Werckmeister Harmonies

Werckmeister Harmonies

Upon this cosmic canvas of existence, what we call 'life' is nothing but it a constellation of forces that oscillates between the poles of disorder and consistency. The universe has one universal law - the law of indeterminacy. Inexplicable events randomly arise and re-structure the existing configuration of reality, only to dissipate as abruptly as their emergence. Singular events are already incipient in relatively harmonious states, whose eruption onto the "status quo" may appear to be external (the Prince) but are always internal to any meta-stable system (micro-fascisms).

The film opens with what I consider to be the greatest scene in the history of cinema by connecting the particular with the universal; linking the local and the nonlocal. On a quantifiable scale it shows the cosmic significance that has always existed and can be located in the quotidian. On a metaphysical level, its a choreography of the genesis of life. From what seems to be the purely indistinct and random movements of inconsistency emerge a pattern of repetition, consistency and discreteness. A sea of chaos synchronizes and resonates into a meta-stable order before dissolving back once again into oblivion. One might mistake this order as perfect or always desirable. Yet the irony is that it is during one particular brief moment of such order / ie. the Order of orders (the temporary "perfect" alignment of planets which causes the darkness of eclipse) that the most catastrophic of events would emerge. This is a premonition of later sequences to come, whereby the arrival of the Whale is foreshadowed by the metaphorical eclipse. Werckmeister Harmonies reveals the grounds of the political are actually fundamentally metaphysical in nature.

There's a thread that connects Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies with Arendt. The origins of Evil are not actually the deeds of dangerously charismatic men with grandiose ideas about how to bring order to society, but rather the micro-fascisms within us all and of how society can sleepwalk itself into the allures of totalitarianism. The tendency of subjects to take their daily labour and concerns within the private sphere as main/sole sources of meaning to Life (whose stake lies in the public realm of pluralism and deliberation). When pessimism towards Life takes root, that's when restless and despondent subjects are organized by totalitarian ideologies which promise to deliver one final solution. In essence, the celebration of the meaninglessness of everything is precisely the negation of Life which leads to nihilism.

There are at least 2 singularities in the film - the Whale and the naked man in the shower room. Both mark thresholds between two unique phases of nature, almost like strange attractors/oscillators which designate a dramatic change in the system of flows. The Whale is the Leviathan, an imposing figure of awe and authority, but nonetheless "dead" - because its power is composed of the totality of the townspeople (the Hobbesian image). This image of order (of something larger than Life itself) galvanizes the people into violence with the idea of restoring meaning into the aimless lives of the downtrodden village people. Like water that boils and transforms into steam, a disturbance that reconfigures the constellation of all elements in the system and persists in another meta-stable state (albeit of pure violence and destruction) until the sudden emergence of the lonesome figure of a naked elderly man in a hospital, the sign of pure naked vulnerability, who exists as nothing more than a pure Affect. Both singularities are quasi-causes, since they do not directly cause the incitement/dispelling of a highly charged state of affairs, but instead indirectly signal the transition from one phase to another. Similar to how 100 degrees Celsius at 1 atm is not the cause of water to boil, but rather the designation and representation for the boiling of H2O. Afterall, the Leviathan and naked man are not merely things-in-themselves but a physical representation of their respective Idea and Affect.

In a more cryptic scene expounding musical theory, a character laments the hubris that modern musicologists have vis-a-vis the ancient greeks. Maintaining that his analysis is not technical but philosophical, he proceeds to give a genealogy of the development of tonality. While the greeks were contented with their limited use of tuning to produce consistent melodies, the moderns inspired by the Enlightenment believed they could achieve the expression of totality by increasingly the range of tones in their instruments. However, the ratios between notes are no longer 100% pure. So if the interval between two notes is a fifth, the ratio of the frequencies of the tones (in Hertz) is not the perfect 1,5, but something like 1,4983... In effect, he's saying that the harmonies that Werckmeister dreamt of are illusory, just like any utopic dream for a theory of everything. We can somewhat understand this analogy with Gödel Incompleteness Theorems and the necessary tradeoff between completeness and consistency. While the ancient greeks opted for consistency and purity, without minding about completeness, modern music culminates in Werckmeister who wanted to express totality while remaining consistent (which as Gödel demonstrates is an impossibility). This is an allegory of totalitarian ideologies, which naively insist on their coherence to dissolve all political problems - but when they express totality they must become inconsistent and internally contradictory.

What should be our healthy relationship towards chaos? If all order is born out of disorder, and not the other way around (as what Platonism "deviation from perfect forms" to Christian "original sin/fall from grace" to Enlightenment "mind that comprehends the determinism of fixed transcendent laws behind everything" worldviews express), ultimately what matters is to acknowledge the inexhaustible well of energies in excess of what is given/perceived (and the pure randomness at the heart of nature itself) while taking guard against organising such forces into coagulated fascistic forms engendered by the forces of resentment (Nietzsche attributes the denial of life to reactive forces like nihilism). Sedimentation occurs when certain principles emerge and seek to order/govern all the spontaneous randomized drives once and for all, while disregarding the infinite potentialities of nature upon which it draws, and to which it owes its existence.

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