In Jean-Jacques Rousseus’ Discourse on Inequality (1755), an imagined developmental story about the human, he claims that it is not the ability of thinking which distinguishes human from animal, but our distinctiveness as a free being.
This feeling would be important to the 1800s Romantics, who reacted to the Age of Enlightenment’s worship of human reason.
Did not all major victories of the Age of Enlightenment – information about the falsehoods of religious dogmas and the liberating power of thought – happen at the expense of the attention lavished on the intuitive, sensitive and dreamy which also characterise the human world? This was the belief of many of the artists during was deemed the romantic revolution (which started around 1790), and which initiated a new focus on a creative irrationality – like love, passion, madness and dreams – which was able to break the horizons of the sense and release us from a «common sense» which limited our freedom.
The German film maker Werner Herzog has since the 1960s created visionary films which continue this romantic sensibility. Where German Post War directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Hans-Jürgen Syderberg and Alexander Kluge used a studied intellectual and explicitly political approach to film making, Herzog, to a greater degree, embraced a more intuitive, physical and poetic film language, which explores human’s irrational visions and dreamy longing in a harsh and often indifferent environment.
Ecstatic truth. It has, for Herzog, been important to seek «fresh images» (as he describes it in Herzog on Herzog, Paul Cronen, 2002) in a world full of clichés. He is interested in people who explore, see and think through their naive, occasionally deaf-mute ambling, through their passionate and dreamy yoke: Through his worldwide journeys – the most famous being probably his recording of Fitzcarraldo in the Peruvian jungle – the film maker has sought what he describes as an «ecstatic truth». The truth is not in the documentarist’s observation or in a deskbound intellectual’s analysis – it must be conjured up by a wandering mystic and constructed by a conscientious poet.
In his latest film, Lo and Behold – Reveries of the Interconnected World (2016), a documentary on the internet, this Herzogian sensibility encounters and problematises an information climate where artificial intelligences increasingly organise the world. The film is divided into ten chapters, and lets a variety of internet scientists, users and victims speak. The film is both sceptical, humorous and enthusiastic in its examination of the internet as a phenomenon, and not least insistently tragic in its portrayal of a partly indifferent and hard-hearted information society.
Some will of course laugh, but Herzog manages to communicate a credible and resolute empathy in his meeting with the extreme.
«Nature’s scream. » In one of Herzog’s many unforgettable 1970s films, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), we witness a society’s perception of nature through the uncultivated gaze of a person who has been incarcerated in a cave all his life. Scientific estimations, calculations and frameworks of comprehension, as well as cultural customs are to him entirely alien. He views the world with a look wherein an apple is able to jump over a twig on the path; to Kaspar Hauser, anthropomorphisation (humanisation of nature) is a natural way to exist, not a cultural construction or miscalculation.
«Are you not able to hear the terrible scream that surrounds you, that which people normally call silence? » This enigmatic question opens the film; is perhaps Kaspar in closer contact with an original world language – a gestural nature language which scientific lingo slowly but surely is disconnecting us from? Through its elegiac tone, the film struggles with what Rousseau noted in his aforementioned book: «The first human language, the most widespread, the most apt, and the only lingo humans needed before it became important to influence gatherings, was nature’s scream. »
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