THE T(H)ERRORIZED (GODARDIAN PEDAGOGY)
We know that May '68 confirmed Jean-Luc Godard in a suspicion he had had: that the movie theater is, in every sense of the word, a bad place, at once immoral and inadequate. A place for easy hysteria, sleazy visual pickups, voyeurism and magic. The place where, to revive a metaphor which has had its moment of glory, one came to "sleep in the bed of the image," to get an eyeful and blind oneself in the process, to see too much and to see badly.
The great suspicion cast by May '68 on the "society of the spectacle," a society which secrets more images than it can see and digest (the image runs past, recedes, runs away) affected the generation that had invested the most in it, the self-taught cinephiles for whom the movie theater had taken the place of both school and family - the generation of the New Wave, formed in the cinematheques. Beginning in 1968, Godard proceeds to pull out his stake and move in the opposite direction: from cinema to school, then from school to family. Regression? Why not say, instead, "regressivism"?
For the most radical fringe of filmmakers - those farthest to the left - one thing is certain in 1968: one must learn how to leave the movie theater (to leave behind cinephilia and obscurantism) or at least to attach it to something else. And to learn, you have to go to school. Less to the "school of life" than to the cinema as school. This is how Godard and Gorin transformed the scenographic cube into a classroom, the dialogue of the film into a recitation, the voiceover into a required course, the shooting of the film into a tutorial, the subject of the film into course headings from the University of Vincennes ("revisionism," "ideology") and the filmmaker into a schoolmaster, a drill-master or a monitor. School thus becomes the good place which removes us from cinema and reconciles us with "reality" (a reality to be transformed, naturally.) This is where the films of the Dziga Vertov Group came to us from (and earlier, LA CHINOISE.) In TOUT VA BIEN, NUMERO DEUX and ICI ET AILLEURS, the family apartment has replaced the movie theater (and television has taken the place of cinema), but the essentials remain: people learning a lesson.
No need to look further for the cause of the rush of love and hate, rage and irritated groans unleashed at that time by Godard's cinema, which appeared in its early stages as a rather rugged Maoist pedagogy. Much would have been forgiven a Godard "co-opted by the system" (how many people today are still indignant at the idea that Godard has not given them a new PIERROT LE FOU?) A discreet homage would have been paid to a Godard totally on the sidelines, in the underground and happy to be there? But what to be done with a Godard who continues to work, to hold class, to teach a lesson and learn it himself, even in an empty house? In Godardian pedagogy there is something that the cinema - especially the cinema - cannot tolerate: talking to the air.
Godardian pedagogy. School, we said, is the good place (where you make progress and from which you must move on) as opposed to the cinema (the bad place where you regress and never move on). Let's examine this more closely and spin out the metaphor.
1. School is preeminently the place where it is possible, permitted and even recommended to mix up words and things - not wanting to know what links them, putting off until later the moment when one must go examine more closely what corresponds to what one has been taught. A place which calls for nominalism, dogmatism.
Now there was a sine qua non for the Godardian pedagogy: never questioning the discourse of the other, whoever he is. Simply taking this discourse literally, and taking it at its word. Concerning oneself only with the already-said-by-others, with what has been already-said-already-established in statements (indiscriminately: quotations, slogans, posters, jokes, stories, lessons, newspaper headlines. etc.) Statement-objects, little monuments, words treated as things: take them or leave them
The already-said-by-others confronts us with a fait accompli: it has in its favor existence, solidity. By its existence it renders illusory any approach which would try to reestablish behind, before or around it a domain of enunciation. Godard never puts to the statements that he receives the question of their origin, their condition of possibility, the place from which they derive their legitimacy, the desire which they at once betray and conceal. His approach is the most anti-archeological there is. It consists of taking note of what is said (to which one can add nothing) and then looking immediately for the other statement, the other image which would counterbalance this statement, this sound, this image. "Godard," then, would simply be the empty place, the blank screen where images, sounds come to coexist, to neutralize, recognize and designate one another: in short, to struggle. More than "who is right? who is wrong?," the real question is "what can we oppose to this?"The devil's advocate.
Whence the malaise, the "confusion" with which Godard is often reproached. To what the other says (asserts, proclaims, extols) he always respond with what another other says (asserts, proclaims, extols). There is always a great unknown in his pedagogy, and that is the fact that the nature of the relationship he maintains with his "good" discourses (those he defends) is undecidable.
In ICI ET AILLEURS, for example, a "film" about images brought back from Jordan (1970-1974), it is clear that the questions raised by the film about itself (the kind of disjunction it effects in every direction: between here and elsewhere, images and sounds, 1970 and 1975) is only possible because the syntagm "Palestinian revolution" already functions as an axiom, as something which is a matter of course (something already-said-by-others, in this case, by Al Fatah), and in relation to which Godard does not have to define himself personally (to say "me, I," but also to say "me, I am with them"), or to show his position in the film (to socialize, make convincing, desirable, the position he has taken, his initial choice: for the Palestinians, against Israel.) Always the logic of school.
2. School is preeminently the place where the master does not have to say where his knowledge or his certainties come to him from. School is not a place where the student can reinscribe, use, put to the test the knowledge that has been inculcated in him. Beneath the master's knowledge, beyond the student's knowledge: a blank. The blank space of a no man's land, of a question which Godard does not want to know anything about, the question of the appropriation of knowledge. He is only interested in (re)transmission.
In any pedagogy, nevertheless, values can be found, positive content, to be put across. Godardian pedagogy is no exception to this rule: no film after 1968 which does not situate itself with respect to (and project itself with) what might be called - with no pejorative nuance -a discours du manche*. Let's recapitulate: marxist-Leninst politics (the Chinese positions) in PRAVDA and WIND FROM THE EAST, Althusser's lesson concerning ideology as slip in STRUGGLES IN ITALY, Brecht's lesson on "the role of intellectuals in the revolution" in TOUT VA BIEN and, more recently, bits of feminist discourse (Germaine Greer) in NUMERO DEUX. The discours du manche changes, so to speak, hands, but it always speaks from on high and condemns easily (the successive reproaches: being a cinephile, being a revisionist, being cut off from the masses, being a male chauvinist.)
But Godard is not the bearer of the discourse in which he demands that we believe - still less the origin - but something like the drill-master. So a structure with three places is set up, a little theater of three, where to the master (who is after all only a drill-master) and the student (who only repeats) is added the solicitation of what must be repeated, the solicitation of the discours du manche, to which master and student are subjected, unequally, and which persecutes them.
So the screen becomes the place of this persecution, and the film its mise en scene. Two questions, nevertheless, are definitely eluded by this apparatus: that of the production of the discours du manche (in Maoist terms, the question "where do right ideas come from?"), and that of its appropriation (in Maoist terms, "the diference between true ideas and right ideas"). School is of course no place for these questions. There the drill-master embodies a figure at once modest and tyrannical: he must recite a lesson which he knows nothing about and which he himself endures.
This master-discourse is, after 1968, somewhat systematically born by the voice of a woman. This means that Godardian pedagogy implies a distribution of roles and discourses by sex. The voice which reprimands, resumes, advises, teaches, explains, theorizes and even t(h)errorizes is always a woman's voice. And if this voice begins to talk, precisely, about the question of woman, it is still in an assertive, slightly declamatory tone: the opposite of the lifelikeness and plaintiveness of naturalism. Godard does not film any revolution which cannot talk about itself, which has not found its language, its style, its theory. In TOUT VA BIEN, we see the character played by Jane Fonda pass very quickly from a clean slate to a kind of theory of the clean slate (which Montand, moreover, does not understand.) No underside to the discourse, the already-said-by-others.
3. For the master, for the students, each year brings with it ("reentry") a mincing, a simulacrum of the first time, the return to zero: zero of no-knowledge, zero of the blackboard. In which respect school, a place for the tabula rasa and the slate quickly wiped clean, a gloomy place of waiting and suspense, of the transition to life, is an obsessional place: non-linear and closed.
Since his first films Godard has felt the greatest repulsion at "telling a story," at saying "in the beginning there was/at the end there is." Leaving the movie theater also meant escaping from this obligation, well formulated by the aged Fritz Lang in CONTEMPT: "You must always finish what you have started." A fundamental difference between school and cinema: one doesn't have to please, to flatter the students, because school is obligatory. It is the State that wishes all children to be "scholarized." While in the cinema, in order to retain one's audience, one must give them something to see and enjoy, tell them stories (hodgepodges): whence the accumulation of images, hysteria, carefully-measured effects, retention, discharge, happy ending: catharsis. The privilege of the school: there one detains students so that they will retain lessons, the master retains (holds back) his knowledge (he doesn't say everything) and punishes bad students by keeping them after school.
School could only be the good place because there it was possible to retain the maximum number of things and people for the longest possible time, the very place of differance. For retenir means two things: "to retain" (hold onto) but also "to detain," "to defer." To hold onto an audience of students in order to delay the moment when they would risk passing too quickly from one image to another, from one sound to another, seeing too quickly, declaring themselves prematurely, thinking that they are done with images and sounds when they don't suspect to what extent the arrangement of these images and sounds is something very complex and serious, and not at all innocent. School permits us to turn cinephilia against itself, to turn it inside out, like a glove, and to take our time about it. So that Godardian pedagogy consists of unceasingly returning to images and sounds, designating them, repeating them, commenting on them, reflecting them, criticizing them like so many unfathomable enigmas: not losing sight of them, holding onto them with one's eyes, keeping them.
A masturbatory pedagogy? No doubt. It has as its horizon, as its limit, the mystery of mysteries, the sphinx of the still photo: that which defines understanding and never exhausts it, that which holds back the look and the meaning, fixes the scopic impulse: retention in action.
For the place from which Godard is speaking to us, from which he addresses us, is certainly not the secure place of a profession or even of a professional project. It is an in-between, in-between three things, in fact, an unfeasible place which embraces the photo (19th century), as well as cinema (20th century) and television (21st century.) The photograph: that which retains once and for all (a cadaver to be worked on). Cinema: that which retains only for a moment (death at work). Television: that which retains nothing (the deadly procession, the hemorrhaging of images).
Godard's lead over other manipulators of images and sounds stems from his total contempt for any discourse of the "specificity" of cinema. You have to see how he places, how tranquilly he embeds both the still photograph and the television image in the movie screen (so that cinema no longer has any other specificity than that of receiving - provisionally? - images that aren't made for it, and letting itself be invested by them: NUMERO DEUX) to understand that Godard exceeds all discourse on the specificity of cinema, whether it be the spontaneous discourse of the spectator (this is what cinema is for me), the self-interested discourse of people in the business (you have to make films like this) or that of the enlightened university critic (this is how cinema functions).
The cinema, we were saying at the beginning of this article, the bad place, the place of a crime and a kind of magic. The crime: that images and sounds are taken from (snatched, stolen, extorted, taken away from) living beings. The magic: that they are exhibited in another place (the movie theater) to give pleasure to those who see them. The beneficiary of the transfer: the filmmaker. This is true pornography, this change of scene; it is, appropriately, the ob-scene.
It will be said: this is a moral and Bazinian question, and moreover this kind of symbolic debt cannot be repaid. Certainly. But it happens that Godard's itinerary is the sign of a very concrete, very historical question, a question in crisis: the question of what could be called the "filmic contract" (filmer/filmed). This question seemed to pose itself only to militant or ethnographic cinema ("Us and the others"); Godard tells us that it is a question which concerns the very act of filming. Is he exaggerating? It is frivolous to think that this is one of the questions which can be resolved by good will and pious actions (for the cause - the artistic masterpiece or the good militant action). This question will be raised and cannot fail to be raised even more insistently as the traditional contract between filmer and filmed (Hollywood) falls apart and the cinema as "mass-art-family-oriented-popular-and-homogenizing" enters a crisis. Godard is already talking about this crisis because it is this crisis that made him a filmmaker. But it is already a question for pornographic cinema (EXHIBITION) and militant cinema (UN SIMPLE EXAMPLE). A question with a future.
For Godard, retaining images and audience, transfixing them, in a way (as is cruelly done with butterflies), is a desperate activity, itself without hope. His pedagogy has gained him only time. To the obscenity of appearing as auteur (and beneficiary of the greatest filmic surplus-value), he has preferred that of exhibiting himself in the very act of retention.
The impossibility of obtaining a new type of filmic contract has thus led him to keep (to retain) images and sounds without finding anyone to whom he can return them, restore them. Godard's cinema is a painful meditation on the theme of restitution, or better, of reparation. Reparation would mean returning images and sounds to those from whom they were taken. This also commits them to produce their own images and sounds. And all the better if that production obliges the filmmaker to change his own way of working!
There is a film in which this restitution-reparation takes place, ideally at least - ICI ET AILLEURS. These images of Palestinian men and women that Godard and Gorin, invited by the PLO, brought back from the Middle East, these images which he has kept in front of him for five years - to whom should they be returned?
To the general public avid for sensation (Godard+Palestine=scoop)? To the politicized public eager to be confirmed in dogma (Godard+Palestine=worthy cause=art)? To the PLO who invited him, permitted him to film and trusted him (Godard+Palestine=propaganda weapon)? Not even them. So?
One day, between 1970 and 1975, Godard realizes that the soundtrack is not completely translated, that what the fedayin are saying, in the shots where they appear, has not been translated from Arabic. And that in the end no one would be very bothered by this (accepting the fact that a voice-over covers these voices). Now, Godard says, the fedayin whose words have remained a dead letter are dead man with a reprieve - the living dead. they or other slike them died in 1970, were killed by Hussein's troops.
To make the film ("You must always finish what you have started") is then, quite simply, to translate the soundtrack, so that one hears what is being said, or better: so that one listens to it. What was retained has been freed, what was kept has been restored, but it's too late. Images and sounds are rendered as honors are rendered, to those to whom they belong: to the dead.
SOUND (SHE), IMAGE (HE)/VOICE (SHE), EYE (HE)
Which could also be written Sound (she)/Image (he) or, more precisely: Voice (She)/Eye (He). By talking too much about "images and sounds" in the abstract, we failed to notice that there was always and above all a body invoked. The Godardian body is what receives, what lodges the eye; it is the image. The image is the domain of the man (even when - NUMERO DEUX - nothing remains of it but fetal blackness), it is what he is answerable for. He is answerable for it as a filmmaker (the overwhelming majority of filmmakers are men), therefore as a voyeur. Cinema, voyeurism matters of the scopic drive, the erectile eye, the business of men until now. But he only answers for it because someone talks to him about it. Someone: a voice, a voiceover, always the voice of a woman.
The voice of the woman as oral penis. It articulates the law, but a law made to order; what subjects the images, these images, his images. In the second part of WIND FROM THE EAST it is the voice of a woman which makes him draw the lesson: "What to do? You've made a film. You've criticized it. You've made mistakes. You know more now, perhaps, about the production of sounds and images, etc." The same apparatus in ICI ET AILLEURS, where it is again the voice of a woman that translates, unfolds, restores these images, already seen, too quickly run ("run out the ass," as they say). Even the theater of TOUT VA BIEN is one where the same division of roles is at work. She (Jane Fonda) works for the radio (the voice: political commentary). He (Yves Montand) works in film (the image: commercials). And this voice speaks only about the meaning of events ('68), about History, about the meaning of History. And this image is one of prostituted bodies prancing for the greater glory of Dim stockings and the shameful pleasure of the man who films them. It's by the voice that History descends on these images as what guts them, marks them, subjects them to its law. By the voice of a woman.
The body of the man is a bulging eye, the body of the woman is a voice which never stops intervening, questioning. NUMERO DEUX: even the disposition of bodies for love - posture - is at stake: "Why do you always want it like this?" asks Sandrine (neither "in" or "of": she is simply disposed for Pierre's eye - and for that of the camera). But the voice of Sandrine speaks only of one thing: of the image where she is and the position she occupies in it. Maximum proximity between bodies and thoughts: anchoring of what is said in what is seen.
Godard's strange feminism: he puts the woman (the voice, the sound) in the place of what articulates the law (la pensee de manche, concerning which we've seen that it is invested with a phallic character) and of what gives life. Perversion. It's not clear that feminist demands are satisfied with this "place" the men no longer want, with this "power" which they've let drop. They don't necessarily gain by it (even if the man reaps his profit of masochism: being the metteur en scene who says how he wishes to be punished, what type of cruel mothering he enjoys.) They didn't necessarily gain by it when, at the time of LA CHINOISE and WIND FROM THE EAST, they were put in the place of a discourse (Marxist-Leninist) which nobody wanted any part of. Anne Wiazemsky's voice (and the bourgeois class-being it connoted) made it impossible for anyone to identify with this discourse and this truth.
*Discours or pensee du manche: literally, the discourse or thought of the handle. Implicit in this Daneyism is the idea of "being on the right side" (the handle by which the tool must be grasped) and, of course, the image of the phallus. It also glances at Lacan's term for the langage of the obsessional neurotic: le Discours du Maitre (the Discourse of the Master.) It is better left untranslated.
Translated by Bill Krohn and Charles Cameron Ball