Thursday, December 1, 2011

Godard - an Untimely Artist, Post- History

I found Eloge de l’amour to be an elegiac mediation on the ethics of memory, forgetting and remembrance. As other critics have pointed out Godard can be said to be speaking through the figure of Edgar who is in the process of making a film (or a novel, play or opera.) If Edgar is looking for what is essential about attaining adulthood, a phase of life intertwined with questions about ones life’s work or labor, in my understanding so is Godard. He too is looking for what the subject of this film ought to be. Despite his advanced years Godard does not completely identify with the luxury of just being - that only the very old and the very young have - and engages with his role as a filmmaker and maker of images. Also, while criticising the power of American media to occupy our collective subconscious, he seems to be also questioning the responsibility of an artistic producer and emphasising the need to reconstruct memory ethically. He is critical of the capitalist impulse that wants to consume everything around it, only to turn it into a fast paced, erotic thriller that one can posses.

Even while Godard rejects a linear narrative, I did find the film very tangibly beautiful. The ‘constructed’ images of the present day in their very self-consciously rich black and white tones seem more elusive that the whimsical colors of the past, that are super saturated with an excess of emotion/feeling. This aestheticism could be read as a rejection of the post modern flux of imagery, by fixing the camera on old people and young- Godard seems to be evoking the timelessness of people’s faces, that are looked upon directly- with a fierce, frank, unerring gaze. But then again, so much of the film is also about the elusive, temporal subject, the present is always shadowed and given depth by memory- be it through statements that evoke the difficulty of thinking about a singular object, or dialogues that thwart our involvement with the philosophical statements expressed by characters-  "Every thought should recall a capsized smile," says a woman enigmatically, before adding, "I just made it up."

How does one reconcile this seeming dichotomy- is the film about timelessness and the present or a call to embrace the past? Is it the creation of a reactionary, obtuse filmmaker past his prime- or is it a relevant treatise on our present times? I believe that a better understanding lies in seeing Godard as an ‘Untimely’ artist- an idea discussed by both Nietzsche and Deleuze - to refer to artists who remain relevant in the present day, only by confronting it continuously. In, ‘Deleuze and Guattari: Deleuze’ by Gary Genosko he says reflecting Deleuze’s opinion “But the truly great authors are the minor ones, the untimely ones, It is the minor artist that offers the true masterpieces: the minor artist does not interpret his times; mankind does not have a specific time, time depends on mankind”.

While one may argue on how ‘minor’ or ‘major’ Godard’s contribution to cinema is- the spirit of this idea of engaging with "minority" remains valuable. In 'Superpositions', Deleuze further analyzes this, in relation to theatre artist Carmelo Bene’s work, by focusing on his interest in the a-temporal, an interest not in landmark beginnings or decisive finales but in the durational events, the in-between. For Deleuze and for Godard what is of most interest lies in becoming, movement, in the is this space, that is not future or the past, but the site of becoming outside time that is exemplified in a film like Elouge de l’amour. It is in this sense then that Douglas Morrey’s analysis of Elouge de l’amour, in 'Jean Luc-Godard', being a post-Historie(s) du Cinema creation becomes most apparent. As Morrey says, In this film then Godard is questioning the historicizing impulse, and seeking to shake of the burden of the past. Seen through the lens of Deleuze’s then, Godard’s Eloge de l’amour reveals an “Untimely approach” of a craftsman towards his craft. It offers a lesson to other authors on how to create a work that “ [becomes] against history, lives against culture, thoughts against doctrine … disgraces against dogma.” Eloge de l’amour, seen thus, seems less a nostalgic meditation of a filmmaker who desires to go back to the purity of the past and more an essay of a cultural producer passionately engaged with the changing times and today.

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