When I wrote about the Paris Review’s interview with Werner Herzog, I took special note of this observation from the great director:
The Polar explorations were a huge mistake of the human race, an indication that the twentieth century was a mistake in its entirety. They are one of the indicators.
I think psychology and self-reflection is one of the major catastrophes of the twentieth century. A major, major mistake. And it’s only one of the mistakes of the twentieth century, which makes me think that the twentieth century in its entirety was a mistake.
Herzog backs this up with some intriguing counter-history:
The Spanish Inquisition had one goal, to eradicate all traces of Muslim faith on the soil of Spain, and hence you had to confess and proclaim the innermost deepest nature of your faith to the commission. And almost as a parallel event, explaining and scrutinizing the human soul, into all its niches and crooks and abysses and dark corners, is not doing good to humans.
We have to have our dark corners and the unexplained. We will become uninhabitable in a way an apartment will become uninhabitable if you illuminate every single dark corner and under the table and wherever—you cannot live in a house like this anymore. And you cannot live with a person anymore—let’s say in a marriage or a deep friendship—if everything is illuminated, explained, and put out on the table. There is something profoundly wrong. It’s a mistake. It’s a fundamentally wrong approach toward human beings.
But lest you think that Herzog’s rejection of the ethics of the Inquisition comes from an embrace of spiritual tolerance:
I think there should be holy war against yoga classes. It detours us from real thinking.
I said to my friend Gavin Craig the other day that with folks like Herzog, you almost have to approach them as if they’re characters in a play. Instead of asking yourself whether you like them personally or agree with the things they say, take a step back and try to admire how they’re drawn.