Introspection: Werner Herzog

German film-maker and his opposition to introspection and psychology.

By Kaja Perina, published on July 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The subjects of Werner Herzog's films inhabit extreme physical and psychic terrain, from the deaf-blind muse in Land of Silence and Darkness to Grizzly Man, produced with the footage of a flamboyant naturalist who lived and perished among Alaska's grizzly bears. But for all his exploration of inner landscapes, Herzog is vehemently opposed to explicit character analysis. Three of his documentary films, The White Diamond, Wheel of Time and Grizzly Man open this summer.

You believe that the concept of genius is outmoded.

If you take this word genius, it doesn't sound right. It is as wrong as speaking of big game hunting nowadays. In 1910 you were the big shot at the party, and women would listen to your exploits about shooting elephants with very big tusks. Today you would have a glass of champagne in your face.

What about the sciences?

Throughout history it's always the kids between the ages of
14 and 24 who make breakthroughs. I hate to see all these biographies of Einstein with white hair. He was [in his twenties] when he did his important stuff. Yes, there are great breakthroughs, but the term genius is not applicable anymore.

You grew up in postwar Germany.

People always think that growing up in the ruins was such a bad thing for children. On the contrary, it was wonderful. We were the kings of bombed-out blocks in the cities. In the countryside, we were in possession of well-functioning firearms.

Do you have any formal interest in psychology?

I loathe psychology as one of the major faults of our civilization nowadays. There's something not right about this amount of introspection. I can only give you a metaphor: When you move into an apartment, you cannot start to illuminate every last corner with neon light. If there are no dark corners or hidden niches, your house becomes uninhabitable. Human beings who are trying to self-reflect and explore their innermost being to the last corner become uninhabitable people.

Let's not forget that psychology isn't just about introspection; it can shed light on other people.

No, you can understand others by other means. By dint of compassion, you understand other people, and there is a concordance of hearts. That is something different. Move away from psychology and engage in concordance of hearts.