Monday, 3 September 2007

The contrasting movements of History, Nature and Human Nature

Well, besides being a tutor at University College, I am teaching this semester for the first time ACC 101: Introduction to Academia. One of the many goals of the courses is to let students get acquainted to interdisciplinarity and to the possibility to approach a topic from many points of view.

Last Friday we have watched a movie in class: Aguirre, The Wrath of God, by Werner Herzog (1972), which might not be a pleasant movie at all times, and yet one feels it IS a very good one. Of course one should first try to suspend one's disbelief (i.e. stop thinking “I do not care about these characters and their adventures since they are fictional/crazy/not recognizable”) and try to enter into the frame of the movie - which I think is not so difficult after the quite impressive first scene in the mountains, with the conquistadores slowly proceeding and getting closer to the spectator. My advice is: Follow the movements of the people, first through the mountains and then along the river; let the rhythm of the movie carry you. Let the director tell his story.

And yet, this is not enough. After watching it for the first time wondered: what themes have struck me in this film? The film reveals the contrasting movements of History, Nature and Human Nature, in a quite majestic way .
When I say movements I mean that History, Nature and Human Nature should not be seen as static entities but as engines, as forces pushing in one or more directions.
Alternatively we can see them as different points of view from which to look at the story told in the movie.

Human Nature. In a small group like the one we are following, the person with the strongest will, with the strongest focus in one direction (Aguirre), may well prevail on the others. If the person with the strongest will is a bad, irrational leader, all of them might well perish while pursuing his goal and while going in the direction he chose.

Nature. From the point of view of Nature (first the mountain, the forest and then the river), even the ambition of the man with the strongest will does not count. The river leads him and his small community deeper and deeper into ‘nowhere’, where even a wiser leader would find his doom. We do not expect the group who is waiting for them in the forest to be much better off.

History. From the point of view of history, we have again a completely different picture. No matter if many of the conquistadores were crazy or irrational and if rivers and forests were powerful and difficult to explore: the Spanish conquistadores did conquer, kill and enslave (cf. the prince who is now a porter) an enormous amount of natives and deprive them of freedom and of their lands. Why? Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamonds (which we are reading with the ACC 101 course) gives one complex answer to it.

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