Books Culture Film

Lockdown Culture with Werner Herzog

We recently had five minutes with the venerable German director, and used that time to ask him about his cultural pursuits during a year of lockdown. For the avoidance of all doubt, this is not an incredibly unfunny parody, it is a relatively funny actual interview with the actual Werner Herzog, and the annoyance of having to explain this is giving us second thoughts about how often we pretend to print other peoples’ words in this stupid fucking magazine.

Have you been watching much film or TV in lockdown?

No. I still do not see many films, maybe three or four per year. It’s strange because people ask me, you are a filmmaker why don’t you watch films, but they do not interest me much. But I do read. I’m very much into re-reading things that have been important to me. I go back into things. I don’t read many new books but I go back to things. And, since I cannot venture out with a camera and crew and actors, I do what I may do best – I write, I’ve just finished two books. They will be published, one this year, one next year, and probably at the same time an English translation.

Have you been listening to much music?

I only listen to music when I’m writing mostly, I like music that gives me this kind of impulse and drives me along. It depends, because I do this while I’m writing, I have this box here. [shows the author his Bluetooth speaker and in the process switches off his screen, three minutes of me offering tech support follow, ending the music portion of our chat].

What books have been your favourites?

Well, the book of books is the Oxford English Dictionary, 20 massive volumes, is the one I would take alone with me to a desert island. But I’m currently reading The Florentine Codex, in Nahuatl and parallel English translation, by Anderson & Dibble, University of Utah. It’s in 12 volumes but it’s the greatest achievement in translation that I know of in modern times.

I’ve heard you mention a particularly good translation of the Poetic Edda in Icelandic before

Yes, you have to look for the one translation by [Lee M.] Hollander. That’s important – that you find the right translation. Since you’re English speaking, you must also find The Peregrine by JA Baker. It’s the finest prose that we have in the English language since Joseph Conrad.

Some people have undertaken grand projects in lockdown, to finally read Crime & Punishment or Finnegans Wake, etc. Have you?

No. And I am, by the way, one of the very few who doesn’t like James Joyce. I can explain why. I think he is a wrong path, a detour in what is the hardcore of literature. The hardcore of literature for me would be Brecht, and Joyce – it’s too intellectual, too cerebral, it’s a cul-de-sac. He has led many into an intellectual, literary cul-de-sac. We’d have to argue about it for the next ten hours, but I cannot warm to James Joyce. But no grand projects, I just keep working. I have written two books in this time. Others need eight years for that.

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