Farocki’s father

I recently read Quinn Slobodian’s book Foreign Front, which I was reviewing for the TLS. It is mainly about the role that students from Africa, Asia and Latin America played in the West German New Left in the 1960s and the complex relationship between intellectuals in the West and revolutionaries in the Third World. But it also includes a discussion of the early work of the German filmmaker Harun Farocki. I was familiar with Farocki and knew he was of Indian origin. But until reading Slobodian’s book, I hadn’t realised that his father was a supporter of Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian nationalist leader who went to Berlin during World War II and formed an alliance with the Nazis. That fact makes Farocki a particularly interesting figure who links the story of Germany’s 1968 generation  – the subject of my book, Utopia or Auschwitz – with the story of the Indian independence movement.

According to Slobodian, Farocki was born in 1944  in German-annexed Czechoslovakia. His father, Abdul Qudus Faroqhi, was an Indian doctor who treated Bose while he was in Berlin from 1941 to 1943; his mother, Lili Draugellatis, was German. Farocki (who originally used the same spelling of his last name as his father but subsequently changed it to Farocki) grew up in India, where his father was repatriated after the war ended, but moved back to West Germany in 1956. As a student at the German Film and Television Academy in West Berlin from 1966-8, Farocki worked with Holger Meins, who famously thought of the camera as a weapon and made a film about how to make a Molotov Cocktail, became a member of the Red Army Faction and died in prison after a hunger strike in 1975. Inspired by Jean-Luc Godard, Farocki made a series of films about the Vietnam war, including Nicht löschbares Feuer (Inextinguishable Fire, 1969, above) in which he puts a cigarette out on his arm in order to demonstrate the effects of napalm. Farocki’s recent video installations – also on war – have been exhibited at MOMA in New York.

In Utopia or Auschwitz, I argued that 1968 in West Germany was a “psychodrama” (Raymond Aron) in which the trauma of the children of the “perpetrator generation”  was played out. Perhaps the most striking embodiment of this is Bernward Vesper, the author of the posthumously published novel Die Reise (The Trip), whose father was the Nazi poet Will Vesper. But many other members of the 1968 generation in Germany were also acutely conscious of being the “children of murderers”, as Rainer Langhans (whose father was a member of the Nazi party) put it to me when I interviewed him. Given Bose’s alliance with the Nazis at exactly the time when the Holocaust was being conceived and implemented, the child of one of his supporters might feel just as implicated in the Nazi past as someone who had two German parents. But did Farocki think of himself in this way? If so, how did it influence his work?

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