– Spring/Summer 2005

Production Pattern Associations: On the Work of Harun Farocki

Jan Verwoert


One answer to the question of how a film, a piece of art or a text can have a political effect lies in the capacity to make you feel that it is possible to see and do things differently. This may sound banal but just take into account the claim of capitalism to be without alternative.

Today more than ever, this claim is enforced through capitalism's apparent monopoly on the principle of realism - that is the unconditional identification of free enterprise thinking with common sense. In this way capitalism affects the dismissal of any alter-native project as an economically unfeasible and hence 'unrealistic' flight of fancy. If you seek to question this logic, then the simple gesture of showing other, workable ways of seeing and doing things can make a big difference. At the least, it breaks the intellectual monopoly of the prevailing re- or rather de-pressive realism. The pleasure of exploring the work of Harun Farocki lies in the fact that it does precisely this, opening up a space of potentiality, both in terms of the films' critical content and experimental form, and his exemplary use of an alternative economy of independent film-making.

With a body of work made up of around 90 films and videos as well as a vast back catalogue of text publications, Farocki has formulated and continuously rephrased his critique of the conditions of capitalist society and its politics of representation since the late 1960s. The different formats he has worked in include: agitational short films; semi-fictional films that translate critical discourse into Brechtian theatrical scenarios staged in a cinematic style akin to Godard; essay films which match a montage of

  1. This, at least has been my experience while attending the Duisburger Filmwoche, a venerable festival of German, Austrian and Swiss documentary film during the previous five years.

  2. Along these lines Adorno has convincingly argued for the potential of the essay to transgress the limits of institutional discourse. He writes in 'The Essay as Form' (Notes on Literature, Volume 1, New York: Columbia Press, 1991, pp.3-23) that insofar as the essay presents ideas and observations in associative constellations, it allows thoughts to unfold in the process of an unrestricted experience. It thus resists the drive towards the objectification and commodification of thought that science affects through its methods of systematic inquiry and conventions of legitimation.

  3. Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1986

  4. I invoke this concept not to tie Farocki's film back to a pre-existing theory but rather to give a possible name to an intuitive grasp of - and fascination with - ways of how truth manifests itself in material reality, a position that Farocki seems to share with Foucault and Deleuze.

  5. Diedrich Diederichsen, 'Krankheitsgewinn der Revolution: RAF und Rock', in Der lange Weg nach Mitte, Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1999, pp.125-38

  6. Jon Savage, England's Dreaming, London: Faber and Faber, 1991