What is the power of unanswered texts


Complete works

HEARSAY OF THE SOUL (Download as pdf-file)
MINNESOTA DECLARATION (Download as pdf-file)
MINNESOTA DECLARATION (Download as pdf-file)

On Hercules Segers

Sometimes great visionaries appear that seem to anticipate the course of our culture, like the pharaoh Akhenaton, who was more than a thousand years ahead of his time as the first monotheist, but also the creator of a new style in ancient Egyptian art, or like Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, who four hundred years ago in his Sixth Book of Madrigals created music that leads straight to the twentieth century. Only from Stravinsky on have we heard music like his, and it is not a coincidence that Stravinsky made two pilgrimages to Gesualdo's castle near Naples and wrote an orchestra piece with the title "Monumentum pro Gesualdo." This list is extendable: Hölderlin, who as a poet went to the outer limits of human language, or Turner, predecessor of the impressionists.

And now, it is time that we make a pilgrimage to the work of Hercules Segers, the father of modernity in art. He lived and worked at about the time of Gesualdo; he was born probably in 1589 or 1590, and probably died shortly after 1630. Hardly anything is known about his life, and very few works of his have survived.

It is shocking for me, and inacceptable, that I have not met a single art student in my life who has even heard of Segers, and it is deeply disquieting that I have not seen a single curator in any modern art museum who has had a clue. However, my contacts have been very scarce. Segers was not well known to his contemporaries either. His name can be found in documents of the 17th century spelled as Seghers, but he himself signed his work "Segers". Born to Pieter Seghers and Cathalijntgen Hercules, Mennonites from Flanders, he signed into the painters ’guild of Haarlem in 1612 under his first names Hercules Pietersz without surname, and married in 1615 Anneken van der Brugghen. Soon, he ran into serious financial difficulties, and had to sell his home in Amsterdam where he lived. Poverty and ill fortune accompanied him until the end of his days. Samuel van Hoogstraten, a pupil of Rembrandt, laments that there was no market for Segers prints although they were - he says it beautifully - "pregnant of whole provinces". According to Samuel van Hoogstraten, much of his printed work was used as wastepaper, probably to wrap fish or sandwiches.

Images can be like windows pushed open for us into a world of the unearthly, the sheer imagination, as if aliens had come upon us in the form of a strange visitation; and at the same time we recognize the visions as something not foreign, but belonging to us - born hundreds of years later - as if they had been dormant deeply within us. A genius like Hercules Segers makes us acquainted with images, as if we had been made known to a brother who was with us, but not made known to us yet. His work creates an illumination inside of us, and we instantly know that this is not a factual truth, but an ecstatic one. Most of his prints are not real landscapes. We can be almost certain that Segers has never seen a mountain or a rock formation in his life.

His images are hearsay of the soul. They are searchlights, or rather an ominous, frightened light opening breaches into the recesses of our self. It is like a hypnotic vortex pulling us down to the bottom of a bottomless pit, to a place that seems somewhat known to us: ourselves. We morph with these images. Caspar David Friedrich has recognized this for himself: "I have to render myself to what surrounds me," he said, "I have to morph into a union with my clouds and rocks, in order to be what I am".

Less than a dozen oil paintings of Segers have come down to us, and only four of them can be attributed to him with certainty. Rembrandt, one of the very few contemporaries to recognize his genius, bought from him a Mountain Landscape, which is in the Uffizi in Florence today. In all probability, Rembrandt repainted it in part, "improved" it, by adding a cart and oxen in the foreground and clouds in the sky. But the oil paintings seem to be within the idiom of the time.
His experimental prints set Segers apart from his epoch.

Of his etchings and prints, mostly in small formats, only some 180 survive, and many of them show the same motif but in a strongly divergent variety of colors and printing techniques. Not all of his technical procedures are fully deciphered yet. Segers frequently painted over, his prints with a brush, tainted his papers with aquarelle colors, and experimented with light and effects of color. Some of his pictures are printed on linen, and Segers was so impoverished that he is rumored to have used his tablecloth and bed sheets as materials. In some of his prints of landscapes, ropes and parts of sails suddenly appear, and the idea is not far-fetched that in his poverty he used plates that had been used before for a picture of a sailing boat. He probably drifted into alcoholism, and was considered some sort of madman. He suffered from bouts of deep depression, and around 1635 (?) He allegedly fell drunk down his staircase and was dead that very instant.

Statement by Werner Herzog, first published Whitney Biennale: Whitney Museum of American Art (ed.): Whitney Biennial 2012, New York 2012, p. 124f.


This text was first published at ARION 17.3 Winter 2010
by WERNER HERZOG (Translated by Moira Weigel)

[This text was originally delivered by Werner Herzog as a speech in Milano, Italy, following a screening of his film “Lessons of Darkness” on the fires in Kuwait. He was asked to speak about the Absolute, but he spontaneously changed the subject to the Sublime. Because of that, a good part of what follows was improvised in the moment.]

The collapse of the stellar universe will occur — like creation — in grandiose splendor.
—Blaise Pascal

The words attributed to Blaise Pascal which preface my film Lessons of Darkness are in fact by me. Pascal himself could not have said it better.

This falsified and yet, as I will later demonstrate, not falsified quotation should serve as a first hint of what I am trying to deal with in this discourse. Anyway, to acknowledge a fake as fake contributes only to the triumph of accountants. Why am I doing this, you might ask? The reason is simple and comes not from theoretical, but rather from practical, considerations. With this quotation as a prefix I elevate the spectator, before he has even seen the first frame, to a high level, from which to enter the film. And I, the author of the film, do not let him descend from this height until it is over. Only in this state of sublimity does something deeper become possible, a kind of truth that is the enemy of the merely factual. Ecstatic truth, I call it.

After the first war in Iraq, as the oil fields burned in Kuwait, the media — and here I mean television in particular - was in no position to show what was, beyond being a war crime, an event of cosmic dimensions, a crime against creation itself. There is not a single frame in Lessons of Darkness in which you can recognize our planet; for this reason the film is labeled “science fiction,” as if it could only have been shot in a distant galaxy, hostile to life. At its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, the film met with an orgy of hate. From the raging cries of the public I could make out only "aestheticization of horror." And when I found myself being threatened and spat at on the podium, I hit upon only a single, banal response. "You cretins," I said, "that's what Dante did in his Inferno, it's what Goya did, and Hieronymus Bosch too." In my moment of need, without thinking about it, I had called upon the guardian angels who familiarize us with the Absolute and the Sublime.

The Absolute, the Sublime, the Truth. . . What do these words mean? This is, I must confess, the first time in my life that I have sought to settle such questions outside of my work, which I understand, first and foremost, in practical terms. By way of qualification, I should add at once that I am not going to venture a definition of the Absolute, even if that concept casts its shadow over everything that I say here. The Absolute poses a never-ending quandary for philosophy, religion, and mathematics. Mathematics will probably come closest to getting it when someone finally proves Riemann’s hypothesis. That question concerns the distribution of prime numbers; unanswered since the nineteenth century, it reaches into the depths of mathematical thinking. A prize of a million dollars has been set aside for whoever solves it, and a mathematical institute in Boston has allotted a thousand years for someone to come up with a proof. The money is waiting for you, as is your immortality. For two and a half thousand years, ever since Euclid, this question has preoccupied mathematicians; if it turned out Riemann and his brilliant hypothesis were not right, it would send unimaginable shockwaves through the disciplines of mathematics and natural science. I can only very vaguely begin to fathom the Absolute; I am in no position to define the concept.


For now, I'll stay on the trusted ground of practice. Even if we cannot really grasp it, I would like to tell you about an unforgettable encounter I had with Truth while shooting Fitzcarraldo. We were shooting in the Peruvian jungles east of the Andes between the Camisea and Urubamba rivers, where I would later haul a huge steamship over a mountain. The indigenous people who lived there, the Machiguengas, made up a majority of the extras and had given us the permit to film on their land. In addition to being paid, the Machiguengas wanted further benefits: they wanted training for their local doctor and a boat, so that they could bring their crops to market a few hundred kilometers downriver themselves, instead of having to sell them through middlemen. Finally, they wanted support in their fight for a legal title to the area between the two rivers. One company after another had seized it in order to plunder local stocks of wood; recently, oil firms had also been casting a greedy eye on their land.

Every petition we entered for a deed vanished at once in the labyrinthine provincial bureaucracy. Our attempts at bribery failed, too. Finally, having traveled to the ministry responsible for such things in the capital city of Lima, I was told that, even if we could argue for a legal title on historical and cultural grounds, there were two stumbling blocks. First, the title was not contained in any legally verifiable document, but supported only by hearsay, which was irrelevant. Second, no one had ever surveyed the land in order to provide a recognizable border.

To the latter end, I hired a surveyor, who furnished the Machiguengas with a precise map of their homeland. That was my part in their truth: it took the form of a delineation, a definition. I'll admit, I quarreled with the surveyor. The topographic map that he furnished was, he explained, in certain ways incorrect. It did not correspond to the truth because it did not take into account the curvature of the earth. In such a little piece of land? I asked, losing patience. Of course, he said angrily, and pushed his water glass toward me. Even with a glass of water, you have to be clear about it, what we're dealing with is not an even surface. You should see the curvature of the earth as you would see it on an ocean or a lake. If you were really able to perceive it exactly as it is — but you are too simple-minded — you would see the earth curve. I will never forget this harsh lesson.

The question of hearsay had a deeper dimension and required research of an entirely different kind. [Arguing for their title to the land] the Indians could only claim that they'd always been there; this they had learned from their grandparents. When, finally, the case appeared hopeless, I managed to get an audience with the President, [Fernando] Belaúnde. The Machiguengas of Shivankoreni elected two representatives to accompany me. [In the President’s office in Lima] when our conversation threatened to come to a standstill, I presented Belaúnde with the following argument: in Anglo-Saxon law, although hearsay is generally inadmissible as evidence, it is not absolutely inadmissible. As early as 1916, in the case of Angu vs. Atta, a colonial court in the Gold Coast (today Ghana) ruled that hearsay could serve as a valid form of evidence.

That case was completely different. It had to do with the use of a local governor’s palace; Then, too, there were no documents, nothing official that would have been relevant. But, the court ruled, the overwhelming consensus in hearsay that countless tribesmen had repeated and repeated, had come to constitute so manifest a truth that the court could accept it without further restrictions. At this, Belaunde, who had lived for many years in the jungle, fell quiet. He asked for a glass of orange juice, then said only Good God, and I knew that we had won him over. Today the Machiguengas have a title to their land; even the consortium of oil firms that discovered one of the largest sources of natural gas [in the world] directly in their vicinity respects it.

The audience with the President granted yet another odd glimpse into the essence of truth. The inhabitants of the village of Shivakoreni were not sure whether it was true that on the other side of the Andes there was a monstrously large body of water, an ocean. In addition, there was the fact that this monstrous water, the Pacific, was supposedly salty.

We drove to a restaurant on the beach a little south of Lima to eat. But our two Indian delegates didn't order anything. They went silent and looked out over the breakers. They didn't approach the water, just stared at it. Then one asked for a bottle. I gave him my empty beer bottle. No, that wasn't right, it had to be a bottle that you could seal well. So I bought a bottle of cheap Chilean red, had it uncorked, and poured the wine out into the sand. We sent the bottle to the kitchen to be cleaned as carefully as possible. Then the men took the bottle and went, without a word, to the shoreline. Still wearing the new blue jeans, sneakers, and T-shirts that we had bought for them at the market, they waded in to the waves. They waded, looking over the expansion of the Pacific Ocean, until the water reached their underarms. Then, they took a taste of the water, filled the bottle and sealed it carefully with a cork.

This bottle filled with water was their proof for the village that there really was an ocean. I asked cautiously whether it wasn't just a part of the truth. No, they said, if there is a bottle of seawater, then the whole ocean must be true as well.


From then on, what constitutes truth — or to put it in much simpler form, what constitutes reality — became a greater mystery to me than it had been. The two intervening decades have posed unprecedented challenges to our concept of reality. When I speak of assaults on our understanding of reality, I am referring to new technologies that, in the past twenty years, have become general articles of everyday use: the digital special effects that create new and imaginary realities in the cinema. It's not that I want to demonize these technologies; they have allowed the human imagination to accomplish great things — for instance, reanimating dinosaurs convincingly on screen. But, when we consider all the possible forms of virtual reality that have become part of everyday life — in the Internet, in video games, and on reality TV; sometimes also in strange mixed forms — the question of what “real” reality poses itself constantly afresh.

What is really going on in the reality TV show Survivor? Can we ever really trust a photograph, now that we know how easily everything can be faked with Photoshop? Will we ever be able to completely trust an email, when our twelveyear-old children can show us that what we're seeing is probably an attempt to steal our identity, or perhaps a virus, a worm, or a “Trojan” that has wandered into our midst and adopted every one of our characteristics? Do I already exist somewhere, cloned, as many doppelgangers, without knowing anything about it?

History offers one analogy to the extent of [change brought about by] the virtual, other world that we are now being confronted with. For centuries and centuries, warfare was essentially the same thing, clashing armies of knights, who fought with swords and shields. Then, one day, these warriors found themselves staring at each other across canons and weapons. Warfare was never the same. We also know that innovations in the development of military technology are irreversible. Here’s some evidence that may be of interest: in parts of Japan in the early seventeenth century, there was an attempt to do away with firearms, so that samurai could fight one another hand to hand, with swords again. This attempt was only very short-lived; it was impossible to sustain.

A couple of years ago, I came to grasp how confusing the concept of reality has become, in a strange way, through an incident that took place on Venice Beach in Los Angeles. A friend was having a little party in his backyard — barbecued steak — it was already dark, when, not far away, we heard a few gunshots that nobody took seriously until the police helicopters showed up with searchlights on and commanded us, over loudspeakers, to get inside the house.We sorted out the facts of the case only in retrospect: a boy, described by witnesses as around thirteen or fourteen years of age, had been loitering, hanging around a restaurant about a block away from us. As a couple exited, the boy yelled, this is for real, shot both with a semi-automatic, then fled on his skateboard. He was never caught. But the message of the madman was clear: this here isn’t a videogame, these shots are for real, this is reality.


We must ask of reality: how important is it, really? And: how important, really, is the factual? Of course, we can't disregard the factual; it has normative power. But it can never give us the kind of illumination, the ecstatic flash, from which truth emerges. If only the factual, upon which the so-called cinéma vérité fixates, were of significance, then one could argue that the vérité — the truth — at its most concentrated must reside in the telephone book — in its hundreds of thousands of entries that are all factually correct and, so, correspond to reality. If we were to call everyone listed in the phone book under the name “Schmidt,” hundreds of those we called would confirm that they are called Schmidt; yes, their name is Schmidt.

In my film Fitzcarraldo, there is an exchange that raises this question. Setting off into the unknown with his ship, Fitzcarraldo stops over at one of the last outposts of civilization, a missionary station:

Fitzcarraldo: And what do the older Indians say?
Missionary: We simply cannot cure them of their idea that ordinary life is only an illusion, behind which lies the reality of dreams.

The film is about an opera being staged in the rainforest; as you’ll know, I set about actually producing opera. As I did, one maxim was crucial for me: an entire world must undergo a transformation into music, must become music; only then would we have produced opera. What's beautiful about opera is that reality doesn't play any role in it at all; and that what takes place in opera is the overcoming of nature. When one looks at the libretti from operas (and here Verdi's Force of Destiny is a good example), one sees very quickly that the story itself is so implausible, so removed from anything that we might actually experience that the mathematical laws of probability are suspended . What happens in the plot is impossible, but the power of music enables the spectator to experience it as true.

It's the same thing with the emotional world of opera. The feelings are so abstracted; they cannot really be subordinated to everyday human nature any longer, because they have been concentrated and elevated to the most extreme degree and appear in their purest form; and despite all that we perceive them, in opera, as natural. Feelings in opera are, ultimately, like axioms in mathematics, which cannot be concentrated and cannot be explained any further. The axioms of feeling in the opera lead us, however, in the most secret ways, on a direct path to the sublime. Here we could cite “Casta Diva” in Bellini’s opera Norma as an example.

You might ask: why do I say that the sublime becomes accessible to us [lit. “Experience-able”; erfahrbar] in opera, of all forms, considering that opera did not innovate in any essential way in the twentieth century, as other forms took its place? This only seems to be a paradox: the direct experience of the sublime in opera is not dependent on further development or new developments. Its sublimity has enabled opera to survive.


Our entire sense of reality has been called into question. But I do not want to dwell on this fact any longer, since what moves me has never been reality, but a question that lies behind it [beyond; behind]: the question of truth. Sometimes facts so exceed our expectations — have such an unusual, bizarre power — that they seem unbelievable.

But in the fine arts, in music, literature, and cinema, it is possible to reach a deeper stratum of truth — a poetic, ecstatic truth, which is mysterious and can only be grasped with effort; one attains it through vision, style, and craft. In this context I see the quotation from Blaise Bascal about the collapse of the stellar universe not as a fake [“counterfeit”; Falsification], but as a means of making possible an ecstatic experience of inner, deeper truth. Just as it's not fakery when Michelangelo’s Pietà portrays Jesus as a 33-year-old man, and his mother, the mother of God, as a 17-year-old.

However, we also gain our ability to have ecstatic experiences of truth through the sublime, through which we are able to elevate ourselves over nature. Kant says: The irresistibility of the power of nature forces us to recognize our physical impotence as natural beings, but at the same time our capacity to judge ourselves independent of nature as well as superior to nature. . . I am leaving out some things here, for simplicity’s sake. Kant continues: In this way nature is not estimated in our aesthetic judgment as sublime because it excites fear, but because it summons up our power (which is not of nature). . .

I should treat Kant with the necessary caution, because his explanations concerning the sublime are so very abstract that they have always remained alien to me in my practical work. However, Dionysus Longinus, whom I first came to know while exploring these subjects, is much closer to my heart, because he always speaks in practical terms and uses examples. We don't know anything about Longinus. Experts aren't even sure that that's really his name, and we can only guess that he lived in the first century after Christ. Unfortunately, his essay On the Sublime is also rather fragmentary. In the earliest writings that we have from the tenth century, the Codex Parisinus 2036, there are pages missing everywhere, sometimes entire bundles of pages.

Longinus proceeds systematically; here, at this time, I cannot even start in on the structure of his text. But he always quotes very lively examples from literature. And here I will, again, without following a schematic order, seize upon what seems most important to me.

What’s fascinating is that, right at the beginning of his text, [Longinus] invokes the concept of Ecstasy, even if he does so in a different context than what I have identified as "ecstatic truth." With reference to rhetoric, Longinus says: Whatever is sublime does not lead the listeners to persuasion but to a state of ecstasy; at every time and in every way imposing speech, with the spell it throws over us, prevails over that which aims at persuasion and gratification. Our persuasions we can usually control, but the influences of the sublime bring power and irresistible might to bear, and reign supreme over every hearer. . . Here he uses the concept of ekstasis, a person's stepping out of himself into an elevated state — where we can raise ourselves over our own nature — which the sublime reveals “at once, like a thunder bolt.” 1 No one before Longinus had spoken so clearly of the experience of illumination; here, I am taking the liberty to apply that notion to rare and fleeting moments in film.

He quotes Homer in order to demonstrate the sublimity of images and their illuminating effect. Here is his example from the battle of the gods:

Aidoneus, lord of the shades, in fear leapt he from his throne and cried aloud, read above him the earth be cloven by Poseidon, the Shaker of Earth, and his abode be made plain to view for mortals and immortals — the dread and dank abode, where for the very gods have loathing: so great was the din that arose when the gods clashed in strife.

Longinus was an extraordinarily well-read man, one who quotes exactly. What is striking here is that he takes the liberty of welding together two different passages from the Iliad. It is impossible that this is a mistake. However, Longinus is not faking but, rather, conceiving a new, deeper truth. He asserts that without truth and greatness of soul the sublime cannot come into being. And he quotes a statement that researchers today ascribe either to Pythagoras or to Demosthenes:

For truly beautiful is the statement of the man who, in response to the question of what we have in common with the gods, answered: the ability to do good [Wohltun] and truth.

We should not translate his εὐεργεσία simply with “charity,” imprinted as that notion is by Christian culture. Nor is the Greek word for truth, ἀλήθεια, simple to grasp. Etymologically speaking, it comes from the verb λανθάνειν, “to hide,” and the related word λῆθος, “the hidden,” “the concealed.” Ἀ-λήθεια is, therefore, a form of negation, a negative definition: it is the “not-hidden,” the revealed, the truth. Thinking through language, the Greeks meant, therefore, to define truth as an act of disclosure — a gesture related to the cinema, where an object is set into the light and then a latent, not yet visible image is conjured onto celluloid, where it must first be developed, then disclosed.

The soul of the listener or the spectator completes this act itself; the soul actualizes truth through the experience of sublimity: that is, it completes an independent act of creation. Longinus says: For our soul is raised out of nature through the truly sublime, sways with high spirits, and is filled with proud joy, as it itself had created what it hears.

But I don't want to lose myself in Longinus, whom I always think of as a good friend. I stand before you as someone who works with film. I would like to point out some scenes from another film of mine as evidence. A good example would be The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner where the concept of ecstasy already shows up in the title.

Walter Steiner, a Swiss sculptor and repeat world champion in ski-flying, raises himself as if in religious ecstasy into the air. He flies so frightfully far, he enters the region of death itself: only a little farther, and he would not land on the steep slope, but rather crash beyond it. Steiner speaks at the end of a young raven, which he raised and which, in his loneliness as a child, was his only friend. The raven lost more and more feathers, which probably had to do with the feed that Steiner gave him. Other ravens attacked his raven and, in the end, tortured him so frightfully that young Steiner had only one choice: Unfortunately, I had to shoot him, says Steiner, because it was torture to watch how he was tortured by his own brothers because he could not fly any more. And then, in a fast cut, we see Steiner — in place of his raven — flying, in a terribly aesthetic frame, in extreme slow motion, slowed to eternity. This is the majestic flight of a man whose face is contorted by fear of death as if deranged by religious ecstasy. And then, shortly before the death zone — beyond the slope, on the flat, where he would be crushed on impact, as if he had jumped from the Empire State Building to the pavement below — he lands softly, safely, and a written text is superimposed upon the image. The text is drawn from the Swiss writer Robert Walser and it reads:

I should be all alone in this world
Me, Steiner and no other living being.
No sun, no culture; I, naked on a high rock
No storm, no snow, no banks, no money
No time and no breath.
Then, finally, I would not be afraid any more.


1. ϋψος δέ που καιρίως έζενεχθέν τά τε πράγματα δίκην σκηπτσύ πάυτα διεϕόρησευ ... “Sublimity flashing forth at the right moment scatters everything before it like a thunderbolt”.

From Werner Herzog

Lecture given on June 3, 2007 at the Milanesiana in the Teatro Dal Verme, Milan.

"The collapse of the star worlds will - like creation - take place in grandiose beauty."

Ladies and gentlemen,

The quote from Blaise Pascal, which you just saw in front of the excerpts from LESSONS IN DARKNESS, is not from Pascal, but from me. I would like to add that he, Pascal, certainly couldn't have said it nicer. The absolute, the sublime, ecstatic truth should be spoken of here, and this falsified and yet, as I will explain later, not falsified quotation should serve as a first indication of what my discourse here is supposed to be about. Detecting a forgery will at most contribute to the triumph of the accountant and nothing else. But why am I doing this, you may ask? The reason is simple, and it does not come from purely theoretical considerations, but directly from working practice. With this quotation in front, I raise the viewer to a high level, from which he enters the film, before the first picture can even be seen. And I, as the writer of the film, never let him down from that height until the end of the film. It is only from this sublimity that something like a deeper truth, which is rather hostile to the factual, becomes possible, an illumination, an ecstatic truth, as I call it. At the burning oil wells in Kuwait after the first war against Iraq, the media, and I mean television in particular, were unable to reveal anything that was an event of cosmic dimensions beyond a war crime, a crime against creation itself. In none of the images in LESSONS IN DARKNESS one will be able to recognize our planet, and that is why the film is designed as science fiction, as if it could only have been shot in a hostile, distant world of stars.
Incidentally, at its premiere at the Berlinale in Germany, the film was showered with an orgy of hatred, and from the angry screams of the audience I could hear "aestheticization of horror," and after reaching the podium, threatened and spat on, I fell in love only a banal provocation to my distress: "You cretins," I said, "Dante has already done that in his Inferno, and Goya, and Hieronymus Bosch too." without my thinking, have familiarized myself with something absolute, sublime.
The absolute, the sublime and the truth: what is it? This is, I have to admit, the first time in my life that I have dealt with it beyond my more practical work.
As a qualification, I must say right away that I do not venture into the concept of the absolute, even if this concept may cast its shadow over everything here. The question of the absolute is a never-ending question of philosophy, religion and mathematics. Mathematics will come closest to grasp, if one can hopefully prove that Riemann's hypothesis from the 19th century about the distribution of prime numbers is true. This unanswered question goes into the deepest depths of mathematical thinking. The answer is a million dollar prize, and a math institute in Boston is giving a millennium to prove it.
Money is waiting for you, as is immortality. For two and a half thousand years, from Euclides on, this question has preoccupied the minds, and should Riemann not be right with his ingenious hypothesis, it would cause an unimaginable shock in mathematics and the natural sciences. I can only vaguely imagine the absolute, but I am unable to explain the term.

I. The truth of the ocean
I remain here on the familiar ground of working practice. I would like to tell you about a multifaceted encounter with truth - it is also not really comprehensible - that I have never forgotten from the shooting of FITZCARRALDO. The film was set in the Peruvian jungle east of the Andes between the Camisea and Urubamba rivers, where I had to drag a large steamboat over a mountain from one river to the other. The local Indians, Machiguengas, provided a large number of the extras and had also given us permission to film on their territory. In addition to their payment, the Machiguengas also wanted other services: the training of a medical helper, a boat to bring their harvest to market a few hundred kilometers further downstream instead of having to sell it to mobile middlemen, and finally support in their struggle for them a legal title to their land between the two rivers. Again and again there had been brutal attacks by companies that exploited the wood stocks, and recently also oil companies that had cast a covetous eye on their field.
The request for a land title immediately disappeared in the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the province. Attempts at bribery also failed. The ministry ultimately responsible in the capital Lima informed me that, even if a legal title may be historically and culturally justified, there were two obstacles: The claim was not recorded in any documents that could be used in a court of law, so it was based on irrelevant hearsay; and second: there is no land survey of the area to give the claim a recognizable borderline.
Then I hired a surveyor who made a precise map of their traditional tribal area among the Machiguengas. That was my share of the truth in the form of a delineation, a definition.However, I had a dispute with the surveyor: The topographical map he had made, he explained, was in a certain way incorrect and not true because it did not take into account the curvature of the earth. "In such a small area?" I asked tentatively. "Of course," he said angrily, and pushed his glass of water towards me. Even with the water in the glass, you have to be clear that it is not a flat surface. "If you could really look closely, but you are too simple-minded, you should be able to see the curvature of the earth." This harsh instruction will stay with me forever.
The hearsay question had a deeper dimension and required research of a completely different kind. The Indians could only say that they had always been here, that they had heard about it from their grandparents. When the fall of the land title finally seemed hopeless, I sought an audience with President Belaúnde. The Machiguengas of Shivankoreni elected two representatives from among them, whom I would accompany to the president. When the conversation threatened to come to a standstill, I told Belaúnde that the term hearsay - in Anglo-Saxon law, for example - is generally inadmissible as evidence that can be used in court, but not in the absolute sense. As early as 1916, in the Angu vs. Atta case in what was then the West African colony of Gold Coast, now Ghana, a colonial court had declared hearsay admissible.
The case was completely different, it was about the use of a local governor's palace, and here too there were no documents and nothing else that would have been relevant in court. But, the court decided at the time, the overwhelming hearsay of so countless tribal members had condensed into a manifest truth so inevitably that it could be accepted as truth by the court without further restriction. Belaúnde, who had lived in the jungle for many years, fell silent and asked for a glass of orange juice. Then he just said "Diosito santo" and I knew we had won him.
The Machiguengas now hold a title on their land, and that is even respected by a consortium of oil companies that have discovered one of the largest natural gas deposits in the world very close to them.
However, the audience with the President gave me a strange, different insight into the essence of truth. The villagers of Shivankoreni weren't sure whether it was true that beyond the Andean Mountains lay an immense amount of water, an ocean. In addition, this immense water, the Pacific, should be salty.
We drove to a restaurant on the beach a little south of Lima and ate there. However, our two Indian delegates did not order anything and were silent and looked out at the surf. They didn't go to the water and just look at it. Then one of them asked for a bottle. I gave him my empty beer bottle. No, that's not right, it has to be a well-sealable bottle. I then bought a bottle of cheap Chilean red wine, uncorked it, and poured the wine on the sand. Then the bottle had to be cleaned very carefully in the kitchen. The men took the bottle and went to the sea without saying a word. Both wore their new blue jeans, trainers, and shirts that we had bought at the market at their request, and waded into the waves. They waded, gazing out into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, until the water reached under their armpits. Then they tasted the water and filled the bottle and carefully sealed it with the cork. This bottle filled with sea water was proof of her village that the ocean really existed. I asked carefully if this wasn't just part of the truth. No, they said, if a bottle of seawater was true, then the whole ocean must be true too.

II. Virtual Reality Attack
What constitutes truth, or, in a much simpler form, what constitutes reality, has since been a bigger mystery to me than before. In addition, our concept of reality has been exposed to an unprecedented, unprecedented challenge in the last two decades. Something of this magnitude has never happened in the history of mankind.
When I speak of attacks on our understanding of reality, I mean new technologies that have become common objects in the last 20 years: digital effects in cinema that create new and imaginary realities. Not that I want to demonize these accomplishments; they have brought us unprecedented achievements in the implementation of imagination, such as the believable rebirth of dinosaurs on the big screen. But the question of what is "real" reality arises in a completely new way when we look at all possible forms of virtual realities on the Internet, in video games, on reality TV that have become part of everyday life, sometimes in strange mixed forms: In interactive video games, you can conquer strange islands with barbaric tribes, and you can actually purchase a virtual property, for example a fortress well defended with imaginary weapons, from which you can use real money that is digitally debited from your credit card be able to start a campaign of conquest.
What's Really on the Reality TV Show SURVIVORS? Can we ever trust a photo since we know that everything can easily be faked and changed with Photoshop? Can we ever fully trust an e-mail where our twelve-year-old children point out that an attempt to steal our identity is likely to be seen here, that perhaps a virus, a worm or even a "Trojan" infiltrates us and every property adopted by us? Do we already exist somewhere in multiple clones, i.e. as doubles, without our knowing anything about it?
There is a historical analogy to the extent of the virtual, other world with which we are confronted: For centuries and centuries warfare was essentially the same, namely the clash of armies of knights who fought with sword and shield. And from one day to the next these armies were faced with cannons and firearms. The reality of warfare was never the same again.
We also know that innovations in the development of war technology are irreversible. It may be interesting to note that in parts of Japan in the early 17th century an attempt was made to abolish firearms so that the samurai could again face each other with swords in direct combat. This attempt was only very short-lived, it was unsustainable.
How confusing the concept of reality has become was strangely clear and tangible to me during an incident in Venice on the beach in Los Angeles a few years ago. A friend had had a little feast in his garden: grilled steaks; it was already dark; Not far away, a few shots that no one took seriously, until police helicopters with searchlights appeared and ordered us into the house over loudspeakers. Only afterwards did the following facts emerge: A boy, described by witnesses as around 13 or 14 years old, was hanging around a block away in front of a restaurant. When a couple finally left the pub, the boy shouted "This is for real" and shot them both with a semi-automatic pistol. He then fled on a skateboard. He was never caught. But the confused message was clear: this is not a video game, these bullets are real, this is reality.

III. Axioms of feelings
The question must be asked of reality: How important is it actually? And: How important is the factual actually? Of course, we must not ignore the factual, because it has normative power, but it can never give us an illumination, an ecstatic enlightenment that is inherent in the truth. If the factual, on which the so-called Cinema verite insists, were of such exclusive importance, one could argue that verité, the truth, had to be most concentrated in the telephone directory: hundreds of thousands of entries, all of which are factually correct correspond to reality. If we called everyone in the phone book under the name "Schmidt", hundreds of those called would actually confirm that their name was Schmidt.
In my film FITZCARRALDO there is already a dialogue point that raises this question. Fitzcarraldo stopped with his ship on his departure into the unknown at one of the last outposts of civilization, a mission station:

Fitzcarraldo: And what are the older Indians saying here?
Missionary: Well, it seems we just can't cure them from the idea that our ordinary life is just an illusion behind which the reality of dreams is hidden.

The film is about great opera in the jungle, and you know that I was concerned with the opera, with productions at the opera. One maxim was always decisive for me in this work: You have to transform a whole world into music, only then will you be able to produce opera. The nice thing about opera is that reality does not play a role and that nature is overcome in opera. If you look at the libretti of operas - and Verdi's Power of Fate is a very nice example here - you will quickly see that the story itself is so unbelievable, that it removes any tangible probability, that here itself all the mathematical laws of probability except Force are. The events are statistically impossible, but the power of the music makes the action perceptible to the viewer as true.
It is the same with the emotional world in opera. The feelings are so abstracted that they can no longer really be assigned to everyday human nature, because they are extremely condensed and exaggerated and appear in their purest form, and yet we perceive them as natural in the opera. The feelings in opera are basically like axioms in mathematics, which cannot be concentrated any further and cannot be further explained. The axioms of feelings in opera lead us in a mysterious way on a direct path to the sublime. "Casta Diva" in Bellini's opera Norma may only be mentioned here as an example.
It is permissible to ask why it is precisely in opera that we can experience the sublime in such a way, although opera did not renew itself very much in the 20th century because completely different genres took its place? This is only an apparent paradox, because the direct experience of the sublime in opera does not depend on further developments or new developments. The sublime enables opera to survive.

IV. Ecstatic Truth
As I said, our sense of reality has been extensively called into question. But I don't want to linger any longer because I was always moved by one underlying question, the question of truth. Facts, I don't want to overlook this, are sometimes so far beyond our expectations, sometimes have a strange, so bizarre power that they make their inherent approach to the truth seem incredible.
But in the fine arts, music, literature and cinema, a deeper layer of truth is possible, a poetic, ecstatic truth that is mysterious and difficult to grasp and that can only be reached through imagination, stylization and fabrication. In this context I see the quote from Blaise Pascal about the collapse of the star worlds not as a forgery, but as a means of making an ecstatic experience of the inner, deeper truth possible. It is not a fake when Michelangelo portrays Jesus as a 33-year-old man in his Pieta, while his mother, the Mother of God, as a 17-year-old. Our ability to ecstatically experience truth is also made possible for us through the sublime, where we can rise above nature. Kant says: "The irresistible power of nature, viewed as sensory beings, allows us to recognize our impotence, but at the same time discovers in us a capacity to judge ourselves as independent of it, and a superiority over nature ..."
I am shortening it here for the sake of simplicity. Kant continues: "In this way the terrible power of nature is aesthetically judged by us as sublime, because it calls upon our power, which is not nature, in us ..."
I have to be careful with Kant here because his statements on the sublime are so very abstract that they have always remained alien to me in practical work.
However, Dionysios Longinus, whom I have only now got to know in connection with my remarks here, is much closer to me because he is always practical and works with examples. We know nothing about Longinus, not even his name is considered certain in research, and we can only assume that he lived in the first century AD. Unfortunately, his work On the Sublime is also quite sketchy. In the earliest surviving manuscript from the 10th century, the Codex Parisinus 2036, pages are always missing, sometimes entire bundles of pages.
Longinus takes a systematic approach, and I cannot go into the structure of his writing at this point, but he keeps quoting vivid examples from literature, and I want to single out what I find here, without following an exact classification scheme seems significant to me.
It is fascinating that right at the beginning of his writing he comes up with the concept of ecstasy, albeit in a different context that I have called ecstatic truth. In relation to the art of speaking, he says: “The great does not convince the listener, but enchants them; always and everywhere the astonishing with its shocking power seems more powerful than that which only persuades and pleases, the effect of the convincing mostly depends on us, while the great exercises irresistible violence and power ... «He uses the term ekstasis here Stepping out of the person into a state of exaggeration, where we rise above our own nature, which reveals the sublime "like a sudden flash of lightning". Nobody before him has spoken so clearly of the experience of illumination, and I am taking the liberty of transferring that to the rare and fleeting moments in the film.
He quotes Homer to demonstrate the oversize of the pictures and their illuminating effect. Here is his example from a battle of the gods:

“The mighty sky boomed all around, the Olympos boomed. Aidoneus, the shadow ruler in the dark depths, jumped horrified from the throne and screamed in fear that the earth above would split in two, the earth-shaking Poseidon, And it would be visible to men and gods a dreadful, mold-filled palace that deeply disgusts the gods. "

Longinus was an extremely well-read man who quoted accurately, and what is remarkable here is that he takes the liberty of merging two different passages from the Iliad into one quotation. We can rule out an error. Longinus is not committing a forgery here, he is only generating a new, deeper truth.
He points out that the sublime cannot arise without truthfulness and spiritual greatness. And he quotes a saying that today in research is ascribed either to Pythagoras or Demosthenes:

"Because really beautiful is the saying of the man who, when asked what we had in common with the gods, replied: Beneficence and truth."

Under the Greek term εὐεργεσία we must certainly not understand the term of charity, which is today coined by Christian culture, and the Greek word ἀλήθεια, truth, is not easy to grasp either. Etymologically it comes from the verb λῆθος, to hide, and the resulting λῆθος, the hidden, veiled. So Ἀ-λήθεια is a form of negation, a negative definition: the unhidden, the revealed, the truth. In the linguistic thinking of the Greeks, an act of revelation is meant, something akin to cinema, where an object is placed in the light and then a latent, not yet visible image, captured on celluloid, first developed, must be revealed.
The soul of the listener or viewer performs this act in itself, actualizes the truth through the experience of sublimity, thus performs an independent act of creation. Longinus says: "For our soul is naturally carried up by the truly sublime, swings up in high spirits and is filled with proud joy, as if it had created what it heard itself."
I don't want to lose myself with Longinus, who seems like a good friend to me. I stand before you, ladies and gentlemen, as someone who is involved in film. Before I show you a few excerpts from my own films as evidence, I would like to refer to my film THE GREAT ECSTASY OF PICTURE CARVERS STEINER. The term ecstasy already appears in the title of one of my films.
Walter Steiner, a Swiss sculptor and multiple world champion in ski flying, soars into the air as if in religious ecstasy, and because he flies so incredibly far, he flies up to the death zone: just a little further, and he would never get up land on the steep slope, but instead crash into the plain. At the end of the film, Steiner speaks of a young raven he raised and who, in his loneliness as a child, was his only friend. However, the raven lost more and more feathers, which was probably related to the food Steiner fed him. Other ravens hacked on his raven and finally tormented him so terribly that the young Steiner had only one choice:

"And then, unfortunately, I had to shoot him," says Steiner, "because it was torture to watch him being tormented by his own brothers because he could no longer fly."

And then, in a hard cut, we see Steiner flying instead of his raven, in a tremendously aesthetic image, slowed down to an eternity in extreme slow motion. It is a majestic flight of a person whose face is disfigured in fear of death and ecstatic as if in religious ecstasy. And then, just before the death zone, it lands gently and safely, and a text is displayed over the picture. The text is based on a text by the Swiss writer Robert Walser and reads:

"I should be all alone in this world,
I, Steiner, and no other living being.
No sun, no culture, me naked on a high rock,
no storm, no snow, no banks, no money,
no time and no breath.
In any case, I wouldn't be afraid anymore. "

Thank you for your attention.


Truth and fact in documentary cinema "LESSONS OF DARKNESS".

1. By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.

2. One well-known representative of Cinema Verité declared publicly that truth can be easily found by taking a camera and trying to be honest. He resembles the night watchman at the Supreme Court who resents the amount of written law and legal procedures. "For me," he says, "there should be only one single law: the bad guys should go to jail."
Unfortunately, he is part right, for most of the many, much of the time.

3. Cinema Verité confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones. And yet, facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes their inherent truth seem unbelievable.

4. Fact creates norms, and truth illumination.

5. There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.

6. Filmmakers of Cinema Verité resemble tourists who take pictures amid ancient ruins of facts.

7. Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.

8. Each year at springtime scores of people on snowmobiles crash through the melting ice on the lakes of Minnesota and drown. Pressure is mounting on the new governor to pass a protective law. He, the former wrestler and bodyguard, has the only sage answer to this: "You can't legislate stupidity."

9. The gauntlet is here by thrown down.

10. The moon is dull. Mother Nature doesn't call, doesn't speak to you, although a glacier eventually farts. And don't you listen to the Song of Life.

11. We ought to be grateful that the universe out there knows no smile.

12. Life in the oceans must be sheer hell. A vast, merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger. So much of a hell that during evolution some species - including man - crawled, fled onto some small continents of solid land, where the lessons of darkness continue.

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota April 30, 1999
Werner Herzog


Fact and Truth in Documentary: LESSONS IN DARKNESS

1. Based on this declaration, the so-called cinema verité is denied verité, the truth. Only a superficial truth is reached: the truth of the accountants.

2. A prominent representative of Cinema Verité has publicly stated that with a camera and sincere effort, anyone can easily find the truth. He is similar to the night watchman at the Supreme Court, who thinks little of too much codified law and procedural rules. “For me personally,” he says, “a single law would be enough: the villain belongs behind bars.” Unfortunately, for the majority of the majority, most of the time, he's right.

3. Cinema verité confuses fact and truth and only plows a field of stones. And yet the factual sometimes has such a peculiar and bizarre power that the truth inherent in it hardly seems credible.

4. Facts create norms, but truth enlightenment.

5. The truth lies deeper in the film and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and difficult to grasp; you can only learn about it through poetry, invention, stylization.

6. Cinema verité representatives are like tourists taking photos in the ruins of the factual.

7. Tourism is a sin; traveling on foot is a virtue.

8. Every spring, rows of people on snowmobiles break through the rotten ice of the Minnesota Lakes and drown. The call for preventive laws is loud. The new governor, ex-wrestler and bodyguard, has the only correct answer: "Stupidity cannot be regulated by law."

9. The gauntlet is now thrown.

10. The moon is dreary and stupid. Nature doesn't call or talk to anyone, but occasionally a glacier will fart. Just don't listen to the “song of life”.

11. We should be glad that the universe doesn't know smiles.

12. Life in the deep sea must be hellish. A boundless, merciless hell of constant highest danger. So hellish that some species - including humans - have crawled out of it in the course of evolution and have saved themselves on dry land on some small continents, where the lessons continue in darkness.

Walker Art Center, Minnesota, on April 30, 1999
Werner Herzog