Werner Herzog – There is no harmony in the universe

“Taking a close look at what is around us, there is some sort of a harmony. It is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder. And we in comparison to the articulate vileness and baseness and obscenity of all this jungle, we in comparison to that enormous articulation, we only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban novel, a cheap novel. And we have to become humble in front of this overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication, overwhelming growth, and overwhelming lack of order. Even the stars up here in the sky look like a mess. There is no harmony in the universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no harmony as we have conceived it. But when I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it, I love it, I love it very much, but I love it against my better judgment.” – Werner Herzog


I realize this is my third Werner Herzog post, and it’s probably not the last. The first clip above is one of the few things that makes me feel better when I’m annoyed by the flakiness quotient that seems to be all too available pretty much everywhere. Is it its blunt, unsentimental German realism? I don’t know.Herzog’s dead seriousness is also comic in a way that I think he is fully conscious of, which is not to say he doesn’t mean everything he says, but there seems to be this sort of rhetorical impulse he likes to run with.

These clips are from Burden of Dreams, Les Blank’s documentary about the making of Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo deep in the Peruvian jungle. By the time these scenes were shot, Herzog had been in the jungle for many months dealing with death threats, warfare, funding loss, logistical problems, sickness, delays causing the replacement of Mick Jagger and Jason Robards with Klaus Kinski, not to mention the difficulty of moving an iron ship over a mountain with primitive machinery, but none of that really has anything to do with his mood here. This is fairly normal speech for Herzog, for whom every day seems to be some sort of emergency that he anticipates with total calm.

“Of course we are challenging nature itself, and it hits back, it hits back, that’s all… and that’s what’s grandiose about it, that’s all and we have to accept that it is stronger than we are. Kinski always says it’s full of erotic elements… I don’t see it so much as erotic; I see it more as full of obscenity. And nature here is violent, base… I wouldn’t see anything erotical here, I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. Of course there is a lot of misery, but it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing, they just screech in pain.

It’s an unfinished country; it’s still prehistorical. The only thing that is lacking is the dinosaurs here. It’s like a curse weighing on an entire landscape. And whoever goes too deep into this has his share of that curse, so we are cursed with what we are doing here. It’s a land that god, if he exists, has created in anger. It’s the only land where creation is unfinished yet…

It is not only my dreams, my belief is that all these dreams are yours as well. The only distinction between me and you is that I can articulate them. And that is what poetry or painting or literature or film making is all about… it’s as simple as that. I make films because I have not learned anything else and I know I can do it to a certain degree. And it is my duty because this might be the inner chronicle of what we are. We have to articulate ourselves, otherwise we would be cows in the field.”

2 comments on "Werner Herzog – There is no harmony in the universe"

  1. It is interesting that the horibble narcissist Kinski considered the jungle to be “erotic” and beautiful and Herzog saw it as the polar opposite.

    Personally I love most of Herzog’s films – with the exception of most of the films featuring Kinski (which I find to be unwatchable). The nefarious and incredulous personality and actor which Kinski was makes for painful viewing of the movies he was in…

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