A couple of excerpts from a recent The New York Times interview with Werner Herzog:
Why are you inclined to interpret nature as being “monumentally indifferent”? I advise you to go outside on a clear night and look out into the universe. It seems utterly indifferent to what we are doing. Now we are taking a very close look at the sun with a space probe. Look at the utmost hostility of the hundreds of millions of atomic bombs going off at the same time in its interior. So my personal interpretation of nature comes from taking a quick look at the stars.
How do you derive meaning from life if life is indifferent? Life is not indifferent. The universe is indifferent. But just trying, itself, is something I should do.
Did you ever find out who shot you? I was shot at various times. You mean here in Los Angeles?
Yes. No, I wasn’t interested.
Whenyou pulled Joaquin Phoenix from the car accident, did you know it was him? Yes, although he was upside down in this car, squished between airbags that had deployed and wildly trying to light a cigarette.
That could be an image from one of your films. I knew he must not light his cigarette, because there was gasoline dripping and he would have perished in a fireball. So I tried to be clearly commandeering to him and tell him not to. But I was worried that if you gave him a command, he would strike his lighter even harder. So I managed to snatch the cigarette lighter from his hand. Then it became completely clear that it was Joaquin. But I didn’t want to speak to him after. I saw he wanted to come over and thank me. I just drove off.
How do you see your relationship to Hollywood? I enjoy being marginally involved. Just a few days ago, I did some voice recording for a “Simpsons” episode, and I did it in such a wild way. So wild that the director and some people who sat with me in the room burst out laughing before I ended my line. I had to be relegated into the control room, because twice in a row they started laughing. I said, “Gentlemen, I have not even finished my line yet.” In a way, “The Simpsons” is a bold intellectual design.
I zoomed last with the guys in the band. They had decided to see if they could get back together; they looked relaxed, ready to go. Charlie was there too, even though he had only played bangs with them once. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s always there. I made a joke that The Hothouse Flowers were reuniting with The Black Crowes for a gig in London.
The guys all did this gag of rushing to leave, climbing and falling over each other in a massive comic wave. I couldn’t stop laughing. I knew I’d have to write all of that down, and then lost the signal. When I finally got them back, only Charlie was there. He had lost his coat and needed to go find that now.
Arthur C Clarke’s short story Rescue Party, written in 1945, alludes to a socialism that would benefit us very well in these days:
Last came one of the strange beings from the system of Palador. It was nameless, like all beings of its kind, for it possessed no identity of its own, being merely a mobile but still dependent cell in the consciousness of its race. Though it and its fellows had long been scattered over the galaxy in the exploration of countless worlds, some unknown link still bound them together as inexorably as the living cells of a human body.
When a creature of Palador spoke, the pronoun used was always “We.” There was not nor could there ever be, any first person singular in the language of Palador.
In moments of crisis, the single units comprising the Palador mind could link together in an organization no less close than that of the physical brain. At such moments they formed an intelligence more powerful than any other in the universe. All ordinary problems could be solved by a few hundred thousand units. Very rarely, millions would be needed and on two historic occasions the billions of cells of the entire Paladorian consciousness had been welded together to deal with emergencies that threatened the race.*
(Problem is that humans are too stupid and selfish for any of this to be actualized.)
Haven’t we always been socially distant? Isn’t that where we’ve always been evolving? #we-never-cared-about-each-other #only-pretended-to-give-a-shit
All of these people are playing this game of finding peace at home when they’re just trying to stay sane. Are they going to wax melancholic for those sweet, quiet days when it’s said and done? “Yeah, I remember those war years. That was a time.”
I’m back to the writing. Em, Q, Calli and Apollo V have arrived on Planet Mina and live temporarily inside a magnetic shield while they test the air. And so, yeah, they are like us now, venturing out in space suits, getting samples and scampering back to safety. And they’re okay with that. Or so they say.
What really happens when we do get out of this? Will we actually have changed? probably so. But this idea of finding peace is hard pill to believe. The truth is that we will continue to evolve toward being more removed and less empathetic, no mater what. Virus or no virus, that’s what we are. Covid-19 has nothing on our virulence.
Not sure what to do with yourself as you look out that window hour upon hour upon hour? There’s nothing better than a little existential thought to crack that nut. Let’s start with the nihilistic captain himself, Friedrich Nietzsche:
“Whither is God” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now?”
“Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder?“
I saw my friend Gord last night. He died some two years ago and looked almost happy in spite of the pain, knowing he wasn’t really there. I told him that I respected him for that, being so honest about being dead and then realized I shouldn’t have said that. I changed the topic to how I was still afraid of the dark and that I didn’t know how to work through my hate. I just wasn’t big enough for that.
And then Gord was gone or was in the hallway getting his coat, and I had to get to Abbotsford for a job interview and was waiting for a bus and then watching a school play, hiding in someone else’s bed, waiting for the food to be delivered, still mad about everything but glad I wasn’t dead.
The sounds of being there. That is when I remember. Remember when. That was when. I was there. It is not some other thing. I was there. It was where I thought of everything, where I dreamed of a wheel of space and time just above me. I was there. That is the thing. I was there. I remember it exactly as it was. Remarkable is the word.
Anyway, I was there. I wanted to stay exactly like that except I was cold and tired. I was thinking I wanted to go home and just be there. And everything would be all right. And so I did that and now it is just how I remember that best.
It’s the eyes in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment:
“And do you know what?” Raskolnikov cried out, raising himself on his pillow and looking point blank at him with piercing, glittering eyes. “Do you know what?”
“But to torment me and laugh in my face, that I will not allow!” His lips trembled all at once, his eyes lit up in a fury, and his hitherto restrained voice rang out. “I will not allow it, sir!”
“You’re lying!” Rage shone in Dunya’s eyes. “You’re lying, slanderer!” She raised the revolver and, deathly pale, her white lower lip trembling, her black eyes flashing like fire, looked at him, having made up her mind.
It was as if fire flashed in his extinguished eyes, as if he were pleased to think there was still pride in him. The silence lasted for two minutes.
Excerpted from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. (Pevear/Volokhonsky translation)
In Raskolnikov’s illness he had dreamed that the whole world was doomed to fall victim to some terrible yet unknown and unseen pestilence, spreading to Europe from the depths of Asia. Everyone was to perish, except for certain, very few chosen ones. Some new trichinae had appeared, microscopic creatures that lodged themselves in men’s bodies.
Entire settlements, entire cities and nations would be infected and go mad. Everyone became anxious and no one understood anyone else. Each thought the truth was contained in himself alone and suffered looking at others.*
This pestilence cited at the end of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is a spiritual one, that of nihilism sweeping the world.