Werner Herzog, the acclaimed German director of Aguirre The Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu, Encounters at the Edge of the World, and dozens of other films, including a large number of documentaries and shorts, spoke Friday night, June 26 before a packed crowd of 150 or more persons at the McNally Robinson bookshop in Soho.
Herzog, known for his extraordinary film making voyages through the Amazon, to the edge of a volcano in Guadeloupe about to explode , to Antarctica,and numerous other remote corners of the world, gave the audience a trip instead through his mind while making Fitzcarraldo. This is the film about an obsessive early 20th century entrepeneurial dreamer who wants to build an opera house in the jungle town of Iquitos so Enrico Caruso can sing there. In a cracked effort to corner the rubber market,he attempts to pull a 320 ton steamboat across the jungle hills and an isthmus separating two rivers. The film starred Klaus Kinski in one of his memorably insane roles with Herzog as director and the film was itself the basis of a documentary by Les Blank about its making entitled Burden of Dreams.
Now 30 years later, Herzog has written a memoir of those days, entitled Conquest of the Useless, following the pattern of diary entries from his unique mind- It is witty, profound and surreal- and was sold along with a copy of a newly translated short prose work "Of Walking in Ice", first published thirty years ago about a walk Herzog took from Munich to Paris in the late fall snows of 1974 because he had convinced himself it would help save his friend Lotte Eisner, who was seriously ill in Paris at the time.(He reached her and she lived for many years afterward) Herzog , who is a self-taught scholar,writes powerfully descriptive,almost surreal passages, but as his mother once said, his powers of description dwarf his abilities to explain-Never mind- he is a genius at what he does.
Herzog was brusquely funny in his repartee about our"bastardized culture"- he deplores shamans,ayuahasca(the legendary tryptamine on the vine), loathes the drug culture, and cinema verite and believes his documentaries are "fiction in disguise."He spoke of the famous scene in Nosferatu, when he convinced the city of Delft, Netherlands to allow him to release 11000 painted rats upon the arrival of Dracula(Nosferatu's) boat-This was done upon the payment of substantial sums and the promise to recapture all of them- Actually 11400 were captured as they had rapidly propagated in the interim.(This film, by the way, is so good it creates the illusion it is presenting almost an anthropolgical view of the gypsy settlements depicted in thevampire-savaged countryside.)
And as for nature,it is not there to be venerated but feared-it is erotic , obscene and murderous..no pastorals here.
Compare this wild work with David Abram's Spell of the Sensuous,where Abram treats of ecological magic and demonstrates that our truest human attributes spring as in oral culture from our relationships wth the senses and the elements and the earth and animate natural world. We have lost a great bit when we solely depend on written language and alphabets- even as we have in Kabbalah the concentrated and refined magic of the written word , compared to the wild and multiplicitous magic of the natural intelligent world.
Abram, who is associated with the Alliance for Wild Ethics, is one of the greatest teachers on the planet- I cannot too highly recommend his text..You read the book with the sense that all life, rocks, and plants are charged with the life force. You will likely feel very different about bird song as well after you dabble in its pages.
More of Abram and of Jay Griffiths, and The Welsh writer's brilliant study "Wild' in the near future.