Angels as Heuristic

Spent most of the afternoon watching a DVD of Wings of Desire. It had been several years since I’ve seen it and I wanted to have a copy around the house. It arrived months ago; I accidentally stumbled on it while sorting through some audio CDS. I started listening to music again, for the first time in probably a year, several days ago. I’m enjoying this brief moment of “freedom” before I start the next leg of the academic stuff. I’d been wanting to share Wings of Desire with my partner for a long time.

The information provided by the interview “extra” on the disc gave me a lot of food for thought. I didn’t know that they sort of made-up this movie as they went along. It’s sort of a hypertext in the first bit, full of nothing more than moments of beauty gathered through eavesdropping. I remember that I didn’t’ care for the movie that much when I first saw it—the lead-filled Teutonic spiritual pronouncements, particularly as the arc of the film developed, fell flat on me. But I was obsessed by the “archangel of storytelling”— Homer. That bit just resonated, particularly the idea that when we lose our capacity to enjoy storytelling that the childhood of civilization is over. But the central theme of “guardian angels” developed (according to Wenders) primarily as a heuristic device to explore Berlin from a perspective outside of time and space.

It was weird to turn this corner today. I haven’t gotten much pleasure from music in a long time—so in the effort to try to recapture it I turned to Frank Zappa. When I went to Oklahoma earlier in the week, I took several volumes of the You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore series (I’m sure the irony would have archangel Frank laughing pretty loud about now). The later live version of “Oh No’ really stuck in my head:

Oh no I don’t believe it
You say that you think you know the meaning of love
You say love is all we need
You say with your love you can change
All of the fools, all of the hate
I think you’re probably out to lunch

I think the reason why I resisted jumping on the “Wings of Desire is one of the greatest movies ever made” bandwagon was the simplistic idea that an “angel” would be seduced by earthly love into giving up his wings. The problem isn’t that I’m anti-love, it is that I think that such simplistic plot arcs do damage to the power of it. It chews love up into bite-sized chunks for mass consumption; art films are just as guilty of this as commercial ones—it’s what we want to hear.

However, I think the power of the angels in Wings of Desire as heuristic lies in the scattered moments of internal monologue that pepper the film. I resist the whole “socially constructed discourse” bandwagon. I think we all want to possess our private thoughts whether we express them, or leave them silent. To give up on that “possession” (closely tied with the historical construction of authorship) means giving up on our childhood—especially when we surrender to the sort of “group-hug” vibe that permeates collaborative experiments like Wikis (at the onset). That sort of simple form of “love” has no permanence—it often degenerates into an egotistical battle, because of our desire to retain possession of our thoughts, even as they leave us in the form of writing.

Humans are firmly rooted in time; we are not angels (or devils). Accreted writing (like Wikis) has its uses—for angels. Real humans don’t often behave that way.

Oh no I don’t believe it
You say that you think you know the meaning of love
Do you really think it can be told?
You say that you really know
I think you should check it again
How can you say what you believe
Will be the key to a world of love?

All your love
Will it save me?
All your love
Will it save the world
From what we can’t understand?

Oh no I don’t believe it

And in your dreams you can see yourself
As a prophet saving the world
The words from your lips
I just can’t believe
You are such a fool

It may be childish, but that’s really what I think. I don’t wanna grow up.

1 thought on “Angels”

  1. Funny, I got the DVD for Christmas and just dug it out tonight, too. Your mention of “possessing” our thoughts echoes my own sense that Wings is so much about the ability to perform actions with consequences: we want to own our influences (over others) as much as our actions rather than living in an (angelic) vacuum.

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