20 Oct 2016
Truffaut on the set of “Soft Skin”
Marriage as love and social institution where both need protection
Husband and wife, Pierre and Franca are not just enjoying the hunting season. They are, as if, permanently on guard, even when they are not conscious about it. What are the heroes of Truffaut’s film guarding? Their marital relations, of course, and its soul – their love.
Seven shots of a wife’s archetypal existential pantomime of defending her love and marriage (the malady and melody of intra-marital calculation to save marriage and love)
When Franca became worried, jealous and suspicious (she knows that the Demon often takes the appearance of a little boy named Amour/Eros), she began to act archetypally to protect her dignity, love, marriage and family
Again and again and in vain Franca tried to resurrect the romantic years of their youth – she already didn’t want to return to the years of happy loyalty, now she wants much more – beautiful youthful excesses of passion
[Viewers are invited to analyze the previous seven stills from the film, while focusing not only on the psychology of spouses but on the compositions of shots rich in symbolic details, for example, on the symbolism of “jumping mirror” or the role of marital bed in Franca’s growing suspicion about Pierre’s disloyalty]
Human soul’s soft skin
Mystery of the soul’s soft skin
Pierre didn’t understand yet, that Nicole’s soft skin was that of her soul, not of her body. He felt with her like being in another world, gentle, soft, without any planning or need for achievements. How could a young pretty stewardess who surely has had experienced love affairs, have this aura?
Is it possible to appropriate and possess the soft skin of another person’s soul, to be its loving and caring patron?
Nicole listened unable to feel any response. She loved Pierre and appreciated his dedication, but… she wanted just to live love. It looked that she felt completely alien to his project – to build their life, organize their living, to transform life into settlement, into placing a saddle on love…
At this point Pierre found himself beyond choice between the lovely young woman and his wife with whom he shared years and their daughter. For the first time this famous publisher and lecturer with a successful career, and confident and an energetic problem-solver confronts the impossibility to live as he used to.
The punishment for transgressing the logic of marital love for the sake of mystique of “soft skin”
Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut
Superficial reaction on “Soft Skin” is its perception as an aromatic romance, an awful-waffle love story. We are prone to mix love with strong-string ties between two human beings to the degree of being obsessed with erotic possessiveness (“you are mine”, – saying typical beloved in the decisive moments of forgetting about the world, “and I am yours”; “Tonight I will be yours”, “right now we are one”, etc.). We love the feeling that the other person (“my” beloved) belongs… not to “me”, of course, but to our love, our togetherness or/and to our formal/informal pact or marriage. The possessor of a wife (like possessor of a husband) is not a husband or wife correspondingly (to feel that they are and that this is ok to feel like that could be crudely non-democratic – an authoritarian prejudice, we are more refined than that), the possessor of our spouse is our relationship itself – our love and our marriage, our earthly and our sublime cave-castle, our marital and amorous sacred bonds.
To blend love and possession, as we habitually do in our perception of love is to be fascinated by the power of love. We are prone to perceive possessiveness (hiding behind love as body behind the shining clothes) as love. We habitually consider jealousy and the desire to avenge for amorous betrayal as motivated (“inspired”) by love. In “Soft Skin” we see love, stabilized and fundamentalized by marriage (bonds between Franca and Pierre), and we also see love which is much more sublime than possessive love (the one between Nicole and Pierre – phenomenon based on another model of human ties – that of spiritual relationship which incorporates Eros).
Conflict between “marriage-d” love or possessive love without marriage on the one hand, and a love inspired by unhardened skin of the human soul (the “soft skin” as the basic metaphor of the film) which Pierre feels as though, personified in Nicole is the very semantic structure of the film.
The semantic nuance complicating this structure is the fact that for Franca, Pierre’s wife, her husband’s betrayal is a much more justified target for revenge than her husband’s beloved. In a way, this is psychological sophistication – the feeling that the new beloved of “my” beloved is not “guilty” for the betrayal. In Truffaut’s film the focus of revenge is this betrayal itself. It is like a treason during war – punishment focuses on the person who has committed treason. So, betraying the marital (amorous) ties is considered by Franca’s unconscious as a much stronger “sin” than the autonomous, “out of wed-lock” sexual desire. There is no evidence for the presence in Franca a competitive emotion toward the much younger woman, who is “objectively” more attractive than most women of Franca’s age. So, what is determining Franca’s indignation and hate? Is it mysterious something that the film defines as “soft skin” (Franca saw Nicole’s photos)? May be, Franca senses in Nicole this mysterious quality (not Nicole’s prettiness at all), which makes her mad with fury to the point of readiness to reduce whole situation to a tragic collapse of rationality.
The main point of the film, it seems, is the beauty and nobility of the phenomenon of Nicole’s “soft skin” as existentially-spiritual value, opposite of a world of hard careerism (indiscriminate profit-making by neocons), and soft careerism (by people with liberal sensibility). Nicole is so different not only from Pierre’s wife Franca and Pierre himself but from their world. The character and the social posture of Pierre is fundamentally important for understanding of “soft skin” as a basic metaphor of the film. His amorous sensitivity for this feature of Nicole already makes him an exceptional person. He is in love with “soft skin”, with the not hardened human heart, with softness of uncalculating mind, with human soul as a spiritual alternative to our greedy and possessive pseudo-rational civilization. That’s why Truffaut’s Pierre is rare event, even in the European cinema, not to mention American movies. He is a liberal scholar. His drive for success is fierce, but it’s not comparable with the neo-conservative drive to conquer the world through financial seduction, bribery and through military control pompously named liberation. Pierre’s love for Nicole is that of a scholarly person with cultivated taste for human otherness. Without this he couldn’t be amazed with the strange character of a pretty stewardess. His love for Nicole is no way a typical reaction of an elder man on irresistible girl in her early twenty. That’s exactly why Franca felt that she cannot allow him to continue. She is as rude in her settlement in her husband’s social success, as he himself in his confidence in his professional competence. But in spite of all this, Pierre is a person with undeniable democratic sensibility, while Franca is personification of anti-democratic – megalomaniacal side of democracy, its conservative: anti-spiritual and anti-humility side.
Pierre and Nicole’s love is a challenge to the complacency of secular democracy which is turning away from spiritually-humanistic goals and instead dedicating itself to strengthening its economic and military power over the globe.
Truffaut’s film starts as a personal drama and ends as a personal tragedy, but through the detective stylization of urbanistic and interiors’ camera angles, we come to feel that it is our very way of life itself that is mobilized in front of our eyes against even tiny whirlpool of otherness in the souls of two human beings.
18 Oct 2016
In the 1960, the sugar industry paid Harvard University nutrition experts to downplay studies linking sugar to heart disease.
The documents – which include correspondence, symposium programs and annual reports – show that the Sugar Research Foundation (its name at the time) paid professors who wrote a two part review in 1967 in the New England Journal of Medicine. That report was highly skeptical of the evidence linking sugar to cardiovascular problems but accepting of the role of fat.
The first dietary guidelines published by the federal government in 1980 said there was no convincing evidence that sugar causes heart disease, stating “the major health hazard from too much sugar is tooth decay.”
Fat and cholesterol controlled the scientific agenda for decades, leading to a craze of low-fat foods that often added sugar. It was only in 2015 that dietary guidelines finally made a strong statement to limit sugar.
Recent New York Times investigations of Coca-Cola-sponsored research reveal that this research attempts to show that children who eat sweets have a healthy body weight.
(“Sugar Industry Shifted Health Focus: Payments to Authors Influenced 1967 Report Indicting Fat”, Laura Beil, “Science News”, Oct 15, 2016, p.7)
17 Oct 2016
(Physics Today, Oct/2016)
If you look at Trump’s fiscal plan…you have got an overall spending approach and tax proposal that would severely limit the amount of investment the government could put into science. In contrast, Clinton hasn’t advocated policies that would reduce the federal budget, either by curtailing spending or cutting taxes.
Democrats have favored federal support for applied research, whereas the GOP generally believes it should be left to the private sector.
At least two S&T (Science and Technology) publications, “Scientific American” and “Wired”, have come out strongly against Trump. Both have traditionally steered clear of political endorsements. Republicans William Ruckelshaus and William Reilly, former administrators of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), back Clinton. In a joint statement released in August, they said Trump “has shown a profound ignorance of science and public health issues embodied in our environmental laws”, whereas Clinton “is committed to reasonable science-based policy”. An open letter signed by the leaders of 145 technology companies warns that Trump “would be a disaster for innovation”.
Trump’s attitude on climate change is pretty telling in that he immediately dismisses it as a political statement without seeming to have any interest in getting to the bottom of the issue.
During a May rally in West Virginia coal miners, Trump lamented the elimination of ozone depleting propellants from hairsprays. “I said wait a minute, so if I take hairspray and if spray it in my apartment … you’re telling me that it affects the ozone layer? … – I say no way folks, no way.
I believe in science, Clinton said … “I believe the climate change is real and that we can save our planet while creating millions of good paying clean energy jobs.”
Trump’s announced energy policy focuses on achieving energy independence [by] saving the declining coal industry and encouraging increase in oil drilling … He promised to scrap unnecessary regulations and encourages the reapplication to build the keystone XL pipeline, which Obama rejected … Trump has voiced disdain for renewable energy and energy efficiency. In April, 2012 he twitted, “not only are wind farms disgusting looking, but even worse they are bad for people’s health”.
Clinton laments in her campaign materials that Federal spending on R&D as a share of GDP today is lower than before 1957 launch of Sputnik1. Clinton told: I strongly support the free exchange of ideas and data, peer review, and public access to research results … which can help protect science based policy decisions from undue influence from special interests. “
David Kramer, “The Candidates’ Positions On Climate Change and Energy Policy”, “Physics Today”, Oct/2016, pp.25-6.
10 Oct 2016
Masks are still lives of facial expressiveness, it is what essence is to appearance. But masks are not only the victory of the emotional essence of a concrete facial expression over this expression. Masks, as if, “use” the opposition between essence and appearance to win two times – on the side of the essence and on the side of appearance, and by this they help both sides, unite them. Masks are life frozen into death right in the moment of life’s (facial expressiveness) victory – in Nolde’s theater of not faces and facial expressions, but that of the essence of human emotions paradoxically representing itself as alive human emotions (in masks).
Facial expression is, as if, the first mask of the face, but the “heat” of the essence in this situation is not strong enough to brand on the face expression’s emotional code. It is necessary to have a real mask to achieve this task.
In Nolde’s “Maskenstilleben” (1915) we have four masks – four planets (hanging by the gravitation) which, it seems, signify the psychological archetypes of human existential positions. The first mask symbolizes a youth, ripe and juicy, with a smile which is a bit confused, youth lost in the world but still with a mindless optimism invitingly opened to the unknown. The mask of youth is partially covered, as if, superseded by two masks representing two aspects of basically the same reaction on youth, and simultaneously – the next phase of human life. The left mask – the green mask-face towering above the sunny face of the youth symbolizes indignant and righteous/judgmental position towards youth. It is moralistic denial of youth’s value. And the right mask is a sarcastic mocking of youth – its imperfections: naiveté, proneness for self-absorption, its impulsiveness.
The fourth mask (to the right of the canvass) symbolizes the final phase of human life – the torments of dying projected onto a dark-blue face with dark-green areas (this dark-green color dominates the left – hateful mask and partially present in the middle, laughing one). The fourth mask-face (with desperately bloody lips) greedily and miserably appeals for mercy. This mask of dying is not only the end of youth, it is a revenge for humans for being young once and believing in life, for knowing youth, for forgetting everything that is not living.
The generously pink backdrop of the painting (fortissimo-pink) is a boilingly sarcastic view of human vitality and optimism without borders. The dark- or, sometimes the light-blueness filling inside of human eyes and mouths is a hint that death (and paradisiacal dreams enveloping it) enters human beings through sight or taste or meanings. And, may be, it is not entering the human body at all, but it’s always already there as a blind blend of non-being in emptiness and eternity in foolish fullness. In this sense Nolde’s point can be that dying is the essence of living – the dark-light-blue eye-mouth is the common denominator of all four masks. In this sense, the triumph of liveliness of Nolde’s masks’ is the tragedy of human destiny as simply an extension of a naïve consumption of living. The glory of art is the only immortality available to human beings, the poor one, no doubt, with holes, tears and tatters.
Then what is the difference between human portraits and masks of human faces? Can masks do for us what paintings cannot? Or, better, are there reasons for us to expect that masks can be ahead of portraits? May be, here we are getting closer to finding the metaphysical attractiveness of the very genre of painting masks?
03 Oct 2016
War between two countries, to a substantial degree, is a fight between two social hierarchies belonging to the countries at war. War is result of rivalry between the decision-makers of both countries, who are trying to outmaneuver and subdue each other. “People” with their jingoistic passions come into play much later, after propaganda on both sides activates ideological slogans mobilizing the hearts and minds of the masses for fight and self-sacrifices. In this context, the occupation of France by Nazi Germany is the background of Louis Malle’s “Lacombe, Lucien”, where the main character – Lucien Lacombe, still a teenager who was at the bottom of the social hierarchy in the pre-war France, joined the Vichy police collaborating with the Gestapo. Before the war and under occupation Lucien lives like a marginalized maverick, a person without any interest in political involvements or fighting for personal advantage, he is a kind of a white crow or a black ship. He doesn’t have hierarchical (rivalrous) emotions which need to be mobilized for fighting for the higher social position. Lucien is a-hierarchical creature, without enough hate or aggressiveness to fight for himself. He – a peasant boy, understands killing as a hunter, or in a context of defending people he loves. In France occupied by the German army Lucien defends the Jewish girl he fell in love with, and protects her family from prosecution.
While formally working for Vichy police Lucien didn’t kill or torture any French person. His buddies in the secret police were on the side of the Nazis for the sake of salaries and perks, but Lucien just wanted to live – he was in love for the first time in his life, his mother recently remarried and his stepfather was crudely authoritarian and indifferent to and even rivaling with Lucien, who lost the feeling that it’s ok for him to live at home. He wasn’t accepted into Resistance by the reason of his young age. Still, even a more important event than his love for France (the name of his girlfriend), was his difficult but productive friendship with her father, an old tailor, whose heroic deed dedicated to saving his family made an impression on Lucien – helped him to become an existential hero (with heroism without any fanaticism and despotic strain).
The unusual – radically socially critical angle of narrating events makes Malle’s film unique in its ability to separate compassion for fighting for justice from propagandist patriotism and career-making obsession approved by social hierarchy and standardized political ideas. “Lacombe, Lucien” starts and ends not with habitual – impregnated with jingoistic excitement concept of heroism but with the one that’s ontologically authentic. Lucien was nominally in the Vichy police without being vicious – he in his childhood didn’t know the servility of the low-positioned inside the social hierarchy towards the high-positioned and their meanness towards those who are of lower status. Malle challenges the “politically correct” patriotism as a fraudulent construction covering up the blind rivalry for a place in the social hierarchy. In no way Malle morally justifies the fact that Lucien has joined the Vichy police – he just invites viewers to consider Lucien’s socio-psychological roots and his non-conformist and heroic achievements. The director’s problematization of white-black perspective on Lucien’s behavior during the war is an important and productive intellectual challenge for the viewers.
Lucien (on the left) – Pierre Blaise, has inserted himself into the family of France (in the center) – Aurora Clement, with the awkward imposition of a teenager who is trying to find his way amidst a complicated shuffling of powers in the occupied France. On the right we see Albert, France’s father (Holder Lowenadler) trying to understand what his daughter finds in this disgusting peasant boy working for the secret police collaborating with Nazis. But Lucien, for whom it is not enough to fall for the girl, is learning how to love her and her family.
Lucien has to participate in standard pro-Nazi police operation against members of the Resistance, but he doesn’t have any animosity for Resistance. Yet, as a person from the social bottom – from a poor peasant family he harbors a personal animosity against the wealthy French (of course, without expressing it in violent way).
Lucien is looking at a boy of his own age – son of a rich father. He personally didn’t take any aggressive action against the frightened fat boy. But he was asking himself – why are some people so lucky to be not only wealthy but also morally right, with their morally justified right to hate, but why from him, Lucien, these opportunities were taken away right from his childhood?
01 Oct 2016
From the four masks which Nolde represents in his “Still life with Masks” (1911), three signify, it seems, the phases of conservative psyche’s life, and one – the psychological essence of liberal position in life of Western democracies in the end of 20th and the beginning of 21st century. The composition of the painting emphasizes that people with conservative sensibility occupy three quarters of the socio-existential space while those with liberal sensitivity are marginalized into just one quarter. In other words, liberals today are in the corner of life, while conservative psyche is dynamic and nomadic (today it means – globalist), but also – pushy, full of retrograde energy, confidently self-advertising and self-imposing. The contrast between the facial expressions of the three conservative mask-faces – a child’s, a man in his middle age, and a warrior, and, on the other hand, the gentle and sensitive liberal face tells us, that Nolde, indeed, knew very well the moments of agony of the soul, connected with being victimized by the violent political vibrations of social field.
Can’t the facial expression of the liberal soul locked into the right upper corner of the canvass (into the corner of socio-cultural whole) be defined as the protagonist’s shy moral disappointment with societal values and norms? May be, it even can be interpreted as human soul’s weeping hopes, a wounded skepticism of immanent intelligence. Our frustrated believer in the victory of human goodness! In the irresistibility of democratic norms of life! Our almost old man with a youthful soul, with a meek smile and a grimace, as if, asking for forgiveness without any wrong doing! How insulted he feels in front of the plebeian neo-conservative rudeness and organic and orgiastic militancy! His eyes radiate a modest – a skeptical knowledge that in spite of his dreams and delicate actions nothing good can happen, because of right wing brutality and cruelty is triumphantly everywhere. The gentle idealistic eyes of the liberal see that the background of human life (the backdrop of the painting) – is the darkness mixed with blood. The gaze of this delicate and peaceful man is a gaze of sensitivity to the meaning of this darkness. The gazes of the conservatives are also dark, but by another reason – they‘re the carriers of darkness.
The gaze of the ducky conservative child (mask on top left corner of the painting) shows the general, “preventive” (mobilized in advance) fear of the environment, feature which will define the fully developed conservative psyche with its militancy, future wars, torture, menaces and blackmails. For these people the world is dangerous by “definition” – it is deadly and must be preventively, preemptively controlled, manipulated and repressed by power and through money. From their early childhood diffused fears, dogmas, ultimatums and corporeal punishments have determined their dominating posture in the world (the mask right under the first one, where we see adult right wing conservative with poisonously-green face). The “facial” expression of this mask is the desire to be… “denser”, “more solid” than the world, “thicker” and impenetrable for what is outside. Fear as background emotion creates a face which is like a body-fort, a body-wall of conservative middle age, with a flesh that is thick and springy and is ready not only for clash and conflict with the world, but for the “first strike”. The medieval collar, encircling this mask from underneath as a halo from hell, tells us that conservatives play aristocratic justification for their intolerance for the world – they mixed the wealth with culture, the swelled closet with genealogical tree, they feel contempt towards human flesh not defended by money and weapon.
The third age of the fanatic conservative’s destiny is the phase of massive destruction of the world which they see as competitive challenge to their will and might (the red-dark mask-shield on the lower right corner of the painting). Conservative (trying to bend the world by their will, never collaborating with otherness) powers in history are prone to create spectacular destructions (sometimes with apocalyptic overtones). And the tears keep coming out of the eyes of Nolde’s timid and gentle liberal – tears metaphorized by a rope crossing his left eye. Pay attention to the monstrous black lines on the very forehead of our carrier of humanism. Is it Nolde’s parody on his scrupulous scholarly perception of the world? On his tireless thinking? On his ideological grief? Is Nolde, from hundred years ago, using his prophetic intuition, accusing him of being accomplice of neocon crimes against life just by being unable to do more than grieving in a private corner, unable to accept martyrdom? He, with his smile of suffering, understood that the eclipse of morally decent life is to come. He suffers the burden of his understanding. He comprehends the truth. The dark – red-brown truth marked him forever.
18 Sep 2016
Under the first impressions from Herzog’s film –
There is optimism, there is pessimism, and there is art.
There is truth, there is non-truth, and there is art.
There is admiration, there is indignation, and there is art.
There is love, there is hate, and there is art.
There is glorifying or debunking the reality, and there is art.
There is profit, there is financial loss, and there is art.
In a Bavarian village in the late of 18th century, a glass-maker dies and takes to his grave the secret of his ruby glass. The glass factory owner goes out mad trying to unearth the formula.
David Licata, “Werner Herzog and the making of ‘Heart of Glass’”, “Filmmaker Magazine, May 24, 2012
“Revolutionary” mysticism of Hias, the shepherd and local seer:
I look into the distance, to the end of the world. First, time will tumble, and then the earth. The clouds will begin to race… the earth boils over; this is the sign. This is beginning of the end. The world’s edge begins to crumble… everything starts to collapse… tumbles, falls, crumbles and collapses. I look into the cataract. I feel an undertow, it draws me, it sucks me down. I begin to fall…a vertigo seizes upon me. Now I look at one spot in the tumbling waters. I seek one spot on which my eyes can rest. I become light, lighter, lighter. Everything becomes light, I fly upwards. Out of the falling and the flying, a new land arises. Like the submerged Atlantis, the earth rises out of the waters. I see a new earth.
Sociological” prediction of Hias:
A liar will cross one of the bridges, thief the other.
Dialogue between Wudy and Ascherl while drinking beer at the pub
Wudy – Tomorrow you will be finished, Ascherl! I’ll sleep off my hangover on your corpse.
Ascherl – Innkeeper, bring Wudy another beer.
Wudy – I’ll sleep on your corpse. Hias said that I’ll sleep on your corpse. Hias sees into the future.
Ascherl – Provided we sleep in the hay. And I must fall down onto the threshing place first. Then you must fall on me. If you don’t fall soft, you’ll be dead too.
The owner of glass-blowing factory shares his love for the Ruby Glass:
Master Muhlbeck is dead and no one knows the secret of the Ruby Glass. My god. This splendor is now relinquished from the world. Now what will protect me from the Evil of the universe?
The poet reciting his hymn to the red glass in front of the local lord (the owner of glass-blowing factory)
The land of the ruby –
And all the people
dance in the red glow
and live in it.
Their blood, their life,
everything is in the glass –
in the red, in the color.
This land is the only one.
Everything is in this land
and everything is ruby.
From Hias’ prophesies
Then the little one starts a war and the big one across the ocean extinguishes it. Then you will not get a loaf for two hundred florins. Then a strict master comes who takes people’s shirts and their skin with them. After the war you think there will be peace, but there will not be. The peasants will dress like town people and the town people will be like apes. Women will wear trousers and boots. The peasants will stand in their dung heaps with polished boots. The peasants will eat cakes and discuss politics. They all fight; there is war in every house. No man will like another man. The elegant and fine people will be murdered. Forest will get sparse, like the beggar’s gown. The few who survive will have iron heads. People become ill, but no one can help them. Pope consecrates a goat as bishop.
“Heart of Glass” in German language with English subtitles.
Ontological rivalry between two drunks
Werner Herzog and the human historical past
Herzog works with Stefan Guttler (playing the role of local rich man, the owner of the glassmaking factory, who is obsessed with the ruby-glass’s superhuman powers as today’s profit-makers with their profits).
Nature perceived/contemplated/meditated on by Hias
Nature for Hias is like living, not like life – the river is like clouds and clouds – like flood. Nature is like a breathing human soul, fragile and powerful. It’s, as though, present and simultaneously absent, material and ideal.
Hias-the herdsman as observer of human condition
The more Hias (Josef Bierbichler) knew how people are – the farther he felt himself from humanity, the more he was disappointed in his fellow humans. May be, because of this he began to think systematically. Throughout his long mornings he looked at the grazing cows and remembered about people. Thinking becomes his habit and even his love not because it can help in life but because it is not life – because it seems to be something better than life. To think is more decent than to live day after day according to the same expectations (or the same surprises).
To start to philosophize or psychologize you have to be disappointed, and then you start to think about the destiny of humankind, as if you don’t belong to this destiny (this is the prejudice of many thinkers – to feel, not without good reason, of course, contempt for human prejudices and superstitions). For Hias human beings are superstitions in flesh. Luckily, Hias had a nature. Still, is it wise to blame the baby but not the womb as well?
Glorious, sophisticated and blind obsession with the ruby glass
When a person is obsessed with something, like the local lord in the film (Stefan Guttler) with the ruby glass, s/he also becomes obsessed with material, fleshy aspect of the object, not only with its “essence”. In this scene we see how the aesthete-admirer of magic thing strokes it – caresses ruby glassware, as if, with gratitude for its existence.
The fact that the miracle of the ruby-red glassware can no longer be reproduced (the secret of its creation has been lost), makes the hero of the film lose his wholeness, personality, identity (everything starts to crumble, fall into pieces) and this creates in him engulfing panic.
This how the owner of the factory without production touches the sacred glass, like people caress an enigmatic, full of intriguing otherness pet, without which the very life of the owner cannot, as he feels, be sustained.
For our local baron his obsession with the ruby glassware is a psychological defense; his mysticism and aestheticism have to psychologically protect him from the consciousness of his human weaknesses and fragility in front of mortality, and it makes this refined and elegant person similar with the “poorest and stupidest peasant”.
At any time of day and night the baron visits the factory, which always kept ready… to start to produce the ruby glass again. Production of aesthetic or utilitarian artifacts becomes part of our human superstitions, as soon as their very ideas are rooted in the superstitious abyss of people’s unconscious.
Ontological rivalry between Ascherl and Wudy (which one is the best guy in the world?)
Ontological rivalry is not just about who is stronger or/and smarter or/and richer or who will get more medals at the Olympic Games. It is when a human being or a group of people or a country – can claim having a superior status or exceptional value, and, therefore, cannot be judged by the usual human criterion. It is exactly like Ascherl and Wudy, who compete with one another – who will overdrink and jump down from the roof and survive and who is not. For their time it’s the equivalent of today’s obsession with extreme sports or with especially dangerous military professions.
If to try to create the image of human face representing the humanistically/liberally uneducated human being, it would be the facial expression of Wudy (Volker Prechtel), from Herzog’s “Heart of Glass”. In Ascherl-Wudy bet Ascherl, indeed, jumped first and died, while Wudy fell on top of him and survived. He continued to drink night after night without his rival-friend, but soon he came to miss his drinking buddy. So, he brought Ascherl’s fresh corpse to the pub and danced together with it in front of people moved by it.
Clemence Scheitz is playing in the film the factory owner’s adviser and senior servant. If the condition of human mentality (of even the educated and intelligent people) could be characterized with ultimate image of human face, it would be the expression of this character from “Heart of Glass”
Search for other worlds or for “abstract” professions – can be result of at least the unconscious disappointment in humanity
Like some scientists today are involved in search for limits to the universe and for life in other worlds, people of the past, as some heroes of Herzog’s film, were involved in a similar search without even being paid for it. Of course, there is nothing superstitious and prejudicial about techno-scientific curiosity per se. Technical science in itself is not necessarily idolatrous. But the absence of serious concern about the use of the results of techno-scientific research on the part of scientists themselves lets those with limited holistic intelligence to control these results. It makes the whole enterprise of technical science – superstitious and dangerous. The very agreement not to control the socio-political applications of these results smells of escapism on the part of scientists, leaving the conditions of human social and international life in disastrous state and transforming people like Neil de Grass Tyson into children playing with high-tech toys. Herzog’s film reminds us that cognitive curiosity even with emotional dedication and creative imagination is not enough – it is necessary to have civil concerns and humanitarian dedications, otherwise scientists and scholars today will not be much different from even the exceptional people in Herzog’s “Heart of Glass”.
The herdsman Hias’s respect for the spirituality of nature was growing with each early morning when he in the company of blue cattle began his work. Every morning his meditations were rejuvenated by the splendors of a non-made-up nature which is living toward the unknown – not like human lives always defined by social imperatives or expectations. People are controlled by their own prejudices and superstitions.
Herzog shows how, for example, people are expecting the “return of the giants” by not just imagining future events but unconsciously hypnotizing themselves so effectively that they really believe in the reality of what they imagine. That’s, for example, how so many Americans in the 21st century solemnly follow Donald Trump’s triumphant blabber consisting of absurdities which activate people’s archetypes of pleasures, fears and hate. Hypnotic believes make life more eventful and “meaningful”, more interesting – more real than reality. That’s how violent video games transformed into wars, not armed black males transformed into the mortal danger to white police officers, or Stalin’s comrades in fight for the common goal – into his and whole country’s (Soviet Russia) deadly enemies.
Relations between regular people are magnified by Herzog in a surrealistically metaphoric scenes of ontological rivalry between Ascherl and Wudy, beer drinking regulars at the village tavern, who challenge each other not only to outdrink one another but in deadly drunken condition to jump off from the rooftop. In spite of the apparently imbecilic flavor of the bet our competitors’ mentality is very close to many forms of competitions loved and practiced in our times in the so called democratic societies, like risky sports as bone-braking skateboarding, ultimate fight, or clashes between countries with military super-technology at their disposal, which compete for fossil fuel global domination and/or world leadership.
Ascherl and Wudy not only compete (and, therefore, hate each other) – for the “title” of the best guy on the planet Earth (archetypal background of the deadly competition between countries for being “the best country in the world”). Ascherl and Wudy not only hate one another but love each other in a sense that they cannot live without one another, cannot live without hating one another. They‘re doomed to live to… compete for ontological superiority, as profit-makers are in the area of financial accumulation. That’s why after Ascherl’s death on the hard soil near the pub Wudy step by step began to sincerely suffer. Dead Ascherl cannot know that Wudy won. It means that Wudy didn’t prove to Ascherl that it is he, not Ascherl is the best guy in the world. With Ascherl’s death Wudy has lost his chance to be the best guy in the universe. So, he brings Ascherl’s corpse to the tavern and dance with it in front of fascinated drunkards. This resurrection of the dead rival also happened in recent times when the American decision-makers resurrected a whole country – the Soviet Union which objectively no longer exists since its dissolution on December 1991. Treating today’s Russia as if it’s still USSR with its megalomaniacal ideological pretentions is an example of resurrection of Ascherl by Wudy. American rich decision-makers obviously miss Soviet Union as global rival – they cannot differentiate between “the enemy” and just “another country”.
Herzog depicts Ascherl-Wudy relations as the representation of the psychology of the majority of the people. But the director in the “Heart of Glass” depicts also two intelligent reactions on the human condition. One is the life of Hias, the local seer and “sociologist”, and the other is behavior of the ruby glass factory owner, an aesthete and entrepreneur. Both “intellectuals”, artistic and scientific look for way out of ordinary existence – the admirer of ruby glass into the world of beauty, and Hias towards admiration of the natural world, like the most sensitive among today’s technical scientists.
Like the ruby glass worshipper’s reaction (on primitive quality of human survival around him) is not blindly worship the object but includes (his own) creative and aesthetic sophistication, Hias’s respect for nature has an intellectual component – curiosity toward nature’s functioning, the miraculous “mechanism” of its liveliness. This aspect of Hias’s admiration of natural world’s life is very close to today’s approach to reality by the techno-scientific reason. Behind the both, aesthetic/pragmatic and scientific/pragmatic reactions on existence lurks a tormenting disappointment with the social life and desperate search for an alternative reality. Behind the production of ruby glassware or desertion to nature we see the posture of today’s intelligent people trying to ignore socio-political problems of life by the sophistication of their professional or/and spiritual dedications. This trauma of escapist “disappointment in humanity” on part of intelligent people is the topic that Herzog in the “Heart of Glass” critically investigates without populist simplifications or sentimental accents.
While regular people (of Ascherl-Wudy kind) blindly compete and fight for domination, people gifted with holistic intelligence look for sublimated refuge in their intellectual interests. Both groups fail to have a deal productively with otherness of the others. Until exceptional people will not stop to escape from the truth of human nature, we will be living and dying inside the universe of “Heart of Glass”. This, it seems, is the ultimate concern of the creator of the film who so eloquently refers the viewers to the historical destiny of human race which keeps humanity’s future in its clutches, especially today, in 21st century when advanced economic manipulation and high-tech propaganda and entertainment tricks are used to keep people’s complexes in rigidly archaic state.
05 Sep 2016
This painting was banned by the Nazi regime and exhibited at the Degenerate art (Entartete Kunst) exhibition in Munich in 1937. During this exposition the most innovative artists of the time were mocked and labeled as cultural and political evil and anthropological deviation. To Emil Nolde’s horror (and to his honor) his name was among the “degenerate artists” and some of his works were on display as examples of degenerate art.
The truth of serious art awakening of hateful righteous indignation among conservatives of all stripes
Here we see in the same show room as in the previous photo, Nolde’s painting “Masks” – at the upper left corner. We can easily imagine Hitler and Goebbels’ “enlightened opinions” about it, surely, similar with that of the Russian Communist bosses or many today’s American neocons, if both categories of conservatives could be exposed to serious art.
The central semantic motif of the painting is “impersonated” by the mask in profile in the very center – it is the earthly monarchy of the absolute power in both senses – as a human despotism over other humans and as despotism of money over human beings in general (both signified as the might of the golden crown). The face-mask under the crown is charred by the obsession with power, which triggers apocalyptic blast – the face of the monarch is of the same color as the very backdrop of the painting – the color of a burned/scorched world.
But let’s take a look at the symbiotic unity between the (dark) monarchy (human power) and the demonic face/mask that symbolizes superhuman power (on the left of the painting) with a skin like a blue sky darkened, as if, by being locked underground (with the eyes swollen from the burned blood mixed with ashes). The both apocalypse triggering despotic powers – human and superhuman, act together. They share not only beard, but obsession with power and wealth. They are shown as glued to one another – the king’s with a golden crown and the devil’s heads are, as if, two monstrous growths on each other, as if, tumors of one another. They cannot be separated – they are the one piece yearning for domination over life to the point of exterminating it. The burned blind eyes of the golden-crown king look outside – they can see only the world transformed into ashes. The blindness of the monarch is the same as the blindness of the destroyed world. While the king/despot and the devil are both hurt by apocalyptic fires, the golden crown is intact and immortal. It is apocalypse-proven.
The human mask-head turned upside down signifies, it seems, life as a victim of man-made apocalypse. Its hallowed eyes of sadness, mouth of grief and the blue-green patches of makeup confirm that life’s fleshy existence has been killed. Life is a corpse. But it is not burning in spite of the flames behind – it’s a monument created by Nolde’s art of universal memory. By the power of creator the artist saved a dead life from being deformed – erased from the cosmic memory. The moment registered in this painting by Nolde can happen aftermath of nuclear catastrophe, when monarchic and demonic aspects of despotism are at their best on the way to absolute, ultimate domination.
The time depicted by Nolde in this painting of 1922, is his prophetic feeling about the future of humankind. The two corruptors and victimized human and the natural world look at us today from Nolde’s canvass. Could those Nazis looking at this painting on display at the Exhibition of Degenerate Art in Munich have felt in it something like human-made apocalypse? They could be emotionally troubled by Nolde’s work, felt disturbed by the artist’s horrifying truth about their own megalomaniacal arrogance of believing that they are exceptionally, superhumanly worthy in comparison with the rest of the world, believing that “our country” is the best and that in order to prove “our” superiority “we” are optimistically and heroically ready to destroy the world with inferior people, and then they rushed to misnomer Nolde’s paintings as an example of his degeneracy. For people with Nazi psychology wars of domination with its apocalyptic aura are a precondition of their happiness of feeling themselves superhuman.
Let’s look again at the reality according to how Nolde sees it in his “Masks”. The world is a giant field of charred flesh and ashes. The devil’s eyes burned by the nuclear catastrophe. The blood dried on the devil’s face, and the golden crown is the only thing left intact in the world. Gold/money is the ultimate and the only survivor of high-tech war. Human eyes emptied by the blasts and human face emptied by dead suffering.
But why neocon generals and hedge fund managers and Wall Street self-financiers of the 21st century have to worry about destruction of life in the new wars? Are they exceptional or not? They believe that with super-technology and super-soft wares they are. More, may be, they know techno-scientific secret of how to transform/transcend themselves into super-existential condition and then they will become forever invulnerable for noisy, smelly and furious planetary inferiors (even without devil’s help, who anyway, according to “degenerate artist” Nolde’s “appalling” representation, is crippled by nuclear holocaust).