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#6: Revolution or Resistance

Alexander Skidan, David Riff // Godard Number Nine

Since the 1960s, people have always asked the question whether Godard was a revolutionary pornographer or a pornographer of revolution. Just another Beatle (cf. Spectacular Society, chD 1)? A “Maoist liar”? (Debord). Or was Godard really the one of the greatest revolutionaries of the cinema? Don’t Godard’s early aesthetics provide ways of opening new understandings of what politics actually are? Was he able to codify and transport these new meanings, to encapsulate them within a cinematic anti-narrative made to survive the Thermidore?

So what will it be? Pornography or politics? Revolution or resistance? In Number Two, Godard asks this question himself: “A political film? It’s not political, it’s pornographic. No, it’s not pornographic, it’s political. So what will it be, politics or pornography? Why does a film need to be either/or? Sometimes it can be both one and the other. (“Number Two”, 1975). This little outtake or epigraph crystallizes Godard’s resistance to any ready-made categorization, something that was a dominant within his work from the very beginning. He breaks with the logic of exception: not either/or, nor neither/nor, but one as well as the other (and another and another). Deleuze: “‘And’ does not only unfix all relationships but also shatters substantives and verbs themselves. ‘And’, this ‘and, and, and’, is a creative stutter that uses its language as if it were foreign, in opposition to its dominant usage, based on the verb ‘to be'”. [1]

Since the 1960s, people have always asked the question whether Godard was a revolutionary pornographer or a pornographer of revolution. Just another Beatle (cf. Spectacular Society, chD 1)? A “Maoist liar”? (Debord). Or was Godard really the one of the greatest revolutionaries of the cinema? Don’t Godard’s early aesthetics provide ways of opening new understandings of what politics actually are? Was he able to codify and transport these new meanings, to encapsulate them within a cinematic anti-narrative made to survive the Thermidore?

So what will it be? Pornography or politics? Revolution or resistance? In Number Two, Godard asks this question himself: “A political film? It’s not political, it’s pornographic. No, it’s not pornographic, it’s political. So what will it be, politics or pornography? Why does a film need to be either/or? Sometimes it can be both one and the other. (“Number Two”, 1975). This little outtake or epigraph crystallizes Godard’s resistance to any ready-made categorization, something that was a dominant within his work from the very beginning. He breaks with the logic of exception: not either/or, nor neither/nor, but one as well as the other (and another and another). Deleuze: “‘And’ does not only unfix all relationships but also shatters substantives and verbs themselves. ‘And’, this ‘and, and, and’, is a creative stutter that uses its language as if it were foreign, in opposition to its dominant usage, based on the verb ‘to be'”. [1]

Revolution and resistance. Engagement and self-irony. Again, Godard’s own syntax: “…This film is neither left nor left, but before and behind (front and back)… Forward, children. The government is behind” (“Number Two”). OK, OK, so it sounds a little anal. But after all, this is 1975, a time of mourning what precious little remained of May 68: the film’s heroine is constipated, the husband offers her some laxatives, which she declines. The resistant Godard, defending himself with inclusion, but unable to expell (shit on) capitalist cinema? Constipated resistance? Or the buckdancing advent of an anal age of immaculate conceptions (Deleuze again)? The apotheosis of resistant pornography? Or a real revolution? Again, both.

Simulateneity has been a dominant throughout Godard’s work. “Le petit soldat” (1959), dedicated to the Algerian war of independance, banned in France, is a topical political drama and an existential tragedy, and a love story, and a thriller and a manifesto. Unbelievable adogmatism. Everything is possible, not only a reinvention of cinematic language, but a fundamental questioning of its aesthetic and economic and political and socio-cultural and ethical and erotic conditions. But strangely Godard is already in retreat, as his complexity makes him increasingly difficult to watch. By “Pierrot le fou” (1965), he has assasinated himself , like Ferdinand (Belmondo) who wraps dynamite around his head. So long Marianne!

By “Two or Three Things I Know About Her” (1966), Godard has transformed the film into a laboratory. Is he working as a scientist? Ultimately yes, especially if you accept Feyerabend’s proclamation of “healthy methodological anarchy”: film can enquire into both society and its own aesthetic nature. Why not? It can create its “toolkit” in adhoc hypotheses, combining the incongruous: aestheticism and documentalism, sponteneity and didactic method, sensuality and abstraction, trivia and eternal secrets. You don’t need a plot, you don’t even need characters. After all, you can decode everything in comments and off-screen narratives that all point toward the actual object, which consists the process of making the film itself. Experimenting with the didactic means of popular-scientific film, Godard uncovers the strictly “prosaic” side of film-making, from the endlessly monotonous hours over the editing table down to writing out checks for extras. This material sensibility reveals the film as a truth procedure of alienated social reproduction, but at the same time, it also deconstructs these categories, dissolving them in poetry and passion.

In “Passion” (1981), there is a scene where, upon being fired, the young factory worker Isabel (Isabel Huppert) meets with other workers to discuss the conditions of labor in the factory and the possibilities for fighting against the owner for their rights. (Before this scene, we saw how the Polish film director Jerzy (Jerzy Radziwilowicz ) is working on his commission to to film a picture in the style of the great painters— he was working on a version of Rembrandt’s “Nightwatch”.) The women come to the vocal conclusion to sign a petition in defense of Isabelle. Yet the camera remains fixed on the faces of the listeners. They hear political phraseology, revolutionary quotes that hang in the air, belonging to everyone and no-one at once. This “communism” of speech is paradoxically overshadowed by one of these slogans, namely “The Night of the Proletariate”: it immediately becomes obvious that the scene meticulously Rembrantian in its lighting. As one of the women begins to speak of labor as something intimate, and then the music begins, Mozart’s muted “Requiem”, not the International…

And suddenly, we find ourselves within the image, within the film. Of course, it’s important to remember that Godard’s director Jerzy is Polish and this is 1981, the year of Solidarnost, that he’s torn between two countries, two women, two con(tra)ceptions of film, that he penetrates Isabelle with the montage with El Greco’s “Assumption of the Virgin”, from behind. This penetration is the only intimacy, the only available movement of love that satisfies her request “not to leave any trace”. Although we will only understand its message after watching it two or three times, “Passion” tells us of multiplicity and of love’s revolutionary destruction of sameness, speaking a stuttered language, a language “in between” or “apart”.

Again Deleuze: “‘And’ is neither one nor the other; it is always in between the two as their border; there is always a line of flight or flow, but it remains unseen because it is barely accesible to perception. It is on this line of flight that events will take form; it is here that the revolution will grow.” [2]

[1]Gilles Deleuze , Three Questions on “Six Times Two” (Godard) In: Negotations, translated by V.Yu Bystrov. Saint-Petersburg, “Nauka”, 2004. p. 64

[2]Gilles Deleuze, ibid., p. 64-5

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