Mix­ing the vir­tual and the real, re­al­ity and fic­tion, the need for rules and fer­til­i­sa­tion

Domus - - CONTENTS - Pre­sented by Piero Go­lia

Fass­binder’s film World on a Wire con­tains the hy­brid, fer­tile and per­verse con­cept that or­der is a re­quired con­di­tion of evo­lu­tion Pre­sented by Piero Go­lia

Mix­ing the vir­tual and the real, re­al­ity and fic­tion, the need for rules and fer­til­i­sa­tion

Re­turn­ing from a trip to Ja­pan the other day, I found my­self on the plane af­ter a stay im­mersed in al­most sa­cred Ja­panese or­der and dis­ci­pline. To tem­per the nos­tal­gia trav­ellers al­ways feel when leav­ing a far-off land to go home, I thought I would watch a film that might soothe me be­fore ne­go­ti­at­ing the re­turn to my daily rou­tine. How­ever, the Amer­i­can Air­lines’ peo­ple do not share my taste in films and I could only find rub­bish among the dozens on of­fer: pre­dom­i­nantly tales of su­per­heroes with whom I have ab­so­lutely noth­ing in com­mon. Then I re­mem­bered a film that many had rec­om­mended to me, Welt Am Draht (re­leased in English with the ti­tle World on a Wire) by that rav­ing lu­natic Rainer Werner Fass­binder; one of those indie mas­ter­pieces of the 1970s I had never had the pa­tience to watch be­cause it lasts nearly four hours. Ini­tially in­tended as a Ger­man TV se­ries, the film has a leg­endary aura about it as it was only shown twice and sub­se­quently qui­etly dis­trib­uted on the in­de­pen­dent cir­cuit, but only from 2010 on. The film is set in the 1970s and is the story of a dystopia — for its times but not in the least if you con­sider to­day’s re­al­ity — in which a pri­vate agency with gov­ern­ment links de­vel­ops a se­cret project cen­tred on vir­tual life, as we call it now. It is pop­u­lated with char­ac­ters who, al­though flesh and blood, are ac­tu­ally com­puter cre­ations. The bound­ary lines be­tween the vir­tual and the real are not fixed and Fass­binder’s nar­ra­tion mor­bidly fol­lows the ac­tions of its pro­tag­o­nists, mud­dling the leads in a mix of fic­tion and re­al­ity. Ev­ery­one in Ja­pan seemed so cour­te­ous but per­haps only be­cause it is re­quired of them and they are keen to per­form their tasks well. How­ever, things change with those not paid to be cour­te­ous and I started notic­ing the other ho­tel clients look­ing down on me, to the point that I was not able to use the pools be­cause — as the ho­tel man­ager told me in an apolo­getic tone — the other clients did not like to see tat­toos. They kindly an­ni­hi­lated me by of­fer­ing me the chance to book a pri­vate hour dur­ing which to use the pools, at night when the oth­ers were sleep­ing — just like Fass­binder’s char­ac­ters who dis­ap­pear in a flash, can­celled by the com­puter or dy­ing in mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances, in a dan­ger­ous game of mir­rors rem­i­nis­cent of Plato’s cave. Then the cre­ators of this re­al­ity — vir­tual in the film and real for all of us — quite rightly start to sus­pect that they, in turn, are ar­ti­fi­cial crea­tures of a higher level. So then comes end­less spec­u­la­tion, in a whole en­tan­gle­ment of para­noia, with peo­ple no longer cer­tain who is hold­ing the reins, or the wires cited in the Ger­man ti­tle, of or­der. Nor the pur­pose of so many strict rules. The con­cept of or­der as nec­es­sary for evo­lu­tion is om­nipresent. Peo­ple al­ways obey the rules and noth­ing seems gen­er­ated by chance any­more. There is a hy­brid and fer­tile idea of a need for com­pro­mise to evolve to­wards a so­cial group where all is cat­e­gorised and ev­ery class is strat­i­fied in a hi­er­ar­chy. Fass­binder’s metaphor was a lin­ear con­tin­u­a­tion of the story I had fled from. Like the pro­tag­o­nists of the film, I was com­ing from a sur­real jour­ney dur­ing which no one ever said no to you but, equally, no one made space for the ex­cep­tion. The ar­chi­tec­ture is fan­tas­tic, the food is mas­ter­ful and there is an ob­ses­sion to do work bet­ter than any­one else and in an op­ti­mum man­ner.

How­ever, this very noble as­pi­ra­tion, which on the con­trary has al­most dis­ap­peared in Western so­ci­ety, clashes with a need to con­trol. The cour­tesy con­ceals a strong de­sire to reg­u­late and con­trol and this con­trol be­comes per­ver­sion, as per­verse as the Sim­u­lacron, the cy­ber­netic pro­gram at the cen­tre of World on a Wire. A sim­u­la­tion, a pre­tence. An at­tempt to con­trol re­al­ity. By the end of the film, all is mixed up: film, re­al­ity, pre­tence and Ja­pan are a sin­gle night­mare. The host­ess tells me to put my com­puter away as it is time to pre­pare for land­ing. In a world that con­stantly cites the need for open­ness, I hope that the rules and fer­til­i­sa­tion may soon be­long to the past, as things of a bar­bar­ian world that we re­mem­ber vaguely as a warn­ing, in a fu­ture con­structed on new codes and new lan­guages.

Piero Go­lia (Naples, 1974) is an artist and im­pre­sario in Los An­ge­les. Rainer Werner Fass­binder (1945-1982) was one of the lead­ing ex­po­nents of the New Ger­man Cinema move­ment dur­ing the 1970s and 1980s.

Left: a scene from Rainer Werner Fass­binder’s sci­ence-fic­tion film World on a Wire, 1973. Shot in 16mm and broad­cast on Ger­man TV, the film is based on the novel Sim­u­lacron-3 by the Amer­i­can writer Daniel Fran­cis Galouye

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