War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

Werner Hertzog on The Ecstasy of Truth

I heard film director Werner Hertzog on CBC’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi. fascinating discussion by the old film warrior on the subject of truth, or as he says, the ecstasy of truth as witnessed/manifested by the artist.

whenever I was out with the army, the boys (a generic term that includes women soldiers) were always nervous around me until they knew I wasn’t a journalist, but rather, was a strange thing called an artist. and even stranger, an artist without a sketchbook and pen or pencil or easel and paint (e.g. Sylvia Pecota whose sexy patriotic pics can be found almost everywhere there are soldiers). it wasn’t until much later that I had the “what’s the most famous piece of war art Sgt Major?” conversation which ultimately clued everyone in really quickly (though clearly I do not identify with a soldier poet). trotting out the Flanders Field chat much earlier would have been very handy.

and while my work is based on what I’ve witnessed firsthand (or 2nd at the most), I am not a reporter nor a documentary maker. and sometimes people think they recognize themselves in my work. and this may or may not be a good thing depending on their P.O.V. but the thing is, the characters that inhabit my work are composites of many people I’ve met during these past few years.

M, the WO of May Day doesn’t exist. he REALLY DOESN’T. even though many people have been convinced there is an M in real life. nor does S exist, (the dancer who I clearly AM NOT!!!), or J the young officer with PTSD, nor M’s crazy jealous spouse (and I’ve heard of LOTS OF THEM male AND female in both civilian AND military culture) with whom he has an on again off again shitshow marriage and who breaks into his apartment and hacks his email and reads the telephone texts M and S have exchanged. nor J’s chica with the control issues. I wrote most of May Day before I’d even met a WO!!!

for Nov. 11th last year, the Royal Alberta Museum asked if could write something for the women I’d met who serve. and while it was founded on my time with the clerks (fun, fun, fun, esp. on smoker night) and with women officers I’d met etc., it was not about anyone specific. but it WAS dedicated to them (Cpl. A, Sgt. T, Sgt. B, Capt. D, Capt. A… well YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!).

the deal is this, people such as the characters in May Day, and my other work really DO exist. and considering I’ve had close to 89,000 hits it’s inevitable for some to recognize themselves somewhat. I’m sure anyone reading Tolstoy (and I’M NOT COMPARING MYSELF to Tolstoy) will recognize a vain and beautiful Anna or a flakey Vlonsky or a stalwart (and possibly boring) Levin in their lives. but, and I quote Herzog in his interview, “Fact does not necessarily constitute the truth”, no Tolstoy who self-identified as Levin, took Russian court life and jumbled it up. the result being a veracity that stands the test of time.

and what I believe we have now, is the conflict of an era which has produced a bizarre form called reality t.v. (that has no basis of reality in it what so ever), and that is an inability for the “audience” to distinguish or distance themselves from what is presented, or worse, emulate that which is presented.

Herzog states in his CBC interview, I’m a filmmaker, a storyteller, someone who does something different [than reproducing] the [New York] telephone directory… which would be the book of books [in literature, if facts were the determinant]”

Hertzog says that “fact is not the central thing… [what is central] is a deep look inside of us” he says that “[with the] growth [of technology] photoshop, reality t.v., video games, internet…[the] complete fake… all of a sudden we have to redefine our understanding of reality.”

“reality… comes through deeper visions, a movie that does not explain things factually but something that illuminates… like almost a religious experience… as the mystics… go through an ecstasy of something that illuminates you where you step outside yourself almost and you are illuminated deeply… it’s a far goal and hard to reach but that’s [Hertzog’s] aim.”

Hertzog speaks of conflict. “of course I’ve been in conflict with the advocates of cinema verité…” and I understand this. last week I met a film and stage director who asked me about my work and immediately was dismissive because I was not anti-war, anti-soldier “what good’s it [war/soldiering] for?” but also once in awhile someone pissy rather vainly believes I’m writing about them or their lives when in fact I’m jumbling MANY lives into my “stories”. it just so happens that there are many, many lives that have similar dramas, challenges, triumphs. the human condition.

I really wish I had the courage of Hertzog however. but then he’s been at this “Ecstasy” gig for a hell of a lot longer than have I. I am such a novice. a beginner. sloppy and unschooled. late to the table. and I don’t like to fight (but that doesn’t mean I’ll roll over and play dead either).

but I leave the last words for the master who says, “whenever I meet them [those who are pissed with him for his ideals of experience], I lower my head and charge and keep telling them, ‘you are the accountants of truth’ which really enrages them a lot but it’s fine. I like to do battle”

Werner Hertzog quotes
from radio interview by Jian Ghomeshi

2 Comments (Closed)


keep on battling, sms! your perspective and your art is powerful and needed.

Sep 13 2011 · 16:37

Tony McNally

My name is Tony McNally poet and Falklands War veteran, who has PTSD. As you know over the years over 300 veterans from the Falklands War have taken their own lives due to their mental health. More than were killed fighting in the War. I have found that writing poetry has helped ,me in a big way and I would advise others to try and write things down. I am publishing a book of poetry and personal stories to help raise funds for a UK mental health charity TALKING2MINDS http://www.talking2minds.co.uk/ started by SAS veteran Bob Paxman, I am trying to change the way people view combat veterans mental health issues and remove any stigma. There are lots of poems by veterans but I also want civilians poems to show that regardless of our jobs we are all human beings, hopefully this will help end the unfair stigma attached to mental illness. I haven’t got anything yet from any Canadians. If you have anything you want to contribute please send your submission to ....



Sep 15 2011 · 08:09

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled Werner Hertzog on The Ecstasy of Truth. It was posted here on September 13, 2011.


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