Intra-psychic History Of Human Civilization From People’s Fears For Their Survival To Their Desperate Escapism Into Imagination And Cognition

Under the first impressions from Herzog’s film –
There is optimism, there is pessimism, and there is art.
There is truth, there is non-truth, and there is art.
There is admiration, there is indignation, and there is art.
There is love, there is hate, and there is art.
There is glorifying or debunking the reality, and there is art.
There is profit, there is financial loss, and there is art.

In a Bavarian village in the late of 18th century, a glass-maker dies and takes to his grave the secret of his ruby glass. The glass factory owner goes out mad trying to unearth the formula.
David Licata, “Werner Herzog and the making of ‘Heart of Glass’”, “Filmmaker Magazine, May 24, 2012

“Revolutionary” mysticism of Hias, the shepherd and local seer:
I look into the distance, to the end of the world. First, time will tumble, and then the earth. The clouds will begin to race… the earth boils over; this is the sign. This is beginning of the end. The world’s edge begins to crumble… everything starts to collapse… tumbles, falls, crumbles and collapses. I look into the cataract. I feel an undertow, it draws me, it sucks me down. I begin to fall…a vertigo seizes upon me. Now I look at one spot in the tumbling waters. I seek one spot on which my eyes can rest. I become light, lighter, lighter. Everything becomes light, I fly upwards. Out of the falling and the flying, a new land arises. Like the submerged Atlantis, the earth rises out of the waters. I see a new earth.

Sociological” prediction of Hias:
A liar will cross one of the bridges, thief the other.

Dialogue between Wudy and Ascherl while drinking beer at the pub
Wudy – Tomorrow you will be finished, Ascherl! I’ll sleep off my hangover on your corpse.
Ascherl – Innkeeper, bring Wudy another beer.
Wudy – I’ll sleep on your corpse. Hias said that I’ll sleep on your corpse. Hias sees into the future.
Ascherl – Provided we sleep in the hay. And I must fall down onto the threshing place first. Then you must fall on me. If you don’t fall soft, you’ll be dead too.

The owner of glass-blowing factory shares his love for the Ruby Glass:
Master Muhlbeck is dead and no one knows the secret of the Ruby Glass. My god. This splendor is now relinquished from the world. Now what will protect me from the Evil of the universe?

The poet reciting his hymn to the red glass in front of the local lord (the owner of glass-blowing factory)
The land of the ruby –
my land.
And all the people
dance in the red glow
and live in it.
Their blood, their life,
everything is in the glass –
in the red, in the color.
This land is the only one.
Everything is in this land
and everything is ruby.


From Hias’ prophesies
Then the little one starts a war and the big one across the ocean extinguishes it. Then you will not get a loaf for two hundred florins. Then a strict master comes who takes people’s shirts and their skin with them. After the war you think there will be peace, but there will not be. The peasants will dress like town people and the town people will be like apes. Women will wear trousers and boots. The peasants will stand in their dung heaps with polished boots. The peasants will eat cakes and discuss politics. They all fight; there is war in every house. No man will like another man. The elegant and fine people will be murdered. Forest will get sparse, like the beggar’s gown. The few who survive will have iron heads. People become ill, but no one can help them. Pope consecrates a goat as bishop.

“Heart of Glass” in German language with English subtitles.

Ontological rivalry between two drunks

Werner Herzog and the human historical past

Herzog works with Stefan Guttler (playing the role of local rich man, the owner of the glassmaking factory, who is obsessed with the ruby-glass’s superhuman powers as today’s profit-makers with their profits).

Nature perceived/contemplated/meditated on by Hias

Nature for Hias is like living, not like life – the river is like clouds and clouds – like flood. Nature is like a breathing human soul, fragile and powerful. It’s, as though, present and simultaneously absent, material and ideal.

The Waterfall is – like dying or – like moving towards resurrection

Hias-the herdsman as observer of human condition

Hias learns from nature – through his imagination, of course, not only how to live and to die, but how to be/to feel alive (forever,) in life and death

The more Hias (Josef Bierbichler) knew how people are – the farther he felt himself from humanity, the more he was disappointed in his fellow humans. May be, because of this he began to think systematically. Throughout his long mornings he looked at the grazing cows and remembered about people. Thinking becomes his habit and even his love not because it can help in life but because it is not life – because it seems to be something better than life. To think is more decent than to live day after day according to the same expectations (or the same surprises).

The more Hias contemplated about human nature, the more he felt above human life

To start to philosophize or psychologize you have to be disappointed, and then you start to think about the destiny of humankind, as if you don’t belong to this destiny (this is the prejudice of many thinkers – to feel, not without good reason, of course, contempt for human prejudices and superstitions). For Hias human beings are superstitions in flesh. Luckily, Hias had a nature. Still, is it wise to blame the baby but not the womb as well?

Glorious, sophisticated and blind obsession with the ruby glass

When a person is obsessed with something, like the local lord in the film (Stefan Guttler) with the ruby glass, s/he also becomes obsessed with material, fleshy aspect of the object, not only with its “essence”. In this scene we see how the aesthete-admirer of magic thing strokes it – caresses ruby glassware, as if, with gratitude for its existence.

The fact that the miracle of the ruby-red glassware can no longer be reproduced (the secret of its creation has been lost), makes the hero of the film lose his wholeness, personality, identity (everything starts to crumble, fall into pieces) and this creates in him engulfing panic.

This how the owner of the factory without production touches the sacred glass, like people caress an enigmatic, full of intriguing otherness pet, without which the very life of the owner cannot, as he feels, be sustained.

Our knight of ruby glass looks at life around him as if it’s a predatory emptiness which is ready to swallow his very being (not protected anymore by his ruby-glass fetish)

For our local baron his obsession with the ruby glassware is a psychological defense; his mysticism and aestheticism have to psychologically protect him from the consciousness of his human weaknesses and fragility in front of mortality, and it makes this refined and elegant person similar with the “poorest and stupidest peasant”.

The maid of the ruby glass owner and dreamer imitates her master’s dedication to the beauty of these incredible works of art.

At any time of day and night the baron visits the factory, which always kept ready… to start to produce the ruby glass again. Production of aesthetic or utilitarian artifacts becomes part of our human superstitions, as soon as their very ideas are rooted in the superstitious abyss of people’s unconscious.

Ontological rivalry between Ascherl and Wudy (which one is the best guy in the world?)

Ontological rivalry is not just about who is stronger or/and smarter or/and richer or who will get more medals at the Olympic Games. It is when a human being or a group of people or a country – can claim having a superior status or exceptional value, and, therefore, cannot be judged by the usual human criterion. It is exactly like Ascherl and Wudy, who compete with one another – who will overdrink and jump down from the roof and survive and who is not. For their time it’s the equivalent of today’s obsession with extreme sports or with especially dangerous military professions.

If to try to create the image of human face representing the humanistically/liberally uneducated human being, it would be the facial expression of Wudy (Volker Prechtel), from Herzog’s “Heart of Glass”. In Ascherl-Wudy bet Ascherl, indeed, jumped first and died, while Wudy fell on top of him and survived. He continued to drink night after night without his rival-friend, but soon he came to miss his drinking buddy. So, he brought Ascherl’s fresh corpse to the pub and danced together with it in front of people moved by it.

Wudy is looking at his buddy and enemy Ascherl

Clemence Scheitz is playing in the film the factory owner’s adviser and senior servant. If the condition of human mentality (of even the educated and intelligent people) could be characterized with ultimate image of human face, it would be the expression of this character from “Heart of Glass”

Search for other worlds or for “abstract” professions – can be result of at least the unconscious disappointment in humanity

Hias thinks about joining the flat-earthers – he wants to know, if there is an abyss on the edge of the earth.

Like some scientists today are involved in search for limits to the universe and for life in other worlds, people of the past, as some heroes of Herzog’s film, were involved in a similar search without even being paid for it. Of course, there is nothing superstitious and prejudicial about techno-scientific curiosity per se. Technical science in itself is not necessarily idolatrous. But the absence of serious concern about the use of the results of techno-scientific research on the part of scientists themselves lets those with limited holistic intelligence to control these results. It makes the whole enterprise of technical science – superstitious and dangerous. The very agreement not to control the socio-political applications of these results smells of escapism on the part of scientists, leaving the conditions of human social and international life in disastrous state and transforming people like Neil de Grass Tyson into children playing with high-tech toys. Herzog’s film reminds us that cognitive curiosity even with emotional dedication and creative imagination is not enough – it is necessary to have civil concerns and humanitarian dedications, otherwise scientists and scholars today will not be much different from even the exceptional people in Herzog’s “Heart of Glass”.


The herdsman Hias’s respect for the spirituality of nature was growing with each early morning when he in the company of blue cattle began his work. Every morning his meditations were rejuvenated by the splendors of a non-made-up nature which is living toward the unknown – not like human lives always defined by social imperatives or expectations. People are controlled by their own prejudices and superstitions.

Herzog shows how, for example, people are expecting the “return of the giants” by not just imagining future events but unconsciously hypnotizing themselves so effectively that they really believe in the reality of what they imagine. That’s, for example, how so many Americans in the 21st century solemnly follow Donald Trump’s triumphant blabber consisting of absurdities which activate people’s archetypes of pleasures, fears and hate. Hypnotic believes make life more eventful and “meaningful”, more interesting – more real than reality. That’s how violent video games transformed into wars, not armed black males transformed into the mortal danger to white police officers, or Stalin’s comrades in fight for the common goal – into his and whole country’s (Soviet Russia) deadly enemies.

Relations between regular people are magnified by Herzog in a surrealistically metaphoric scenes of ontological rivalry between Ascherl and Wudy, beer drinking regulars at the village tavern, who challenge each other not only to outdrink one another but in deadly drunken condition to jump off from the rooftop. In spite of the apparently imbecilic flavor of the bet our competitors’ mentality is very close to many forms of competitions loved and practiced in our times in the so called democratic societies, like risky sports as bone-braking skateboarding, ultimate fight, or clashes between countries with military super-technology at their disposal, which compete for fossil fuel global domination and/or world leadership.

Ascherl and Wudy not only compete (and, therefore, hate each other) – for the “title” of the best guy on the planet Earth (archetypal background of the deadly competition between countries for being “the best country in the world”). Ascherl and Wudy not only hate one another but love each other in a sense that they cannot live without one another, cannot live without hating one another. They‘re doomed to live to… compete for ontological superiority, as profit-makers are in the area of financial accumulation. That’s why after Ascherl’s death on the hard soil near the pub Wudy step by step began to sincerely suffer. Dead Ascherl cannot know that Wudy won. It means that Wudy didn’t prove to Ascherl that it is he, not Ascherl is the best guy in the world. With Ascherl’s death Wudy has lost his chance to be the best guy in the universe. So, he brings Ascherl’s corpse to the tavern and dance with it in front of fascinated drunkards. This resurrection of the dead rival also happened in recent times when the American decision-makers resurrected a whole country – the Soviet Union which objectively no longer exists since its dissolution on December 1991. Treating today’s Russia as if it’s still USSR with its megalomaniacal ideological pretentions is an example of resurrection of Ascherl by Wudy. American rich decision-makers obviously miss Soviet Union as global rival – they cannot differentiate between “the enemy” and just “another country”.

Herzog depicts Ascherl-Wudy relations as the representation of the psychology of the majority of the people. But the director in the “Heart of Glass” depicts also two intelligent reactions on the human condition. One is the life of Hias, the local seer and “sociologist”, and the other is behavior of the ruby glass factory owner, an aesthete and entrepreneur. Both “intellectuals”, artistic and scientific look for way out of ordinary existence – the admirer of ruby glass into the world of beauty, and Hias towards admiration of the natural world, like the most sensitive among today’s technical scientists.

Like the ruby glass worshipper’s reaction (on primitive quality of human survival around him) is not blindly worship the object but includes (his own) creative and aesthetic sophistication, Hias’s respect for nature has an intellectual component – curiosity toward nature’s functioning, the miraculous “mechanism” of its liveliness. This aspect of Hias’s admiration of natural world’s life is very close to today’s approach to reality by the techno-scientific reason. Behind the both, aesthetic/pragmatic and scientific/pragmatic reactions on existence lurks a tormenting disappointment with the social life and desperate search for an alternative reality. Behind the production of ruby glassware or desertion to nature we see the posture of today’s intelligent people trying to ignore socio-political problems of life by the sophistication of their professional or/and spiritual dedications. This trauma of escapist “disappointment in humanity” on part of intelligent people is the topic that Herzog in the “Heart of Glass” critically investigates without populist simplifications or sentimental accents.

While regular people (of Ascherl-Wudy kind) blindly compete and fight for domination, people gifted with holistic intelligence look for sublimated refuge in their intellectual interests. Both groups fail to have a deal productively with otherness of the others. Until exceptional people will not stop to escape from the truth of human nature, we will be living and dying inside the universe of “Heart of Glass”. This, it seems, is the ultimate concern of the creator of the film who so eloquently refers the viewers to the historical destiny of human race which keeps humanity’s future in its clutches, especially today, in 21st century when advanced economic manipulation and high-tech propaganda and entertainment tricks are used to keep people’s complexes in rigidly archaic state.

Posted on Nov, 2016 –   “Heart of Glass” by Werner Herzog (1976) by Acting-Out Politics