneOlllrV.
Walter Ben/,mln. Die I\re,M, (/liSHeilrge,
r.1ie Brlde" FraM,lu,ta M,100ll , ~p BBt09
4llWaltet Beo/<lmi" 11921J,2000. PIl 241-242
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