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On Loneliness – Werner Herzog

October 22, 2009

Recently finished reading Werner Herzog’s Of Walking in Ice (Munich-Paris, 23 November-14 December, 1974), which, to borrow a term from one of his later entries, depicts Herzog in a “dialogical rapport with [him]self.” There are two characters; Herzog the storyteller and Herzog the man. Early entries yield flourishing slices of daily life, each small observation written to contain the entire past, present, and future of a moment recorded candidly by Herzog’s lucid gaze.

He cannot be a farmer, being almost blind. He is the innkeeper, yes. The lights go on inside, which means the daylight outside will soon be gone. A child in a parka, incredibly sad, is drinking Coke, squeezed between two adults. Applause now for the band. The fare tonight shall be fowl, says the innkeeper in the Stillness. (3)

As he traverses the German countryside the weather grows exceedingly cruel and Herzog’s deteriorating physical condition prompts his transgression from public observer toward brutish survivor.

The man at the petrol station gave me such an unreal look that I rushed to the john to convince myself in front of the mirror that I was still looking human.

In France, nearing his destination, human relation boils down to grunts and symbols, dogs sniffing each others’ butts.

Just past Piney I was stopped and checked by astonishing patrolmen who wouldn’t believe a word I said and wanted to take me with them right away. We only came to an understanding once the city of Munich was mentioned. I said, “Oktoberfest,” and one of the policement had been there and remembered the words “Glockenspiel” and “Marienplatz”; he could say this in German. After that they became peaceful. (58)

Written just after the debut of The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) retitled from the original Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle, meaning “Every man for himself and God against them all,” Herzog’s portrayal of his journey seems to borrow from this concept.

And to end without ending, every usage of lonely in Of Walking in Ice…

When I looked out of the window, a raven was sitting with his head bowed in the rain and didn’t move. Much later he was still sitting there, motionless and freezing and lonely and still wrapped in his raven’s thoughts. A brotherly feeling flashed through me and loneliness filled my breast…

A little further on, in the loneliest spot, the very loneliest spot, I saw a fox…

Very pronounced loneliness, also…

Is the loneliness good? Yes it is. There are only dramatic vistas ahead…

Out of sheer loneliness my voice wouldn’t work so I merely squeaked; I couldn’t find the correct pitch for speaking and felt embarrassed…

Beside the main road to Charmes there was an exhibition of campers and mobile homes which, now that it’s wintertime, were lying lonely and forsaken behind a chain-link fence…

The loneliness is deeper than usual today. I’m developing a dialogical rapport with myself…

I threw the apple core against the tree, and the apples fell like rain. When the apples had grown still again, resting on the ground, I thought to myself that no one could imagine such human loneliness. It is the loneliest day, the most isolated of all. So I went and shook the tree until it was utterly bare. In the midst of the stillness the apples pummeled to the ground. When it was over, a haunting stillness grabbed me and I glanced around, but no one was there. I was alone

The loneliness today stretched out ahead of me toward the west, though I couldn’t see that far as my eyesight let me down…

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