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About the inequality between humans and machines

Werner Herzog explores and challenges the internet – as the dreamy documentary he continues to be.  


Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Interconnected World (2016)
Directed by Werner Herzog


In Jean-Jacques Rousseus About the inequality between people (1755), an imagined developmental story of man, he argues that it is not the thinking ability that separates man from the animals, but our peculiarity as a free being. This sense was to become important to the Romans in the 1800 century, who responded to the Enlightenment worship of human reason.

Had not the great victories of the Enlightenment – the enlightenment of the falsehood of religious dogma and the liberation of the power of thought – been at the expense of attention to the intuitive, sensitive, and dreaming that also characterizes the human world? This meant many of the artists in what has been called the Romantic Revolution (which started around 1790), and which initiated a new focus on a creative irrationality – such as love, passion, madness and dreams – that could blast the horizons of mind and relieve us from a "common sense" that limited our freedom.

German filmmaker Werner Herzog has been making visionary films since the 1960s that have continued such romantic sensibility. Where German post-war directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Hans-Jürgen Syderberg and Alexander Kluge had a studied intellectual and explicit political approach to filmmaking, Herzog has embraced a more intuitive, physical and poetic film language that explores man's irrational visions and dreamlike visions. harsh and often indifferent climate.

Ecstatic truth. For Herzog, it has been important to search for "fresh images" (as he describes it Duke on Duke, Paul Cronen, 2002) in a world full of clichés. He has taken an interest in people who are exploring, seeing and thinking through his naive, sometimes deaf-mute trudging, through his passionate and dreamy journey: On his travels around the world – most famous is probably the recording of Fitzcarraldo in the Peruvian jungle – the filmmaker has sought what he calls an "ecstatic truth". The truth lies not in the documentary's observation or in the desktop intellectual's analysis – it must be conceived by a wandering mystic and constructed by a conscientious poet.

In his latest film, Lo and Behold – Reveries of the Interconnected World (2016), which is a documentary about the internet, encounters and problematizes this ducal sensitivity information climate where artificial intelligences increasingly organize the world. The film is divided into ten chapters, and allows a variety of internet researchers, users and victims to speak. It is both skeptical, humorous and enthusiastic in its study of the internet as a phenomenon, and not least insistently tragic in its portrait of a partially blasé and hard-hearted information society.

Some will clearly laugh, but Herzog manages to convey a respectable and resolute empathy in the face of the extreme.

"The scream of nature." In one of Herzog's many unforgettable 70s films, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), we see a society and its view of nature through the uncultivated gaze of a human being who has been trapped in a cave all his life. Science's calculations, calculations and frameworks of understanding as well as the customs of culture are completely foreign to him. He sees the world with a glance in which a rolling apple can shoppe over a branch on the path; for Kaspar Hauser, anthropomorphization (humanization of nature) is a natural way of being, not a cultural construction or miscalculation.

"Don't you hear the awful scream around you, which people usually call silence?" The film opens with this enigmatic question; is Kaspar perhaps in closer contact with an original language of being – a gestural language of nature that the language of science slowly but surely removes us from? In its elegiac tone, the film balms with what Rousseau writes about in the aforementioned book: "Man's first language, the most widespread, the most apt, and the only language man needed before it was necessary to influence assemblies is the cry of nature."

As Kaspar lies on the sterile autopsy table, the men of science comment that he had a brain defect and close the book happy. But we suspect that Kaspar had dreams, and that he lived in an ecstasy and melancholy that will forever be sealed for the enlightenment of science. There is a madness in life that cannot be captured by society's explanatory tools – and The Enigma of Caspar suggests something that will be a recurring theme in Herzog's work: Before rational understanding, we have an intuition that grips the world, that experiences, and that allows us to dream in and about it.

Inspiration and empathy. Although Herzog has often concentrated on people who are on the outer limits, and seen the world as from an alien's perspective, his films constantly revolve around an unfathomable humanity: the ability to step out of nature and articulate their dreams.

Lo and Keep can be seen as an extension of this interest, and in a sense the film can also be seen as a direct continuation of an interest Herzog showed in the film with the exemplary title Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011). Somewhere in Lo and Keep he films a researcher's mathematical calculation on a chalkboard as if it were artistic records of a dreamy being, as in the cave paintings. An ultra-close-up of the font's typography, materiality, style and thought turns this calculation into inspiration.

Herzog has also, in recent years, found its peculiarity talking-heads style (frontal close-ups of people talking to an interviewer allegedly behind the camera), in which he rather than giving the interviewees so much authority (impersonal dissemination of information), elicits a distinctive individuality and a specific way of thinking and being and expressing himself.

This often leads to funny moments, but also to tragic portraits – as in the case of the family who have experienced the loss of their little daughter and got a picture of her body spread online. The mother says, in what must be one of the year's most intense and obsessed close-ups – staring eyes and hellishly dark mascara – that she is convinced that the web is a manifestation of the devil himself.

It may sound comical, and some will clearly laugh, but Herzog manages to convey a respectable and resolute empathy in the face of the extreme. Rather than make the meeting with the family sensational, Herzog here approaches something of an "ecstatic truth": Is there nothing true in this woman's experience, which in all its hysteria can carry with it an insight we should all sympathize with?

Glorious. Herzog is not interested in the accountant's cool gaze, and meets the interviewees with an eager sincerity and poetic openness that has room for the comic and enthusiastic – as well as the deeply tragic and skeptical. The tone i Lo and Keep summarized by the picture of a group of monks, each with his own mobile phone. They stand as blasé, but after all secretive and surely dreamy silhouettes in front of a towering skyline. In summary, Herzog's response to a researcher who suggests that robots in the future may want to make better films than Herzog himself: "Hell no!"

Lo and Keep is a film about many aspects of the internet and "artificial intelligences" as human inventions. But not least, it is a brilliant film about the differences between humans and machines.

The film will be available on iTunes and other streaming channels on August 19.
Teaches film studies at NTNU Email

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