Alexander Alberro: When did you first meet Harun Farocki?
Thomas Elsaesser: In the summer of 1976, I spent time in Berlin researching a book on New German Cinema, interviewing as many filmmakers as I could, but also critics. I knew Farocki as a critic, from the articles he wrote for Filmkritik, but had not seen any of his films. If I remember right, I had an introduction through one of his fellow students from the days at the DFFB, Ingrid Oppermann. One sunny afternoon, I visited Harun in his apartment in the Nassauische Strasse in Berlin-Wilmersdorf. I had just published a long piece on Rainer Werner Fassbinder (“A Cinema of Vicious Circles”) that I presented as my visiting card, but it proved an unfortunate move, since he seemed bodily repulsed by the idea of someone seriously writing about Fassbinder. In the ensuing argument, Harun was so sharp and witty, and such good company that I said to myself: What do I care if he trashes my writing? This is someone I could spend hours with. And he was very generous. He lent me his tripod for my super-8 camera. I borrowed it as an excuse to visit him again.
Only very recently, after his death, I realized that this wasn’t in fact our first encounter. Farocki spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, and in 1956, at the age of twelve, he published his first piece of prose, about a man who entered the house under false pretenses and used a moment of inattention to steal a silver ashtray. This was all attentively witnessed by Harun, already then an observational documentarian in the making. His short essay was published in a German youth magazine called Rasselbande, a sort of alternative to Mickey Mouse. As it happens, in 1956 I was the paper boy for Rasselbande in my hometown, so I must have held in my hands and distributed the very issue that carried Farocki’s article. For almost sixty years, then, I’m proud to say, I have been helping to spread Harun’s work.
AA:While Farocki’s work is evidently very concerned with various forms of montage and with the kind of distantiation that montage can realize, he didn’t think according to a logic of binarism and opposition but rather in terms of a logic of difference.To what extent do you think that this logic of difference, as I’m referring to it, directed his filmic and artistic practice?
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