May 11, 2011

There are Buddhist Celebrities, and then there's Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog in GQ:

"Oh, I don't want introspection," he demurs. "I don't like to look at myself."

"I've always been suspicious. I don't even look into my face. I shaved this morning, and I look at my cheeks so that I don't cut myself, but I don't even want to know the color of my eyes. 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."

What's the mistake with psychology and self-reflection?
"There's something profoundly wrong—as wrong as the Spanish Inquisition was. 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."

And so if humans persist in this way...?
"They persist in stupidity, then."

And what will the consequence be?
"For example, for me, I could never ever be with a woman who is three times a week with a psychiatrist. It's like an iron curtain between us. Like venetian blinds rattling down."

I don't know if it's related, but you've previously mentioned an intense antipathy to yoga classes. Could you be with a woman who did yoga?
"Of course not. Of course not. I think there should be holy war against yoga classes. It detours us from real thinking. It's just this kind of...feeling and floating and meditation and whatever. It's as tourism in religions. People all of a sudden becoming Buddhist here in Los Angeles."

Read the GQ article here. So we're guessing there won't be a Tricycle interview with Werner Herzog anytime soon.

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shusan108's picture

As a Zen priest, I actually wouldn't disagree that much with Herzog. I think he's got a point. What he speaks to most trenchantly is the total misunderstanding of most people, East or West, of what Buddhadharma really is. But especially here in the US. Zen teaching in particular is pretty devoid of much intricate analysis of the minutiae of our inner lives, that western psychology has generally devolved into. THAT is not Buddhism. So I wouldn't set Herzog up against Buddhism. However, Werner's movies have their own issues - I think he's really stuck in "existential crisis" mode, and sometimes I feel like he's making the same movie over and over...and it's not one I often want to watch (but sometimes! Wow!)

paul6316's picture

"Tourism in religion"... Herzog never disappoints, especially when you imagine these quotes delivered in his distinctive self-parody lugubrious voice. Since he directed a (very laudatory) film about Buddhism. the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya and the Dalai Lama, "Wheel of Time," I'm surprised that Tricycle hasn't already interviewed him. Please do. It would be hilarious to watch him toy with irony- and humor-deprived Western Buddhists.

dahirjama's picture

it is hilarious - the guy is letting it rip. "Ke sara sara whatever will be will be..." comes into mind as I read him. He is just "thinking" aloud and is not about to shoot anybody - far from it. I too would love to read his interview here. Yoga classes? Can't stand them too.

Michael Speca's picture

I think this is very interesting. Looking closely at ourselves we find no one home which can be discomfiting, at best, and which often leads to specious speculation about the ineffable. I am reminded of U.G. "the other Krishnamurti". I agree with mikeindover that Tricycle should interview Mr. Herzog.

mikeindover's picture

Werner is a provocateur. I think he is being at least a little bit ironic in this interview. He once said that, in the jungle, the birds are not singing--they are screaming out. They are saying, "I am starving, I am horny, I am miserable," or something to that effect. His view of the world is always an eye-opener. I think Tricycle should definitely interview him.

bblueskye's picture

A holy war against yoga classes? LOL