Point being, Herzog does not appear to live in words. He uses words, but he denies them primacy. David Lynch does this too, and in recent years has discussed publicly how he uses Transcendental Meditation to “fish” for the ideas lurking in his unconscious mind. Last night I watched “Pope of Modern Advertising” David Ogilvy on The David Susskind Show. Ogilvy said something I had to tweet as soon as I heard: “Big ideas come from only one place: the unconscious. Nobody's ever had a big idea by a process of rational thought.” He described how he might read a five-foot stack of materials on the Rolls-Royce or whatever he needs to advertise, but that the actual idea for the ad doesn’t come until he settles in with some after-dinner drink. Or, as Lynch might say, “Somewhere there's all the ideas, and they're sitting there and once in a while one will bob up and the idea is made known suddenly. Something is seen and known and felt all at once, and along with it comes a burst of enthusiasm and you fall in love with it.”
Herzog often talks about the “big metaphors” his films contain — Fitzcarraldo’s steamship pulled over the hill, Stroszek’s endlessly dancing chicken — and always quickly insists on his total ignorance of their meanings. They force him to abandon words, or force words to abandon him. (An example, perhaps, of the creative process I laid out in another tweet: “(1) Make your mind as interesting as possible, (2) build a gateway for others to get into your mind.” A validation of Herzog's famous dictum that, to become a filmmaker, you must only "read, read, read, read, read"?) Contrast this with me; I’ve noticed I can’t do anything unless I neurotically explain, re-explain, and re-re-re-explain it to myself in words. How could pulling a steamship over a hill and filming it ever survive that squirrely process?
I have to pound myself to take actions in the concrete world with endless sheets of language, and I too often remain utterly intransigent until absolutely self-convinced. Alas, the elusiveness of airtight arguments — let alone my suspicion that, for most worthwhile endeavors, no rational arguments even exist, airtight or otherwise — ensures that, in the time I take to formulate them, the opportunity passes. Studying Korean, Japanese, and even Spanish helps with this by forcing me to think not of words themselves but of the “actual things” to which they refer. (Herzog’s knowledge of many languages even beyond English and his native German — merely coincidental?) Yet I remain a long way from allowing action in the concrete world to assume the place of primacy I’ve let language usurp. Praised from early childhood for my “way with words,” I labor under a natural inclination to believe that language can accomplish anything. It can’t; it mostly accomplishes the easy task of tangling me up in its net. So I’d better cut this post off right here.