“But I saw something that others did not see”. Philosophical research program around the work of Werner Herzog.

November 6, 2019 - November 8, 2019
Université Paris 8

Saint Denis, France

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

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  • New University of Lisbon (IFILNOVA-CinéLab)
  • University of Liège
  • Goethe Institute Paris


New University of Lisbon

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“But I saw something that others did not see”[1]

Philosophical research program around the work of Werner Herzog.


The visual and written oeuvre of Werner Herzog carries with it a series of contradictions and paradoxes that have been nourished by the author since the beginning of the 1960s. For example, Herzog repeatedly contested any connection to the German tradition (e.g. romantic painting, Weimar cinema) though his films obviously attest of such a connection. Similarly, he always refused an interpretive and scholarly approach to his work and defended its autonomy and irreducibility vis-à-vis discourses other than those found in the films themselves. Contrary to some of his contemporaries in the New German Cinema (e.g. A. Kluge or R.W. Fassbinder) who explicitly refer to existing systems of thought, Herzog never burdened his films with any intellectual reference. Instead, he developed himself a rich thought, showing through his texts and films that the blurring of limits between fiction and documentary is itself paradoxical: the truth of fiction films depends on the actors’ exposure to the material character of the filming process, while, in documentaries, truth can only emerge through a process of rewriting and radical poetization of the real. One of the recurrent topics in Conquest of the Uselesssums up all the contradictions and paradoxes at work in Herzog’s oeuvre: what seems peaceful is illusory. The real is turbulent and unstable – it disturbs the senses and leads to a crisis of the intelligibility at the very core of perception itself. However, the author’s response to this crisis is yet another paradoxical gesture for he chooses – similar in this to the protagonists of his films – to exacerbate the problem: rather than turning to a raw and distantly sober cinema as Straub and Huillet, for example, Herzog engages in a cinema of excess – of the excessive character of perception –, the only way for him to escape the logic of representation.

Owing to its inherent paradoxes and contradictions, Herzog’s cinema is a thinking cinema. It pushes us to scrutinize its unsolved aporia, not in order to solve them by identifying the inner logic at work in his films, but to open them up to systems of thought which are not a priori contained in them. This is why we need to approach Herzog’s work from different disciplinary fields (philosophy, anthropology, sociology, literature, psychology, cinema studies, etc.). For the only way to think with the workis to abstain from remaining strictly insideofit, and open it up to different disciplines. The series of working sessions proposed in this colloquium constitute a first step on this path. 


The colloquium “But I saw something that others did not see”is organized by the University Paris 8in collaboration with the University of Liège, the New University of Lisbon(IFILNOVA-CinéLab), and the Goethe Institute Paris. It will take place in Paris on the 6, 7 and 8 of november, 2019. 

Each participant will have an hour in order to present a problem arising from Herzog’s work. Each will be requested to integrate to their problem at least one fictional and one documentary film. The candidates need to submit to the organizing committee an abstract (3000 signs max.), including a title and a small biography, in English or French, before March 1st 2019. The colloquium will be made entirely available on a dedicated website.

Submit proposals to : [email protected]

Stefanie BAUMANN, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, IFILNOVA – CineLab

Tadeu CAPISTRANO, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Programa de Pós-Graduação em Artes Visuais (PPGAV)

Grégory CORMANN, Université de Liège, UR MAP - Matérialités de la Politique

Jeremy HAMERS, Université de Liège, Centre de recherche CONTRECHAMP - Etudes cinématographiques, photographiques et audiovisuelles

Eric LECERF, Université de Paris 8, Laboratoire d’études et de recherches sur les logiques contemporaines de la philosophie (LLCP) EA4008

Jennifer VERRAES, Université Paris 8, Esthétique, Sciences et Technologies du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel (ESTCA) EA 2302 

[1]W. Herzog, Conquest of the Useless, Ecco, 2010, p. 237.

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