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Godard: The Virtual and the Subject
Klaus Theweleit

Opening lecture at the Symposium 'Virtualität und Kontrolle' (Control and the Virtual) at the College of Fine Arts, Hamburg, Germany, November 3-8, 2008.

Go to the German transcription

The audio file of the lecture [mp3, 99 min, 51,4 MB]was transcribed and translated by Holly Dixon in co-operation with Detlev Fischer

Published here with permission by the author, Klaus Theweleit (Hamburg, Ü&G, 18. 01. 2010)

My well-known dissatisfaction with the concept of the "virtual" (or "virtuality") has less to do with the word itself than with the fact that, while the term may once have had a precise meaning, it seems to have lost some of that precision over time. I'll return to this point later on. I begin now with the question of "control" that has already come in for discussion today. What role does art play in the question of control? What's art got to do with all this? Why Godard? Why do I want to talk about Godard instead of about Deleuze? Why start with images/pictures rather than with philosophical considerations? And I note here that Deleuze and Godard have closely-related methods of thought and of work-as is amply documented elsewhere.

Godard's films Eloge de l'Amour [literally "Ode to Love", English title "In Praise of Love"] (2000) and Notre Musique ["Our Music"] (2004), like all of Godard's later works, are films about the relation of words to images, and the relation of words and images to actions, to acting "persons," "characters," or "subjects."

Let me start with a scene from Eloge de l'amour. Light streaming from automobile headlights, rainbows of refracted light on a rain-splattered windshield-all indicating oncoming traffic. Sitting behind the wheel of the car we don't see all these colors-we have to concentrate on the traffic. If we looked at the colors it might cause an accident. But that doesn't hold for the camera. The camera can gaze at the reflected colors and show us what we didn't suspect was there.

A dialogue is running beneath these images, one of the film's most important dialogues. But it has nothing to do with the images themselves


Let me first read you the text and then we'll take a look at the scene from the film:

A man and a woman are talking to each other.

You're not very talkative.
It's a difficult time for me. My lover and I just broke up. We had been together for ten years. You know, it's strange how things don't have a meaning until they're over.
Because History is coming in. With a big H.
First the fairy struck the frog with the her magic magic wand. Then, all of a sudden, it turned into a princess.
The preterit creates an image of the present.
Every question defiles a secret.
But the question itself is defiled by its answer. That's no coincidence.
What do you mean?
There's the servants' entrance and the front door. All of them enter the world's dwelling through the front door. We have to use the servants' entrance. Words.
Owing to our normal use of language, we assume that words represent ideas.
The human manufactures ideas. Man is an intrepid manufacturer of ideas.
Our present situation today comes from just that human capability, Madamoiselle.
One more thing [One more word]. Do you know the sentence from Augustine, "The measure of Love is to love beyond measure"?

Well, now we'll take a look at the film, in French with English subtitles.

. . . . . . . .

We don't see the speakers' faces during this dialogue-only one brief shot of the woman-but otherwise no faces at all. What, then, have we actually seen? In the dancing refracted colors from the headlights, in the red illumination of the image as the car enters a tunnel, we have seen nothing that we could specifically describe. Thinking only of the image, we could say that the camera is painting. The camera demonstrates that simply by registering certain reflections of light, it can paint images as well as the most versatile, abstract, tachistic painter. But the words of the dialogue are running along both behind the image and below it, as subtitles. The image thus conceals another message: namely, that words will play the lead role on the stage of history/of this story [Geschichte], leaving to people and images only the servants' entrance. If we could see the faces of the people speaking those words, the facial expressions, the individual movements of lips-then we would think that this was a very unnatural and contorted dialogue. The words would lose their character as an abstract meditation. They would change their meaning. The man who begins by saying, "My lover and I just broke up," would be referring to an actual lover, a human being. But as the dialogue develops there is no indication that he is speaking about an actual human being; no such human lover has appeared or will later appear in the film.

What develops in this dialogue is a reflection about words. Perhaps words are the lover from whom the man has just separated; perhaps his conversation partner understands this and answers him on this level, so that the sentence from Augustine quoted at the end of the dialogue would have nothing to do with the love between man and woman, but rather with the love of the image. This kind of love is without measure, or should be, according to Godard. Again and again Godard presents us with images of overwhelming beauty, as well as images that are stripped bare, reduced, dark. He creates montages of these images and words, has people reading sentences from literature or improvised, trivial sentences-his efforts always directed toward releasing the image from the control of words.

Both of these films are set against a kind of backdrop: the war in Bosnia in the mid-1990's. Godard dealt with this war for the first time in his film Histoire du Cinema ["History/Story of the Cinema"] from 1995ff. In the following I quote from a text that Godard himself speaks off-camera in the Histoire. (The text came out in German translation in 1999 from ECM-which usually only makes record labels-"Jean-Luc Godard: Histoire du Cinema, Texte" in four volumes. This is from Vol. 3.)

"So here is the situation," Godard says, over images that do NOT show the Bosnian war, "A nation/people is being murdered. Who in Europe is bearing witness to these events? Where is there one witness in the entire world? Do any governments see what's happening? No. We will educate the governments of Europe, we will teach them that crimes are in fact crimes, that from now on neither governments nor individuals will be allowed to be murderers; that right next door, under our very eyes, people are being massacred, towns burned and plundered, annihilated, fathers and mothers are being strangled, girls and boys are being sold, children too little to be sold are mowed down with one stroke of a saber, families are burned to death in their own homes.[Note 3 to Detlev.] We will educate the governments of Europe and teach them that pregnant women are being cut open so that their unborn children can be killed in the womb, that the very public squares are filled with piles of women's corpses showing signs of their bellies having been cut open, that dogs in the streets are eating the brains of girls who had been raped and then killed, that all of this is abominable, that it would take only one single gesture from the governments of Europe to put an end to all of this; and that the barbarians who are committing these atrocities are monsters, and that the "civilizations" that stand by and permit these atrocities-in other words, the states of Europe, we ourselves-are horrifying. The governments will say this is all exaggerated. Yes, it is exaggerated. The city of Balak was wiped out not in a few hours, but rather in a few days. There is talk of 200 villages burned to the ground, but the number was "only" 99. Not every single woman has been raped, not every single girl has been sold. Some got away.

"To speak in this way simply amplifies the horror: using mollifying phrases only makes the situation worse. This is casuistry in the service of barbarism. We want to call things by their proper names. Murdering a man in a forest-whether it is the forest near Vendib or the Black Forest-is a crime. Murdering an entire nation in that other forest, the forest we call "diplomacy" is an even greater crime. That's all. To kill a person is a crime, to kill a nation is a problem."

French une question-to murder a nation is merely a question.

That was from the text about the Bosnian war in the Histoire du Cinema.

Now let's take a look at the first part of Notre Musique. Here Godard aims to convey in images and music what he had earlier expressed using words. The title of this section, "Inferno" refers to Dante's Divina Commedia. All three parts of the film-the third part is called "Paradiso"- are not so much citations as ongoing evocations of Dante. We will return to this point.

Now, the first part of Notre Musique:

. . . . . . . .

That is the first part of Notre Musique, called "Hell" or "Inferno." As you will have noticed, the montage in this introductory part makes no distinction between fiction and reality. Images from the Yugoslavian wars of disaggregation in the 1990's appear among images from World War II, concentration camp images, images of torture, and also images from films, from Eisenstein through Billy Wilder to John Ford. They are mixed together in a collage that also includes paintings by various artists, and images from contemporary wars: Africa, Sarajevo. These montaged images demonstrate that there is indeed no difference, on the level of the image itself, between so-called fictional accounts of war and so-called realities of war.

Then, among the whirling images of war there appears one fleeting picture of a pretty TV reporter holding a microphone and reporting about some event in the war. The image disappears so quickly that we do not learn what event she is reporting on. It's hardly one second long. But it's long enough to show us how inappropriate her appearance is, her existence, her outfit, her high-fashion hairdo, the audacity of her costume, her casual attitude toward the events she is reporting. This one shot burns into our mind's eye the fundamental incommensurability of the work of TV people, the caste of professional reporters and announcers. As if the message is being laser-etched into our brains: "You are professional annihilators of reality." Godard doesn't need to have a word uttered, the montaged images deliver the message. The montage shows that images from actual wars and war pictures from films neither detract from one another nor enhance one another. The two types of images are equally horrifying. They are-horror itself. And so the image of the woman reporter comes to us from a sphere of total irreality: the irreality of that last supper we consume daily on TV. Godard refuses to forget the Bosnian war of the mid-1990's, Europe's present-day original sin.

Our lethal power to erase is a central theme in Notre Musique.

The next section of Notre Musique is set in today's Sarajevo. A voice asks the central librarian whether he thinks that writers actually know what they are writing about. He answers, "No." No, writers do not know what they write about. Homer was blind and withdrawn, he didn't know war, he had no idea what a battlefield was like.

Godard presents a fictional symposium taking place in Sarajevo. Among others, Palestinians and Israelis have been invited to the symposium. They include the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwisch and the Israeli journalist and student "Olga." A real writer and a fictional Israeli journalist, played by an actress. Let's now take a look at the scene from the film in which the Palestinian author speaks with the Israeli woman:

. . . . . . . .

Godard and Darwisch-by the way, Darwisch died recently-together superimpose the relation Greeks-Trojans over the relation Israeli-Palestinians. They begin with the question whether poetry is a sign-system or an instrument of power. Does a nation that has many great poets have the right to destroy-the subtitle says "to control"- another nation that has no poets? Homer has been preserved and handed down to us, but we have no songs from the Trojans. If the Trojans even had songs. A nation that has no poets is a defeated nation. Troy is vanquished. The Palestinian poet says that without Israel nobody would be interested in the Palestinians. "Yes, we are your Propaganda Ministry," says the Israeli journalist, suggesting-but not actually verbalizing-a parallel between Israel's position and that of Goebbels.

In any case, Olga loves to speak in riddles. Language, words, seem never to say, or only to say, what they simply say. Olga expresses it with the statement, "If somebody has understood me, then I haven't been clear." Karl Kraus had clearly recognized this problem with language: that verbal clarity, clarity in the sense of understandability, always borders on stupidity. His statement regarding the Censor under the Habsburg monarchy, "Any satire that the Censor can understand deserves to be suppressed," has been with me since my student days. It's a warning that lets us know that understandability itself is a form of censorship, censoring away the complexity of things, radically.

By contrast, Godard amplifies complexity. He adds yet another layer to the complex Troy-Palestine-Israel-the murder of the Bosnian population: the new layer is the annihilation of the American Indians. Indians in full costume appear without warning in the library of Sarajevo (which has been housed in a half-bombed-out thermae). The Indians declaim the text of a historical declaration concerning their circumstances. Their lament over their own elimination becomes the Bosnians' lament over the destruction of the Bosnian people.

So we have multiple layers. How do they become image in the film? Godard has in mind the famous stone arched bridge over the Neretwa River in Mostar, as the symbol of all the destruction in the Bosnian wars. He sends Olga on a photo-taking trip to Mostar. As she takes pictures of the new bridge, a steel construction, the Indians suddenly reappear in the image.

. . . . . .

With this last text spoken off camera, telling Olga's dream-does he show her face? I believe, if I saw it correctly-that Godard is here trying to demonstrate, the lack of depth-of-field of the DVD camera, then she advances, and only then does her face come into view. The background remains dreamlike, invisible, un-imaged. Godard, by sticking a couple of his actors in Indian costumes and having them pose for photos in Mostar in front of the famous bridge, once again employs the technique of giving equal weight to so-called realities and so-called fictions. These Indians may as well be clad in Winnetou garb. The new bridge, by the way, has been rebuilt under EU management by Hans Koschnik of Bremen, who, as we know, resigned from his position as EU Commissioner, I believe because of the EU's failure to support the peace process in Mostar.

In the film Godard himself delivers a lecture concerning how the real and the fictional are to be treated. He appears as a guest lecturer at the symposium in Sarajevo, addressing a group of film students. For the most part we see him only from behind. Let's now see his lecture:

. . . . . .

Someone ventures a question: Perhaps the cinema can be rescued by the small hand-held digital camera? Godard's face, filmed in semi-darkness-by a digital camera-answers the question with a long, black silence. As early as 1936 Celine wrote that the textual field had overpowered the visual field. In an interview from 1980 Godard says that the cinema is in the position of Euridice and literature is in the position of Orpheus. Orpheus turns around (on the steps of Hades) and with that he sends Euridice back to the underworld. Then he goes on to make a bundle singing songs that tell the story of her death. Godard thought that literature was like Orpheus, it had captured cinema and was now exploiting it. But by 2004 this is no longer Godard's view. His earlier certainty that the image is superior has since collapsed. In Eloge de l'amour we hear that, "Images no longer show anything." [46:27] And here in Notre Musique he will use a thread from an argument between two physicists to show that a phantasy is realer than Hamlet's castle: in the physicists' discussion about Hamlet's castle, the castle itself evokes no interest until the name "Hamlet" is attached to it. Simply "Castle Elsinore" says nothing. "Uncertainty." (By the way, Godard here cuts in the image of a different castle, which I believe is "Schloss Vogelöd" from a German film by Murnau from the 1920's.)

And the people in this film are never simply people.

At the end of Notre Musique an off-camera voice says, "It was a cool day and very clear. You could see a long way. But not as far as Olga had gone." The same Olga who is making a DVD film of the symposium, within the film set in Sarajevo. "You could see a long way, but not as far as Olga had gone." Olga? Olga? No. In the original it's "Velma." These are the final sentences of what might be Raymond Chandler's best detective novel, Farewell, My Lovely. "My Velma"-through the whole book she's been pursued by Moose Malloy, pig-headed criminal, over 6 ft. tall and not quite as broad as a beer truck, pursued until they both meet a bitter end. Velma, played by Charlotte Rampling in Dick Richard's film, with Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe. In our film, though, we don't hear Philip Marlowe's voice. Instead we hear the voice of Jean Luc Godard. Godard ends his film Notre Musique from 2004 with the final sentences from Farewell, My Lovely. Chandler's Velma is an attractive, highly efficient criminal, married to a half-witted judge whom she cheats on. Godard's Olga is an Israeli student who is recording a fictional symposium in Sarajevo using her digital camera. A symposium on the relationship between words and images.

Later on, back at his home on Lake Geneva, Godard learns from a telephone call that Olga is dead. The interpreter from the conference phones to report that Olga had been in a movie theater in Jerusalem, threatening to blow the place up. The subtitles tell us, "She said if there was one Israeli who'd die with her for peace, she'd be happy." Then she waited for the theater to clear. But no one stayed with her. Not a single person. Then the security guards came in and shot her. She had nothing but books in her big red knapsack, no bombs, as Godard learns on the telephone. So it was a fake act of terrorism. Olga pays for her attempt to find one Israeli willing to die for peace- pays with her own death. Film noir. "It was a cool, clear day. You could see a long way, but not as far as Olga had gone."

In his 1990 film Nouvelle Vague Godard had given the name "Terry Lennox" to the main figure, played by Alain Delon, who suddenly appears in the film out of nowhere. That is the name of the main character in another Chandler novel, The Long Goodbye. The film Nouvelle Vague centers on this question: Which of the two lovers is going to throw the other one into the water to drown, and will s/he give the other one a hand and save him/her, or not? Not to help is to turn the event into a final "Goodbye."

We thus find Godard's entire film production from 1990 through 2004-a period during which he repeatedly examines the possibility of his own departure from the cinema-framed between two well-known quotes from Raymond Chandler. Godard's film noir: the film about the impending demise of the cinema and the film about the impending demise of European civilization as it dithers and tolerates the obliteration of Saravejo and Mostar. Film noir, permanent, today.

Layers: Olga-Sarajevo-Jerusalem, Chandler-Alain Delon-Terrry Lennox-resurrection of the dead-French detective novels-but no characters develop, no subjects. In Nouvelle Vague (1990), the film that ushers in the latest phase in Godard's production, Godard uses the actor Alain Delon, whose interesting, unshaven face pervades the entire film without ever having to register comprehension of a single sentence he utters. An example: "What are you doing here?" "I'm eliciting sympathy."

At another point in the same film a voice rises above the noise of other voices--composed as if in an opera quartett--and utters the statement, "Now at last we should know what an Image is, for we have so many films in our briefcase." Yes, we have a lot of films, books, faces, names and events in our briefcase. But we still don't know what an image is, in relation to words, to lines spoken by actors, to quotations from literature, to words that appear between pictures as "inserts."

Eloge de l'amour (2000) begins with a young woman, her face in close-up, who says (I'll just paraphrase here), "You unemployed people, start to think!" Then she narrates an episode which is actually chronologically out-of-phase with her young face, an event from the historical past. It's the story of someone else's experience, the experience of a different, earlier woman. "Then I sewed a yellow star on my sleeve." This woman did this out of solidarity with her lover, she herself was not Jewish. The episode took place during the German occupation in 1942; the German soldiers told her, "You want to experience the Fascists? That can be arranged," and beat her up. The young woman ends her story saying, "What a time!" Cut. Black screen. The image changes, the young woman remains only as an off-screen voice. A masculine voice asks, "If you could choose between movies and theater, novels or opera, which would you choose?" Her voice hesitates, then answers, "Probably the novel." Now the image shows us a young man paging through a book. The book is inclined toward the camera, so that we can see that all its pages are white. The young man is reading a novel with blank pages. These pages will be filled in by the film until finally, at the end of the film, the same question will elicit a different answer.

After this initial exposition of questions about the rivalry between genres and media, and how that rivalry relates to our access to history, there now follows a second exposition. We again see a woman's face and again it's a frontal view in close-up, while a voice off screen informs us that this film-whose title promises a celebration of Love-is going to treat the his/story of three couples: a young couple, an adult couple and an old couple. At the same time film will develop the four "moments" of Love. We ask ourselves what those four moments are. The voice lists them: the Meeting, Physical love, Separation, and Reunion. We register with some surprise that this film, which purportedly celebrates Love, considers "Separation" to be one of the four elements of Love. Separation, though, as a pre-condition for Reunion. The woman's face on the screen delivers a disquisition on the various ages of life. We learn that everyone who wants to change, who wants to continue growing in any way, will have to separate from his or her Ego/Subject and leave it behind as that which s/he no longer is. But instead of doing that, when people grow old, they deny Time because they fear that Time will annihilate them; instead of Time they install certain Memories in their interior selves, and the thought secretly grows within them that they have fundamentally always been the same and have not changed at all.

In the film there is a group of men who are in the art business (insurance agents, art appraisers, lawyers, art historians and so on) who are engaged in the task of finding artworks that had been stolen from Jews during World War II, and restoring the artworks to their former owners. Question: Who legally owns what? Now, that question recalls one of the central definitions of the Subject as understood in the Western tradition: "I own/I possess, therefore I am." The Subject is defined in legal-economic terms, as mediated through its possessions: "I own, therefore I am." The group of men in the film also authenticate the artworks. So we have lawyers and art experts, two professions whose function serves to bestow identity upon bourgeois culture. Identity, meaning, "I have rights, therefore I am." "I own-Art-therefore I am." Or, in our film, "I owned Art, but I am a Jew, therefore I am disenfranchised, persecuted and in many cases I am the victim of murder. I demand my pictures back. No. . .I have descendants, they demand the pictures. . . ." The underlying question is: To whom does Art belong? The screen images show us none of the claimants, only the group of men who are involved with restoring the pictures to the claimants. They in turn discuss the current, unlawful owners of the pictures: private individuals, collections, corporations and museums. "They're all thieves, even the Louvre. With one difference-that the Director of the Louvre claims not only to be the owner of the Winged Victory but moreover also to be its creator, alongside Phidias." Which brings us to a nice basis for the identity of the Subject: "I steal, therefore I am." And as the director of a museum, I am not only Owner, but also Creator. "I have ('liberated') Art, therefore I am (Artist)."

One member of this group, a young man named Edgar-might we find Edgar Degas among his ancestors?-has a Project. He wants to make a film about the various Ages of Mankind. He's doing the casting for this film, looking for the right actors. All of the various figures who appear in this film show up in the context of "casting." Which woman is best suited to which role, and why or why not? We see a young woman wearing a hat and collar as if from a 17th century Dutch painting, and then we see her again without her costume, just head, hair and face. It is the face of Youth. She is young, she is pretty. But more than this, she is Youth itself: she is to play the role of Eglantine, Perceval's young beloved, a figure from history, from literature.

But the film has a problem with the Age of Mankind that follows Youth. "A young person is a young person, an old person is an old person, but what is someone in between? What is an adult? Someone has said that there are no adults, none at all." Sentences like this are sometimes spoken by a person who appears in the image, in other words they can be attributed to this or that person, and sometimes they are spoken by an off-screen voice. The camera does not follow the persons speaking. A figure may exit the image, but the camera stays focused on its own chosen space. The person who continues to speak after moving off screen can still be considered to be that person, or can become a disembodied off-screen voice, like a narrator, a commentator, or someone engaged in reflections. The result is that persons in the sense of "characters" do not come about in this film.

The film develops a certain discourse, actually several discourses, on Love, Youth, Age, Politics, the history of World War II, the theft of Art, the authenticity of paintings, "casting", the refusal to play certain roles. For example, Edgar is debating with others about an actress who may be right for a role in his film. A voice raises the objection, "She acted in that TV series-not a good sign," We hear a response, "But she refused to say certain lines, so she was fired. Maybe she's right for us." A woman whom Edgar wants for his project, turns down his offer with the remark, "I've seen too many people from your line of work." She steadfastly refuses his attempts to persuade her. Almost tangentially we learn that her parents had committed double-suicide in Amsterdam, three years prior to 1968. There are people in Amsterdam who will help you do a thing like that. This woman is a single mother with a three-year-old son. She takes odd day jobs to support herself and her child. Edgar, "the Man with the Project," seeks her out in a train depot cleaning train cars. It's early morning, it's dark. Her face hardly emerges from the surrounding darkness.

For the most part the figures speak with their backs to the camera. In the entire film not one dialog is rendered with shot-reverse shot. Moreover, most of the sentences spoken in this film are repeated, spoken twice. Almost all of the sentences we hear at the beginning of the film, we hear spoken again at the end of the film, but now by different people or voices and with completely different images. This feature reveals itself as one of the themes of the film: the dissociation of images from texts. And the Man with the Project is not really seeking an actress: he says that he would rather have Simone Weil or Hannah Arendt. Their faces appear on the screen. These are particular faces for particular historical gestures that cannot be mimed by any actor. (I am reminded of Moritz Bleibtrau trying to mime Andreas Baader in hiding.) What is a face? Unclear. . .

In the middle of Eloge de l'amour we hear, "We'll never know precisely what a thought consists of." There is a quote from Bergson, and possibly also one from Charles Pedie, that Godard often uses. "We can only think of something by thinking of something else. So, when we see a landscape we can't order it-we can't think it, until we compare it with another landscape that we have already seen." The images accompanying these words are of water, a river flowing through a town, on the walled banks of the river we recognize early modern architecture. These images recall not landscapes, but rather other architectural styles that we automatically relate to the early modern architecture we are looking at. Later in the film we will hear the same thoughts again, with yet another image as accompaniment. None of these several images can be said to "illustrate" any aspect of the spoken sentences.

Godard was already practicing this technique in his film Protect Your Rights from 1986. That film begins with a telephone call. The Idiot-that is, the Director-is told that they will pardon him if he starts his film right away, gets it finished and delivers it to the studio by this evening. Nothing else will get him pardoned. We don't find out what his crime was, but it must have something to do with the general crime of making a film. The images here don't show us people talking on the telephone, they show us a forest landscape. The texts in Protect Your Rights are taken almost exclusively from literature, and almost never "correspond" with the montage of images on screen. There is not a single image in this film that complements or illustrates the spoken texts, at least, not at first glance. Like all of Godard's later films, you have to see this one several times before you catch on to the fact that we are getting a very sophisticated presentation of how to make a reasonable, responsible film "of" literature. You provide the words with a stream of independent images. For example, you show different modes of transportation, cars, airplanes, trains, different forms and rates of motion, to comment on or complement certain statements from books. Godard himself stumbles through this film as "the Idiot"-the film maker-seesawing between Dostoevsky's figure, on the one hand, and the hapless nut who goes around to the studios carrying rolls of exposed film in his arms, trying to sell his films to the studios, on the other. Somewhere in there we hear the statement, "The hardest thing about making a movie is shlepping around all the rolls of film."

Finally, by creating a deliberate disjunction between the flow of words and the flow of images, the film takes broad aim at so-called "movie versions" of literature, those stupid "translations" of novels into dialogues spoken by "persons who act" on TV or in the theater. Godard's film unfolds as the sharpest and cleverest critique of such film-novels, especially of the process of making films according to so-called "scripts" that are constructed around the actions of "characters." Such "scripts" are no more than the junk you have to submit to the state Film Finance Office in order to get money to make your film. I recently saw an advertisement sent out by The Film Office in Baden-Würtemberg; they are promoting their current annual "Script Camp" with an ad stating that "Films begin with Writing." By "writing" they mean "scripts" that set down stories; each story then supplies the "persons" and the officially-approved dialogues needed in order to begin shooting the film. Later on the offices that awarded the money can verify whether or not this particular script is the one that was actually filmed.

Godard, by contrast, says that yes, films might begin with texts, with books, with literature, but not with texts that are then illustrated by images, for the texts want and are able to say something fundamentally different from the image. And film-making exists for the purpose of showing, of elaborating, this very difference and the potential cross-fertilization that such difference enables. This is the task that Godard has set for all of his films from at least 1990 onward; and since 1990 not one Godard film has been shown in German movie theaters.

The more recent films, Eloge de l'amour and Notre Musique carry on and refine this project. They are all concerned with the relation of Word and Image, of the thinking mind and the thought processes that can be depicted. In Histoire du Cinema Godard remarks that the cinema was invented for Thinking. That seems to have been forgotten.

Word, Image, Thought. Again and again what we see in Godard's movies are images that can't be seen with the eyes. The woman cleaning train cars in the semi-darkness isn't simply cleaning train cars: as the camera runs along the outsides of the parked train cars, she is also wiping away memories of the Schoah. We see, as it were, that cleaning train cars still means washing away blood. We "see" it, even though Godard provides not a single historical image on the screen. In Eloge de l'amour, we never see historical images on screen when we hear words spoken about the historical past (except for a few old pictures of Paris, one of which includes a poster of DeGaulle). All of the images are contemporary.

The film has one remarkable feature: halfway through it changes from black-and-white to color. The black-and-white part of the film encompasses the World War II history, the persecution of the Jews, the story of the film "casting;" this part is set in the present-day but speaks of the past. While the part of the film that's in color is also set in the present, but actually plays in a "hyper-present." Quote: "The Americans are everywhere." We heard this statement in the first part of the film, now it is repeated. The Man with the Project is not making a "love story," this won't be a Julia Roberts-type film, where her name is Frenchified when spoken by actors playing Frenchmen ("Julia Robair").

Here in the color part of this film the Americans appear in the figure of two agents sent to France by Steven Spielberg Studios to shop for material for a film about the French Resistance. This brings us to the film's Old Couple, the third Age of Mankind.

Up to this point we had only seen the Old Ones as figures wrapped up in a blanket on a park bench or lying in the entryway to a bank. In the first part of the film an Old Man, whose personality is not revealed to us, is standing in a glass-and-steel office being questioned by a young man (the Man with the Project). Responding to the young man's questions, the Old Man sums up his current existence with the words, "I ask myself if my cigarette will last until this evening. I ask myself if my shoelaces will hold up till tomorrow. I ask myself if my breath will hold out till next week." We see his old, run-down shape only in silhouette, his face hardly at all. The Man with the Project turns his back to the Old Man.

Now to the colorful Americans and the Old Couple from the Resistance. The couple, named Bayard, had founded a resistance group called "Tristan and Isolde" in 1941. "Tristan and Isolde" will also be the name of the Spielberg film. This second half of the film is not simply in full technicolor: it has been digitally colorized. The blue of the sea and the blue waves are computer-generated colors, we see "hyperblue." All of the images in this part of the film seem painted, but not painted with a brush. Painted instead with colors from the most up-to-date digital technology: "media-colors."

The film now develops the question: Do Americans have history? The answer, given on many levels, is "No." Americans have no history, they have no past. Not the North, not Mexico, not Brazil. That's why they buy hi/stories. Their machines are the only things that have a memory, their image machines. They buy images and hi/stories. But the images they buy no longer say anything. Piles and piles of talking images that show nothing. The film asks the question: How long has this been the case?

Here is how that question looks in the film:

. . . . . . .

Yes, she says, images can only be images in controlled systems. Images were the only thing that could deny Nothingness, but now Nothingness turns its gaze back on us. On us, it gazes on us. When did the gaze turn? asks an off-camera voice. 5 years ago? 10? 50? What caused it? The predominance of television? Predominance over what? Over life itself? The questions get no answers. Once images had to do with truth. Is that still the case today? We hear the sentence, "It could be that the truth is sad." And Uncle Max-that is, Max Ophuls-is quoted as saying, "Happiness is never cheerful."

It's the same with l'amour in this film. Couples come forward, as promised at the beginning of the film, but the film presents no love stories between these pairs. This film is concerned with that other kind of Love. I suggest it is the Love of the Image.

Early in his film career Godard had toyed with Flaubert's formulation that the novellist seeks the "right word, le mot juste," by changing mot to image and then reversing the terms: une image juste - juste une image. Flaubert: "Une image juste." Godard: "Juste une image," simply a picture. Instead of "precisely the right image," now we have "precisely just the image." There is no such thing as "the right image." Instead there are many possible ways to produce something right by working with "simply an image."

A little later we hear that nothing is more opposed to Love than the image of the state. We hear that a young German girl, a Catholic, wrote in 1941, "The individual wants to be two. The state wants to be single/one." They beheaded her. Here we have another instance of the homage Godard pays to Sophie Scholl in his more recent films. In homage to her Godard tells us that there are also evil images, images of the state. In Eloge de l'amour an image is supplied to an episode in Kosovo. We learn there that there is a lecture being held in the House of Words, a lecture by an American, Mark Hunter. Shortly thereafter we hear an American voice off-screen, speaking to us calmly about the atrocities committed by Serbs in Kosovo. The on-screen image shows us the figure of a woman, alone, lying on her right side, on her right hand, there is a ring on her finger. Text: "The Albanian Kosovars in their houses knew that the Serbs would carry out vengeance against them, as soon as Nato began bombing Belgrade." The American voice tells how Radio Belgrade authorized that vengeance. The voice relates a story from a twelve-year-old girl who had to watch as thirteen people were butchered in front of her eyes, her parents among them. An Albanian voice now adds that this was the first time in their history that Albanian Kosovars had committed crimes like that against Serbs. This voice belongs to the editor of the Albanian newspaper Pristina. His picture appears briefly on screen. Mark Hunter, the man giving the lecture, is never pictured. Nor do we see any documentary footage from Kosovo. Only the woman, lying on her side. In the film's credits we do find the name "Mark Hunter," so we know it is his voice that we have heard. He actually did give that lecture in Paris. The massacre itself is left to us to imagine. Hunter's calm, penetrating voice suggests that he is telling us the truth.

The images that the Spielberg team wants to make of the Old Couple from the Resistance are not images of the state. They are images of a dictatorship. Images of untruth. Here's how Godard presents Spielberg and Associates:

. . . . . . .

In the previous scene Spielberg's agent had arrived with his chic secretary in a super-high-fashion Lotus sports car. "O," says an admiring passer-by, "I guess you know who invented this car? Colin Chapman." "So what?" snaps the secretary, and stalks out of the scene. Her contemptuous silence says it couldn't matter less to her. Who the hell cares who invented the car? I drive it. And you, asshole, know it, and you're not who's driving the car. This is the American mode of existence: the triumphant moment. Godard can only show these figures in parody. He also indulges in a joke about the Bretons' love for America. We see two little girls, 12 or 13 years old, costumed in Breton folk dress as "pop hat" girls. They're taking around a petition and collecting signatures. A petition for what? They want a version of Matrix dubbed in the Breton dialect. They are the Americanized youth. America is everywhere. It's even in the heads of little girls wearing the traditional Breton dress.

This film that the Spielberg people want to make, has actually been made already, on the sly, so to speak, by Godard himself. We learn that the Old Man has to sell Hollywood the rights to his story because his hotel is in financial trouble; that the story interests Hollywood because it's the story of a double-agent and a betrayal that was somehow ordered and carried out. The cover of a book with the name Peter Cheyney. It's in keeping with the idea of treason that the Old Man looks almost exactly like the elderly Ezra Pound. Of the Old Woman in this pair we learn that mentally she is still living at the time of the Resistance. She has undeniably aged, but the Resistance has remained young. It is now embodied in her young, spirited granddaughter, who has embarrassed the Americans from Hollywood by pointing out that they don't even have a name for their own nationality.

The young granddaughter of the Old Couple has apparently learned other things about movies. She reads to her grandmother from a textbook on film making, Robert Bresson's Notes on the Cinematogapher. One statement says, "Anything that can be expressed through silence and through things, should be expressed through silence and through things." That is, through images without words, by using light, lumiére, the word [light], the name [ Auguste Lumiére] that Godard never ceases to evoke.

We ought to know what an image is because we have so many films in our briefcase. The sentence is more than ironic; it is to the utmost degree a self-irony, recklessly open-ended. "The time of sentences is over," it says at one point in Eloge de l'amour, "but the time of Love is not." So, what is Love? It has to do with images, but there is no such thing as the right image. Godard, having reached the age of almost 80 and having devoted a lifetime to working with film, isn't afraid to admit to himself that he still doesn't know for sure what an image is. He feels that he knows something about what is lacking in words: what's missing is framed in the discursive dominance that words claim, the main entrance into the dwelling of the world. When the Man with a Project, the young Adult, is asked if he has given up his ideas of working in the theater he says, "Yes. All they do there is yell." Words on the stage are "yelled," they don't lead to images.

Between all the layers Godard has strewn something like "particles of reality." For example, the French embassy in Sarajevo. What actually happens in an embassy? Receptions. Champagen flutes. We see a group of people toasting each other. Then we see a mini-dance, a discreet indication of the sexual by-products of embassy receptions. Then the young Israeli journalist draws the Ambassador aside. She reveals to him that she is alive solely because he, now the Ambassador, had hidden her father from the Nazis in 1942 in Lyon. The Ambassador, however, had decided not to accept the honorary title, "Just Man of the People." To help someone who is being hounded by terror is a prerequisite for being human, he explains, it's not something you get a medal for. The Ambassador is an admirer of Hannah Arendt's writings. A portrait photo of her hangs on the wall of his office. Looking at her face he smiles and quotes a remark from her friend Scholem, "She looks like twelve synagogues." I for one will never be able to see Arendt's face again without recalling this remark. It is so appropriate for her Jewishness, which has nothing to do with synagogues, but precisely because of that is so memorable.

No face is that memorably attached to any figure, or any person in Eloge de l'amour. In Godard's earlier film Allemagne Neuf Zero [Germany 9-0], face and figure still adhered to one another in the figure of Eddy Constantine. But the later films no longer have such figures, no more such characters. The later films strive for images that still show something.

So the difference between the virtual and the real doesn't exist for Godard. He's no longer concerned whether the spoken words emanate from the mouth of a person or from off-camera. It doesn't make any difference. Words try to overpower things and images, but at the same time they are the starting point of thoughts, perceptions, ideas. The Italian cinema, according to Godard, rose to such heights because, "the language of Ovid and Virgil, of Dante and Leopardi went into the makeup of their images." (He added this remark while observing that the Italian film directors recorded their sound tracks separately from the visuals.)

Images, which once had the power to resist the attempts of words to overwhelm them, have lost their strength. Perhaps because of the plethora of empty and inane images on television, but also in daily life itself (as suggested by the dark screen). What interests the youth? Matrix dubbed into the local dialect, Plattdutsch, whatever.

All these movies, Hollywood script-based movies, lie about current history, about the condition of European civilization in light of its passivity regarding the Bosnian massacres, the reality of which cannot be approached except by following the path through Homer, through Dante, through the works of art stolen from the Jews in World War II, by following the path through the conflict of Israel and Palestine, the path through the writings and the faces like the face of Hannah Arendt.

The final part of Notre Musique brings home the film's relation to Dante; this part is entitled "Paradiso." We see Olga in the next world, walking along the edge of a stream. The entrance to this Paradise is guarded by armed US Marines who stand around fishing. At the same time Godard is at home, receiving the report of Olga's death while he tends his flowers. The flowers that are both his own garden and Olga's funeral flowers. Everything is more than merely its surface. Everything is thought and seen from at least two points of view simultaneously. In the Histoire du Cinema we hear, "Perspective was the original sin of Western painting. Niepce and Lumiére were its redeemers." In other words, they redeemed Art from the Subject, which perspective had put at the center point of its view out over the world, as the vanishing point in its conquest of the world.

Godard's films are demonstrations of what we might call "unsubjective", "non-perspectival" seeing; they represent an attempt to dissolve the dominance of perspective at the end of all this technological development. Of this new way of seeing we can say that the line between fiction and reality decisively falls away, for it was only underwritten by perspective itself. It seems clear to me that there is no difference between the virtual and the real, certainly not at the level of images.

Thank you.

Last update: 18 April 2010 | Impressum—Imprint