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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Was The 20th Century A Mistake?

From: Werner Herzog in conversation with Paul Holdengräber:

WERNER HERZOG: Adventure! I cannot stand the term “adventure” nowadays, – I lower my head and charge, – it has degenerated into such an obscenity that you can go to the travel agency and book an adventure trip to New Guinea, to the headhunters, to the cannibals. So I really do not like this anymore. Why did Petrarch climb a mountain, actually? He was looking more into the interior, he was stunned by what he saw, the first one in modern time who climbed up a mountain. And you gave me the translation today, I only knew the original, he wrote it in Latin, but I have a translation now. And it’s very interesting, I have the letter here because he quotes, he quotes something important. He had a little volume of Saint Augustine, Confessions, with him and he opens the book, and he opens it by—randomly, he claims it, he swears to God that he opened it randomly at one spot in St. Augustine and it’s a very, very interesting quote. And he opens it—oh yeah, he got severe, serious warnings by a shepherd, an old shepherd, don’t climb mountains, because fifty years ago, this shepherd had climbed the mountain as a young man, never remembered that anyone else ever climbed it and regretted it deeply that he did that as if it were a sin, and it was a sin, and Petrarch had a feeling of that. Once up on the summit, he opens Saint Augustine, and he quotes Saint Augustine and I’d like to read it, because it’s a very significant statement. St. Augustine says, “And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolutions of the stars, but themselves they consider not.” So this is a very, very significant moment in the history of humankind. Number one, he should not have climbed it, there was something, an arch sin in it in taking all mysteries away from our planet, and tourism is one of the consequences in the long run. Tourists and tourism has devastated cultures, it has had devastating effects.

3 Responses to “Was The 20th Century A Mistake?”

  1. John, It’s nagged at me that I haven’t visited your blog for so long. It’s more enticing than ever and beautifully constructed. I can’t afford to lapse like this again.

    jb says: Always nice to think of you dropping by from time to time, Kathleen.

  2. Bruce says:

    ~~ it has degenerated into such an obscenity that you can go to the travel agency and book an adventure trip to New Guinea, to the headhunters, to the cannibals ~~

    Maybe for you, but don’t you think that this is all relative to what your travel experiences have been? What you’re describing would be a travel adventure beyond my wildest dreams for example, certainly not an obscenity.

  3. john baker says:

    Hi Bruce and thanks for the comment. I think Herzog was saying something else about our existence and us as people. Our exploitation and destruction of natural environments is, by any measure, an obscenity. In this piece he was concerned to raise our consciousness about this.