Werner Herzog: Herzog's memoirs: each man for himself and God against all | The stone ax Science


In one of Werner Herzog's films, the inhabitants of a remote African village interpret in their own way the sign of a preventive warning for eye health. For some the drawing was a fish and for others it was a sun. They did not agree, each one interpreted it differently. In the same way, the athletic Maasai were unable to climb the steps of the infirmary ladder without fear. They did it almost on tiptoe, as if they were going to step into the abyss.

These details led Herzog to consider, not just the different ways of interpreting a notice or a staircase, but rather the ephemerality of the meaning of the images. Because for Herzog, reading images is reading the world and this is what he says in his memoir recently published in Spanish under the title Each one on their own and God against everyone (Blackie Books); a juicy book where science and literature are combined with life and its limits. Without going any further, in his documentary film The country of silence and darkness, Herzog introduces us to Fini Straubinger, a German woman who became deaf-blind at an early age and who visits other people with the same limitations. The film aroused the interest of Oliver Sacks who got a copy to show in his classes. The relationship he maintained with Sacks led Herzog to study in depth the signs of Linear B writing.

For those who do not know, linear B is a writing called that because it is made up of combinations of signs that are grouped into lines normally engraved on clay tablets. It is a syllabic writing used by the Mycenaean civilization around 1500 BC. But far from finding philosophical sentences or aphorisms that invite thought, Mycenaean writing was used for accounting purposes.

By means of syllables, the accounting of food, household goods or raw materials such as wool and metals, as well as weapons, was kept and also the record of land distributions for cultivation. The difficulty of deciphering this writing led Herzog to consider the ephemerality, not only of our lives, but of our language.

Within forty thousand years, which is the same amount of time that now separates us from the Chauvet cave, all vestiges of our language will have disappeared. When this happens, then how can we warn of the dangers of nuclear waste stored in salt barrels in New Mexico. How are we going to do it? This is what Herzog asks. Although pictorial representations are based on the assumption that future civilizations will know how to read them, the German filmmaker knows from experience that an image has multiple interpretations.

Returning to his film shot at the end of the sixties and titled The flying doctors of East Africa and considering the reaction of the inhabitants of a village to a health warning sign where a human eye appears, Herzog imagines that the warning about nuclear waste will be taken more or less as an invitation to eat it, just as if it were a delicatessen preserved in salt.

The stone ax It is a section where Montero Glezwith a desire for prose, exercises its particular siege on scientific reality to demonstrate that science and art are complementary forms of knowledge.

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