A garden is a place of silence. Silence effaces the world erected by everyday prattle and creates an opening into which things can emerge. But a garden’s quiet is not devoid of power—its calm gathers and concentrates the energy by which things emerge into being and, what is the same on the side of the listener, the energy of attentiveness and expectation. The activity of speaking, like that of many musical phrases, ordinarily rushes us headlong into the future. The destitution which characterizes our age arises within our orientation toward the future: our being has become almost entirely being-toward-the-future—that orientation all but defines us. In the garden we learn about another kind of time: the silence we experience in the garden makes us aware of our duration, of the fact that our being is future-becoming-past. It makes us aware of our potential, calling us back from the forgetting caused by our involvement in actuality. The garden’s silence can also make us see that time can stop.
The garden thus teaches us that the self and the world emerge together in an originary experience in which I encounter the world that lies around me as “ever already there.” And even though in this silent realm I encounter the heavens, the sun, earth, and water as though they were “ever already given,” that my being and that of the world are ontologically bound together makes me know the world is my world, for here the ontological interdependence of the self and the world intimates itself to me. The garden’s silence affords the recognition that the call and its hearing-reception belong together. We learn, by participating in the energy of the garden’s silence, that whatever is present is given to humans, that it, in its essence, addresses itself to humans in their essence. We learn here that the world never lost its unity, that the marvellous never departed. We become acquainted with originating experience, for whenever we adequately quiet ourselves and open ourselves in the garden, we can experience the Holy, for the first time. To experience, for the first time, our familiar reality as the Holy is to accept, every time, for the first time, the holy self.
The silence of the garden calls us back to beginnings – to our own beginnings and to the beginning of the cosmos. For in the silence of the garden we can hear the reverberations that echo from the primordial Word. Attuning ourselves to these reverberations allows us to speak the word anew, for then our words are born of the Word. Silence creates a clearing that allows us to sense the potency of the word-made-new. With every uttering of the word-made-new, a wave of renewal passes across the surface of be-ing.
When perception is attentive, it responds not merely to the actual objects of experiences, but also to that which sustains their be-ing (i.e., that which makes them what they are). For this, perception must rise above what is given and experience the sacrifice of potentiality through which beings (objects) become actualized. But it does not learn to cherish this sacrifice by accepting the seamless appearance of things – things enframed in a seemingly unconflicted reality. Rather it learns this by opening itself to the ruptures and discontinuities from which experience arises and by attuning oneself to the convulsions and distortions from which beings arise. Thus, silence revives the anxiety from which speaking delivers us time and again. It also discloses the meaning of that anxiety, for it harbours, as a potential gift, the threat of turning us back on ourselves, and so of making us aware of nothingness.
A garden issues a call, which can lift one out of the naïve standpoint where consciousness is absorbed by its object, the standpoint that allows humans to avoid the question of what Dasein – the be-ing there, – contributes to the be-ing of objects. The opening towards disclosure that characterizes the Dasein of human be-ing, opens itself towards that emptiness, that nothingness, that is the scene of beings’ coming-to-be. For through this alignment of human be-ing – human be-ing as an opening – with nothingness, we sense the being-together of human be-ing and what there was even before all creation. We discover the primordiality of human be-ing’s being-with Be-ing that makes human be-ing the image of the Divine. This essential unity allows us to sense as well – however vaguely – the being-together of human be-ing and what there was even before all creation. Before the “beginning was the word,” be-ing belonged to silence; consequently beings are still poised at the edge of silence. The garden can help us understand that be-ing consorts with generative power of silence. Now more than ever we urgently need this space and emptiness, to experience the mystery of Be-ing.
The silence of the garden intimates to us that beyond the Light there is Darkness; beyond the Known, there is the Obscured; beyond the totality of everything that is, there is Nothing. And every coming-into-appearance conceals this Other – the mysterious, the awful Always-More and Always-Hidden, which appears only by dissimulation, that is, by hiding or concealing Itself in disclosing things. Still, whatever is, is a revelatory note from the Unknown gleaned from the appearance of what is known. The Bright of the seen and the heard manifests itself in unison with the Dark of the Unseen and the Unheard. The gods surprise us in their proximity to what surrounds us.
Silence harbours not only the binding powers of love, but also the power of a repellent terror. There is, then, an underworld to the garden’s silence, an underworld of terror and death. The word that comes from silence is menaced by the matrix from which it issues, for that matrix is invested with a destructive and demonic power as much as with a generosity that grants be-ing. This dark side of silence invests the word that is still in touch with silence with a formidable, ungainly strength – the dark side of silence nourishes the word. The creating word delivers the life hidden in the Ground from the non-Be-ing and converts it from potentiality into actuality; in doing so, it uniﬁes the world of darkness (non–Be-ing) with that of the light (be-ing and beings). But the abyssal demonic reacts against this unification, and wants to maintain the separation of truth and be-ing from actuality. When the demonic prevails, we founder.
We who are slow and long deliberating are gradually learning to persevere in the face of the continuing failure of the gods to appear. We live in the hope of instilling into every glance that Light of Heaven through which things are disclosed and into every sound the echo of words that are joined to Word in their call to the Hidden. True thinking dwells within an originative unveiling which brings those beings which come to pass to light for the first time. Such thinking involves a sacrifice, for it rises above the things that are in order to allow what is Wholly Other than what is to be revealed. In thinking the Thought, the thinker sacrifices him/herself to and for originative and essential thinking itself: for we do not think this thought – It thinks in us. The sacrifice that the true thinker makes is also an implicit thanking, for it expresses the grace that human beings have through being allowed to be, in their relations with things, the trustee of the power through which the things that come to pass are made present. For the original and essential thinking of human being is an echo of the Be-ing through which the advent of what comes to pass takes place: it is a reflection within the human being of the Word of Be-ing through which occurs the presencing of beings.
Because it is always on the point of returning to nothingness, the abyss is a structuring factor for the cinematic image. A cinematic image therefore cannot be a form carved into matter. Rather it is fundamentally a matrix of temporal relations (temporal relations, too, hover betweening be-ing and nothingness), relations not visible in the object itself. By blocking together past, present, and future, the image makes these temporal relations felt. Time is intimate with the Open, out of which beings emerge. Thus, the image helps make the Open palpable for cinematic image turns us towards the earth – the world is composed of definite things, and resists change, while earth (the whole, duration) changes constantly. Its capacity to convey change gives the cinema a relation to the primordial, though many try to deny it, by imposing “good form” on cinema’s fluxing character, and arresting change. Change is is the most fundamental effect of the cinema. This change should be liberated, released from the regulatory controls of narrative and good form: doing so will enable the screened cinema to more closely approximate the cinema of things.
But what of these gardens, where I filmed What Troubles the Peace at Brandenburg?, these gardens close to the sites of Abendland’s great historical calamity, the gardens of Maunthausen, Dachau, and Brandenburg-an-der-Havel? Yes, the calamity has imperilled memory itself – not even willingly exposing oneself to suffering allows one to recall the disaster, since memory and disaster are incompatible. Memory cannot endure in a place of sheer destruction.
But the charity of the garden’s be-ing grants the garden a resilience, so even these gardens help return us to the Ground. In the particular silence of these fraught places we can experience still history’s remains: the perturbations that ripple, that flutter across this surface stillness trouble the peace, by intimating the pure appearance of nothing. The memorials nearby, the sites of technologically planned, technologically managed and technologically effected mass death are less effective as mnemotectic than these places that calm cannot completely take back to itself.
The silence of these troubled places reminds us that the silence that is the matrix of λογος belongs to an order that is remote from the human order. Silence harbours an inhumane demonic element that continually threatens to invade the human world. The divine λόγος corrals the demonic into submission: when speaking arises from Love, the word is defended against the incursion of the demonic. But when the word falls away from Love, an absence perforates it and exposes it to the demonic. So human languages easily become perverse. A dark and elemental force invades speaking, which becomes clamourous. Then noise spreads war, anti-semitism, the folly of hysteria, political diatribes, the ignorance embodied in the mass-media’s anti-government prejudice, empty and cynical beliefs, and pseudo-learning. Then speaking is no longer a decision of Love and so speaking becomes unthinking babbling. Thought becomes automatic; an evil that is not even decided on becomes part of the verbal noise that spreads everywhere. Humans no longer notice what is conveyed to them in din: noise makes all our decisions for us. Events take place as though by black magic that levels all things and co-opts everyone to become an agent of its menace.
If the history to which these gardens testify reminds us that clamour perverts thinking, their uncanny, elemental silence also issues a call that summons us to return to the place where Love decides what is spoken. The matrix from which beings emerge is remote, hidden, inscrutable – but human be-ing is related to the Inscrutable. For the λόγος, in which humans have their be-ing, is the first determination of the Absconditum, the universal principle of Love at the centre of the cosmic cosmos. Human be-ing, as the namer, participates in this ordering love, by allowing pure language to speak within the human languages.
Cinematography likewise (and perhaps even more truly) extends the work of creation: the pictures that cinematography presents allow the pure language of things to readdress themselves to human be-ing. Cinematography is a pure extension of the creation – its reiteration, so to speak: cinematography is an act of cherishing, of recommending something to our attention, and so to our love. The pictures that cinematography presents allow the pure language of things to readdress themselves to human be-ing. Bergson stated, “Wherever anything lives, there is, open somewhere, a register in which time is being inscribed.1” This register is a cinema in nature, which the cinema we see on the screen duplicates. The discourse that things address to human be-ing resonates when they are translated to the screen, and by that resonance the cinema can provoke a sensation of the inner be-ing of things. It puts on display the life hidden in non-Be-ing becoming actual, and it does so by unifying the world of darkness with that of the light. Thereby is God’s creation completed.
The λόγος also wrote all things into the Book of Creation. The discourse of things constitute a Holy Writ. The cinema was born to make the sins of the originary language visible again, and to do this simply by repeating the originary ενεργεια or energeia – cinema’s images are a manifestation of nature’s power to make an image of itself, and so, by repeating it, make manifest Nature’s ενεργεια. Because it is without the mediation of meaning, this text of the world is unconditionally translatable – that, ultimately, is my justification for continuing to use what Brakhage calls “picture.” “Cinematography” is the name for the process of translating the discourse of things, of filling in the translation between the lines in the sacred text that the λόγος composed – an activity that results in a sort of interleaving of the translated images of things with things themselves. In the course of making that translation, I, too (yet an unpatched fool), am translated.
1 Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution trans. by Arthur Mitchell, foreword by Irwin Edman. (New York: Random House (The Modern Library), 1944), 16.
Film stills from
What troubles the peace of Brandenburg?