In Walter Benjamin's essay "Outline of the Psychophysical Problem," this point is made at the end of the section titled "Nearness and Distance": "Furthermore, there is a precise relation between stupidity and nearness: stupidity stems ultimately from too close a scrutiny of ideas (the cow staring at a new gate)." Lee Chung-ryoul's Old Partner documentary is about this form of stupidity—the stupidity that arises from nearness.
The film is about the close (too close) relationship between an old man and his old ox. The old man (Mr. Choi) lives with his wife (Mrs. Lee) on a farm in South Korea. Their daily existence is raw and ugly. Every morning, the old man, who has one bad leg (it was ruined by shoddy acupuncture), heads to the rice field on a cart that's slowly, ever sooooo slowly, pulled by the old ox. Each step made by this ox demands all of its strength, and the wheels on the wagon seem to be made of stone, and the old man listens without joy to ancient tunes on a busted radio, and all around them are the random sounds of insects, and around the neck of the ox is a bell that rings and rings, and on the side of the ox is hair matted by mud. The old ox pulling the old man is nothing but the end, the limit, the terminal point of stupidity.
Yet, this is a great film. You have to watch it. The details are amazing. In one scene, we see the ox has a very red eye. In another scene, we see the old woman has only one tooth. In another scene, we see the old man fall asleep as the tip of a cigarette clings to his wrinkled lips. In the best scene in the documentary, the couple and the ox go into town to visit a doctor—the old man needs a checkup. On the way to the hospital, they happen to pass a protest outside of a shopping center. A row of men are chanting about the evils of American beef, about the unfairness of the global system, about the greatness of Korean beef. As the protestors chant, the old man, old woman, and old ox slowly, ever sooooo slowly, pass with no reaction to, or interest in, or understanding of the greater forces of history and the world market. Those things are too far away, too distant for them. All that matters are the things that are near—the old woman is concerned about the old man, and the old man is concerned about the old ox. Indeed, this is what Marx meant by "rural idiocy."