The German filmmaker and author Alexander Kluge has turned Karl Marx’s Capital (Das Kapital) 1)See http://www.suhrkamp.de/buecher/nachrichten_aus_ der_ideologischen_antike-alexander_kluge_13501.html into a nine hour long exposé, a learned and intriguing odyssey. What appears to be an almost impossible project turns out to be a very inventive cinematic experience.
Capitalism belongs to the world of art, poetry, film, theatre, and fairytales, because capitalism is a world of images in which nothing is what it appears to be – just like the world of commodities. Kluge combines interviews of German intellectuals such as Durs Grünbein (poet), Oskar Knegt (sociologist), Peter Sloterdikj (philosopher) and Hans Magnus Enzenberger (author) with archive clips from the war of machinery (WW1) and short readings from Capital. It makes a theatre-like performance, an elegy based on modern opera, with conceptual de nitions and questions written in cabaret-letters appearing as posters, all from the beginning of the last century. Kluge creates a spectacular enlightened collage that dives into the history of capitalism, showing how the image-making and the phantasmagoria of capitalism gives us essential answers to why and what we have become as modern humans. In our period of global economic crisis Kluge’s project can be seen as a toolbox to investigate what is happening to our modern life.
The documentary gives us the chance to step back and see why we have to move away from the locomotive as the metaphor of history (the runaway train of progress) and instead to pause, to apply the brake and reflect on the inherent contradictions at stake within capitalism itself. This film is a conceptual journey, and as such is never as tiring and boring as most university-lectures. Concepts like ‘ideology-critique’, ‘false consciousness’, ‘alienation’, ‘commodity-fetishism’ and ‘revolution’ are all taken up in a stimulating and unusual setting. Often Kluge sits at a small table with a solitary pendant lamp, as if in a renaissance tableau. “False consciousness’ is the name of an ideology, a world where the empirical reality of your cognitive faculties and desires is based on a false dimension and context – you are made to believe that you live while in fact you are slowly bringing about your own destruction. In this world the element of “fetishism” relates to commodities, and the magic and extra-sensual forces that invite us all into the cult of capitalism – a modern game-show based on a controlled society in which we are taught to take part in our own suppression, desire things we do not need as if they were our path to salvation.
To understand humanity we have to understand this transformation of energy into a thing, an object. Marx’s point is clear: “ The industrial landscape is like an open book of human psychology.” The work of demystification consists in going back to the point of production, digging up what has been buried. You have to dig up the curses, that were hammered into the fetishes as well as the commodity. As Sloterdijk reminds us in the documentary: to understand capitalism and modernity we should study alchemy, we need to study how the body of fetish (magic) is hammered into both the old African medicine-man and the modern worker and commodity – something unknown flows into the product, into the world: “You have to know your way around in this huge transformation laboratory.”
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