A 3200-word essay I wrote on Jean-Luc Godard’s 3-D film Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language) has been published at Berfrois: see “The Gaze of Interruption”.
I discovered Berfrois a couple of years ago through a review of Michel Foucault’s Leçons sur la volonté de savoir written by Stuart Elden. Berfrois is a well-established “literary-intellectual online magazine”. It was founded by Russell Bennetts, who also acts as its Editor in Chief. The site is updated daily with new materials. Its archive is a testimony to the rich diversity of topics it embraces. The magazine, which is publicly funded and entirely free of advertisement, is currently running its annual Public Funding campaign. Anyone wishing to contribute a small donation, as I did, can do so via their Indiegogo campaign page.
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The essay borrows from my current research on conflict, community and communication. Some of the themes I deal with in the piece have been explored here in previous posts. What follows is a series of complementary references that were not included in the final version of the essay: materials I worked with during the research, but decided to cut off in the end. I gather them here hoping they can provide opportunities for further reflexion on a variety of topics. The material is listed following the order the essay, from beginning to end.
Nous comme la brèche elle-même, tracé hasardeux d’une rupture. – The epigraph is a quote from Jean-Luc Nancy’s book Être singulier pluriel. Here’s the context where it appears, followed by the English translation:
Pour que l’homme soit découvert, et pour que «sens humain» prenne un sens, il faut d’abord que soit défait tout ce qui prétendait à la vérité sur la nature, sur l’essence ou sur la destination de «l’homme». Autrement dit, il faut qu’il n’y ait plus rien de ce qui, au titre du sens, rapportait la terre et l’homme à un horizon désignable. Nous sommes désormais, c’est encore Nietzsche qui l’avait dit, «sur l’horizon de l’infini», c’est-à-dire là où «il n’y a plus de “terre”» – et «il n’y a rien de plus terrible que l’infini.» […]
«L’horizon de l’infini», c’est: plus d’horizon du tout, mais le «tout» (tout ce qui est) partout reporté, repoussé au dehors comme au dedans de «soi». Plus de ligne tracée ni à tracer pour orienter et pour recueillir le sens d’une marche ou d’une navigation. C’est la brèche ou l’écartement de l’horizon lui-même, et sur la brèche, nous. Nous comme la brèche elle-même, tracé hasardeux d’une rupture (Paris: Galilée, 1996, p. 11)
And the English translation:
In order for the human to be discovered, and in order for the phrase “human meaning” to acquire some meaning, everything that has ever laid claim to the truth about the nature, essence, or end of “man” must be undone. In other words, nothing must remain of what, under the title of meaning, related the earth [la terre] and the human to a specifiable horizon. Again, it is Nietzsche who said that we are now “on the horizon of the infinite”; that is, we are at that point where “there is no more ‘land,’” and where “there is nothing more terrible than the infinite.” […]
“The horizon of the infinite” is no longer the horizon of the whole, but the “whole” (all that is) as put on hold everywhere, pushed to the outside just as much as it is pushed back inside the “self.” It is no longer a line that is drawn, or a line that will be drawn, which orients or gathers the meaning of a course of progress or navigation. It is the opening [la brèche] or distancing [l’écartement] of horizon itself, and in the opening: us. We happen as the opening itself, the dangerous fault line of a rupture. (Being Singular Plural, tr. by Robert D. Richardson and Anne E. O’Byrne, Stanford: Stanford University Press,  2000, pp. xi-xii)
Marcel Proust describes a painting by Claude Monet from 1897, titled “Bras de Seine près de Giverny” – If one is to believe the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the version of Monet’s painting discussed by Marcel Proust in Jean Santeuil is this one. The original is at Musée d’Orsay where its inventory number is RF 2003 (item W. 1487 in the catalog of Monet’s painting). As I mentioned in the essay, Monet painted a number of versions –at least 18– of the very same scene. Some of them are gathered in this Flickr set.
Jean-Luc Godard’s 3D film Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language) – Jean-Luc Godard’s film Adieu au langage has a number of official websites: aside from the page at Festival de Cannes website I linked to in the essay, there are two distributors website: Wild Bunch and Kino Lorber. There’s also a stand-alone website managed by Kino Lorder: goodbyetolanguage3d.com. There’s an official website for the Japanese version of the film as well.
Another document worth watching is the short 3D film Jean-Luc Godard presented at Cannes in 2013, as part of the feature 3X3D (IMDb). It includes materials that would later be used in Adieu au langage. At the time of writing, the short film is available to watch on YouTube, in 2D: “Les 3 désastres”.
American film theorist David Bordwell remarks – I quote from David Bordwell in-depth analysis of the film “Adieu au langage: 2 + 2 x 3D” (2014.09.07), which I recommend. He wrote a follow-up post equally interesting: “Say Hello to Goodbye to Language” (2014.11.02). He also did a short interview about Godard’s film at NPR: “At 83, Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard Makes The Leap To 3-D” (2014.10.29).
the world has become incommensurable – This is a complex issue which I merely touched upon in the essay. I wrote about “incommensurability and the experience of modernity” in a previous post where I quote, among others, Primo Levi. The fact that there is indeed a problem of representation in contemporary times –that finds its most dramatic expression in the production of death– is given through the historical manifestation of fascism. Here maybe it would worth musing upon the meaning of Theodor Adorno’s much-commented observation: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” (Prisms, tr. by Samuel and Shierry Weber, MIT Press,  1981, p. 34).
“Too many changes are in the air that still lack a means of expression” – This line from Jean Cocteau’s diary appears in an entry dated from December 5, 1954. Although an English translation of Cocteau’s diary exists, this specific entry is not included in it. The translation I used follows the subtitles of the English version of Éloge de l’amour (In Praise of Love).
longing for a more authentic experience of the world? – Here again the problem is ultimately to be found in fascism. An argument calling for something more true, more real, more original, runs the risk of lapsing into what Adorno has called –in regard to the political compromission of Martin Heidegger’s philosophy– “the jargon of authenticity” (Jargon of Authenticity, tr. by Knut Tarnowski and Frederic Will, Northwestern University Press,  1973). I don’t think Godard’s cinematographic “adieu” to language could be reduced to such a value judgment, or that it could be said to be prescriptive in the way it presents itself. On the contrary, it is what the film resists.
“Movies you can see them, while you cannot see cinema” – This quote by Godard comes from an interview he did in 2011 with Laure Adler, for the French radio show Hors-Champs hosted by France Culture. At the time of writing, the archives of the show are not available online. A French transcription of the excerpt I’m using can be found here. It’s especially relevant in regard to the idea of opacity and obscurity, as Godard mentions Maurice Blanchot’s first novel. The radio show itself is titled “Jean-Luc Godard: the opacity of existence” (“Jean-Luc Godard: l’opacité de l’existence”). Here’s a translation I made of the available transcription:
–ADLER: Could you explain the difference between true cinema and movies, moviemaking?
–GODARD: Movies you can see them, while you cannot see cinema. You can see only what you cannot see… the unknown or things like that…
–ADLER: Is this what you are trying to do? To get closer to the invisible…
–GODARD: It’s what we do naturally, what many writers do in their own way. When I was a teenager, one of the first book that moved me was a book by Maurice Blanchot… I knew nothing about philosophy, nor about this school fo thought… The book was titled Thomas the Obscure, that’s it Thomas the Obscure.
the privilege granted to the presence of a reality – This privilege –which Godard refuses to grant in his film– could be said to be related to a longstanding tradition in Western metaphysics where a hierarchy of value is used in an effort to understand reality: “what is”, and what is “being”. It is through this tradition that we have come to subordinate existence to essence, matter to form, representation to presence, etc. I recently compared the way this issue is dealt with both in Aristotle’s “first philosophy” and in Gilbert Simondon’s “individuation”: see “Gilbert Simondon and the Aristotelian sunolon”. One interesting aspect to keep in mind is how ontology can be said to be intrinsically a political issue.
it is not a film about something, but just a film – This is a paraphrase of a title card used in the film Vent d’Est (1970), which Godard made while he was collaborating with the Dziga Vertov Group. The title card appears approximately 35 minutes in the film. It is reproduced below:
The film speaks from this void – In the context of Adieu au langage, the idea that “the film speaks” could be put in relation with Heidegger’s proposition to the effect that “Language speaks” (“Die Sprache spricht”). I left this aside since it would have required a significant development. Here, I would simply like to point a few aspects that could worth further exploration.
In the formula “Language speaks”, Heidegger is thinking differently about language. This could be contrasted with his conception of Gerede, often translated as “idle talk”. It offers a way to think of another kind of communication, but it also immediately brings “us” back the political –if not ideological– problems pertaining to the existential analytic of Dasein presented in Being and Time.
Another interesting point can be found in the way Heidegger refers to “emptiness” and “abyss” in the explanation he provides for his formula:
Language is—language, speech. Language speaks. If we let ourselves fall into the abyss denoted by this sentence, we do not go tumbling into emptiness. We fall upward, to a height. Its loftiness opens up a depth. The two span a realm in which we would like to become at home, so as to find a residence, a dwelling place for the life of man. (“Language”, Poetry Language, Thought, tr. by Albert Hofstadter, New York: Harper & Row, 1971 pp. 189-190; originally “Die Sprache”, 1950, in GA12)
In his later work Identity and Difference (Identität und Differenz, 1955-57), Heidegger explains how this “abyss” is actually the Ereignis, that is the “event of appropriation” as it is sometimes translated, not without difficulties:
But this abyss is neither empty nothingness nor murky confusion, but rather: the event of appropriation. In the event of appropriation vibrates the active nature of what speaks as language, which at one time was called the house of Being. (tr. by Joan Stambaugh, New York, Harper & Row, 1969, p. 39; in GA11).
There is an interesting essay to write about the cinematographic experience as an “event of ap-propriation”, where the “appropriation” would be understood not as “making proper” (a determinate meaning), but rather as the decision of owning what is without property.
Aristotle once argued that animals have a voice, but no language – Adieu au langage does not follow the traditional opposition between animal voice and human language: it is not an inquiry about language through its limits or its failure. Such an endeavour would still amount to presuppose language as an essential property of human nature, determined through a dialectical relation with speechlessness. Instead, Godard’s attempt to “unwork” this dialectic actually opens up new ways to think about language (“Godard’s not a dialectician,” says Deleuze in the 1976 interview it did with Cahiers du cinéma). This effort shares some similarities with Giorgio Agamben’s analysis of language, especially in Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience (Verso Books) and Language and Death. The Place of Negativity (University of Minnesota Press). In the former he writes:
Is there a human voice, a voice that is the voice of man as the chirp is the voice of the cricket or the bray is the voice of the donkey? And, if it exists, is this voice language? What is the relationship between voice and language, between phone and logos? And if such a thing as a human voice does not exist, in what sense can man still be defined as the living being which has language? The questions thus formulated mark off a philosophical interrogation. (tr. by Liz Heron, Verso Books,  1993, p. 3)
Agamben comes back to those questions in the very short, lesser-known essay La fine del pensiero, translated into French as La fin de la pensée (it has yet to be translated into English). There, he explains:
Nous ne pouvons penser dans le langage que parce que celui-ci n’est pas notre voix. Une question n’est pas résolue, une question reste en souffrance dans le langage; est-il ou non notre voix, comme le braiment est la voix de l’âne, ou comme le chant qui tremble est la voix du grillon. C’est pourquoi nous sommes contraints de penser quand nous parlons, de tenir les mots en suspens. La pensée est la souffrance de la voix dans le langage. (tr. by Gérard Macé, Paris: Le Nouveau Commerce, 1982, unpaginated).
“Losing too is still ours”, once wrote Rainer Maria Rilke – I discovered this quote while reading an interview with Jacques Rancière. I gathered additional references here.
“the condition for talking to ourselves and hearing ourselves is that [the] interruption remains” – This remark by Jacques Derrida comes from Safaa Fathy’s documentary film Elsewhere Derrida (D’ailleurs Derrida). I provided a transcription of a longer excerpt here.
“It’s as though, in a way, he’s always stammering” – This “stammering” can be identified in Godard’s early films as well: from the famous jump cuts of Breathless (1960), to the repetitions of letters in the title sequence of Pierrot le fou (1965). He could also be said to be stammering in the way he remixes images, sound bits and quotes from one film to another.
Deleuze developed his thoughts about stammering and stuttering in various occasions. Aside from the 1976 interview he gave to Cahiers du cinéma, he talked about similar ideas in the 1977 “dialogues” he had with Claire Parnet (translated in 1987). He wrote again about it in A Thousand Plateaus (also 1987). More importantly, he made it the central topic of his essay “He stuttered”, first published in Critique et Clinique, in 1993 (translated in 1998). Also worth mentioning here is Brian Massumi’s essay “Sur le Droit à la Non-Communication de la Différence” (Ethnopsy. Les mondes contemporains de la guérison, Paris, no. 4, avril 2002, special issue ed. by Isabelle Stengers and Tobie Nathan, pp. 93-131; PDF)
the 3D effect often seems to be just as noticeably off – An excellent, in-depth discussion of the technical aspects related to this effect is provided by Bryant Frazer over at StudioDaily: “Five Ways Jean-Luc Godard Breaks the 3D Rules in Farewell to Language” (Oct. 3, 2014).
a film that does not “work” – The way in which Godard’s film doesn not “work” could be further developed in light of the idea if “désoeuvrement” (“unworking” or “inoperativeness”) as it appears in the corpus of both Jean-Luc Nancy and Giorgio Agamben (both of them were inspired by a letter Georges Bataille once send to Alexandre Kojève regarding his lectures on Hegel). This theme is directly linked to the “productive” function negation plays in Hegel’s dialectic.
a film made politically – In February of 1970, after the projection of the film Pravda at the National Museum of Modern Ar, in Paris, Godard, who had made the film in collaboration with the Dziga Vertov Group, told the audience that they had failed to the task for they had “made a political film instead of making politically a film” (“tourné un film politique au lieu de tourner politiquement un film”; see Avant Scène Cinéma, nos 171-172, July 1976, p. 64). Godard came up with the formula a month earlier for a text he had written at the request of the newly launched magazine Afterimage: “Que faire?”. The text was published in an English translation by Mo Teitelbaum in the first issue, on April 1970: “What is to be done?”. The original French manuscript is reproduced in Jean-Luc Godard: Documents (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2006). Both the French and English versions are available online.
the path to another form of communication – The way in which Godard is exploring another idea of language also points toward a renewed understanding of what “communication” is. I have developed this idea in relation to a short essay by François Laruelle.
a responsibility towards the image – This idea was richly developed by French art historian Georges Didi-Huberman. I previously wrote about it here.