About: Horror; Tarkovsky
Bernhard Gaul

September 2008

Brecht in the context of his Learning Play Theory, taken up by Heiner Müller, talks about the horror in the process of re-cognition, almost like a general constituent of the process. Brecht literally: The horror as a necessity of re-cognition („Der Schrecken der zum Erkennen notwendig ist.“) Heiner Müller: Die erste Erscheinung des Neuen ist der Schrecken, die erste Gestalt der Hoffnung ist die Furcht (Horror as the first manifestation of the new). – Claiming Goya for the enlightenment, in the sense of categorizing him as just showing us the horrific seems protective of ourselves. We attest that way that there still is the secure ground from which we can judge all that mayhem as something outside ourselves. Instead – what really gets to us is that Goya seems to have lost ground himself. After all: this is what we are capable of. It’s the horror of re-cognition of what we may encounter inside ourselves; re-cognition being deliberately hyphenated. The Arduous Way to Cognition is about the best translation that I found for the title of Lion Feuchtwanger’s novel: Goya. Oder der Arge Weg der Erkenntnis, to the best of my knowledge translated into English only once in the fifties under the quite different title: This is the Hour. Der Arge Weg der Erkenntnis describes it quite well though. This could also be the Arduous or Horrific way of Cognition. The external sign of horror, the outwardly bulging eye appears in Goya’s pictures also in the expressions of the perpetrators of violence – not just the victims.


I thought the bulging eye of horror is the same as in Bunuel’s Chien Andalou. But looking it up again it is actually not inner pressure that makes the eye bulge out, instead it is put into this position by the hand of the man who will soon cut it. It is us, looking at it who are horrified but not the person who is going to be cut. Instead the right eye displays resolution and inner calmness, also provocation. It’s as if the act of pulling the left eye wide open anticipates what will, in an instant, happen to your expression.


Notes (Sculpting in Time):

  • Tarkovsky unashamedly embraces the idea of the artist as creator of master pieces for the achievement of which he has to go through great length. Truth is the thing he is looking for, quite explicitly defined as a personal truth, the truth of a poetic image that the author/creator feels as being true. Tarkovsky claims to be beyond ideology, but he too has his ideological root. That is the expression that the purpose of art is spiritual refinement and ultimately service to god. That’s the limit he set himself beyond which he doesn’t have to explain himself.

  • Tarkovsky admits in a documentary snippet in one of the DVDs (I think Sacrifice, check) that this is a chosen point. As another point that could be chosen he mentions the idea that art could teach something, which he doesn’t believe in.

  • What strikes me in Tarkovsky’s films is the level of observation. Tarkovsky insists that what he shows is just what it is, no symbols, no hidden meanings, which appears to be some kind of self preservation, allowing him to show what he does without having to follow up further on the consequences. This might not be illegitimate. It might very well be a valid position for an author to show us something that is NOT ONLY PERSONAL, as personal as it may appear. If it would be only personal, we hardly would take an interest. But for the record: there is more in it than just what the author is able or willing to admit to.

  • Achieving the master piece is it, everything else is secondary. The “private business” of the author as Tarkovsky puts it. This is meant as a snide remark towards an avant-garde (presumably) who emphasizes the process of development, the how something got made in favor of the rounded product. For Tarkovsky the rounded product is everything, even though he is an absolute master of the process, stating the importance of the team for instance, interaction. He mentions how they sowed buckwheat on the fields for Mirror, mentioned quite proudly as teaching the local kolkhoz something they had forgotten/eradicated from the knowledge of previous generations. Growing films organically seems important. Other instructions mentioned (repeatedly): the team is sent out to pluck all yellow blossoms that sprang up over night. Mentioned with Stalker and The Sacrifice. The assumption is that Tarkovsky achieves something within the team here. Maybe more than just arriving at the picture he has in mind. The final picture/film is born out of the collaboration. It grows, that seems important. He acknowledges the importance of the team, the collaboration etc. but does not reflect on the methods or what the process does for him. No reflection of how the process could be important for others, that there is something in it for them to achieve or learn, too or foremost. In his point of view he is single-mindedly focused on the product, which could be reflected, too, as a method.

  • Tarkovsky’s proclaimed goal is spiritual perfection. But when you see him he gives anything else than the impression of a spiritually perfect being. He is “all wrapped up in himself” as the composer for Stalker describes it in an interview. He appears contorted as if permanently in an immense spiritual cramp. It is the seriousness of the struggle of getting to grips with experiences of human condition, otherwise simply excluded, which interest.

    Quote that springs to mind:

    The artist has no morals, but he has a morality. In his work, there are these questions: What are others for me? How am I to desire them? How do I lend myself to their desire? How am I to behave among them? Uttering each time a “subtle vision of the world” (thus speaks the Tao), the artist composes what is alleged (or rejected) by his culture and what his own body insists on: what is avoided, what is evoked, what is repeated, or again: forbidden/desired: that is the paradigm which, like two legs, enables the artist to walk, insofar as he produces.

    Roland Barthes: Cy Twombly
    Quoted after: R.B.: The Responsibility of Forms. Translated by Richard Howard. Berkley and Los Angeles, 1991.


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