Although Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God travesties Eurocentric imperialism, it nevertheless continues to assert European hegemony by representing its nature-based Indian communities as little more than cardboard cannibals, beings whose suffering and slaughter are hardly worthy of a European viewer’s sympathy. This lacuna of representation points to another discursive tradition Herzog draws upon: the discourse of the unabashed glorifiers of conquest and dictator-led empire-building, one that has wielded inordinate power at pivotal moments in history. In essence, this is the discourse of absolutism, taking as precept not only the legitimacy of unrestricted, absolute power of a ruler over hereditary subjects, but also over any subjects that can be conquered, colonized, and brought under the yoke. To be sure, Herzog often brings formal elements of this absolutist discourse into his film in order to lampoon it—there is a distinct sense of mockery throughout Aguirre’s pathetic attempt at nation-founding. But by invoking absolutism, Herzog nevertheless reproduces what he appears to censure; his ironies somehow still glamorize what they purport to satirize. Such is the paradoxical nature of irony in artistic expression: ironic art purports to mean the opposite of what it says, but it still must say it.


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pp. 137-159
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