Interface (Schnittstelle, 1995), which I saw for the first time in 2002, was an incision, a visceral slash to my senses, with deep consequences for my life and work. This cut marks the encounter with Harun’s work that channeled my access to something that was previously immanent but unpronounced: a material and a magical dimension of the process of film montage: “Workers paving a road with cobbles will throw a stone into the air and catch it; each stone is different, and they determine where it properly belongs in midflight.”
In one early conversation with Harun, I commented on my troubles with language and the misunderstandings imbedded in the practice of translation. I described how I had once incorrectly used the German world “Artikulation” to describe a pain in my elbow:“meine Artikulation tut weh.” My German-speaking interlocutor was confused since the word “Artikulation” in German is used to describe a thought put into words, but never a joint between two bones (as for example in Portuguese and English). In the German sense, I was saying: “my utterance is hurting.” Then Harun told me how he was interested in the deviations of meaning and the polysemic nature of words. He said that if he were to choose another occupation, he would be an etymologist.
Floating meanings have nothing to do with imprecision, but rather with the precise possibilities of language, and Harun was a passionate expert in detecting, inventorying, and describing what can be seen, and what this can mean. Sometimes Harun would wear a leopard shirt, which I started to link with the multiple meanings that the monosyllabic Yahoos of Borges’s Brodie’s Report associated with the word “nrz”: “a starry sky, a leopard, a flock of birds, smallpox, something bespattered, the act of scattering, or the flight that follows defeat in warfare.” Well, war was always in the background of Harun Farocki’s cinematic essays; by connecting certain dots, an observation of a simple daily gesture could be conditioned by that of pulling a trigger. Just as the hand of a worker building a road could turn into a revolted hand throwing a stone.
As much as Harun was pointing to the convergence of living conditions and the macro-industries in charge of putting an end to lives, he was, simultaneously, interested in the beginning of life itself. Harun had a genuine curiosity for children, how they begin to articulate themselves and describe what they see. Regarding the notion that Workers Leaving the Factory (Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik, 1995) exemplifies the first cinema genre ever—a genre transversal throughout film history—Harun said: “As if the first word that a child just learned to speak was repeated over a hundred years, so as to eternalize the joy the child felt upon the very first experience of speaking.” Harun maintained that joy in experiencing the beginning of language anew over and over again, unfolding or dilating meanings. Throughout his life he recurrently worked for child audiences and with young people on different continents.
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