Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Le Mépris and Authorship

Le Mépris is a good work to use as a test case for auteur theory (la politique des auteurs) and Astruc’s la caméra-stylo. Although it is not the only film directed by Godard with a literary source, it is the one that stays closest to its source material, a novel by Alberto Moravia (Il Disprezzo). Yet, it is hard for me to imagine anyone who has read the book, as I have, and seen the film to claim that the “author” of Le Mépris is Moravia. Il Disprezzo is a work by Moravia, and Le Mépris is a work by Godard. Here I would repeat the comment made by the ex-Surrealist poet Louis Aragon about the film at the time of its release: “I’ve seen [the] novel of today. At the cinema … It’s called Contempt, the novelist is someone named Godard” (qt. in Richard Brody, Everything is Cinema, p. 172). At the same time, what is fascinating is that while the author of the film is undoubtedly Godard, Godard himself acknowledges and explores his works relation to a whole series of other texts, including, of course, the novel upon which it is based. Is this because – as a postmodernist might say – there is no originality, everything has already been said, everything has already been done, et al.? I would say "no", and precisely because Le Mépris, for all its intertextual references, is original – and retains this originality nearly fifty years after its initial release. (The film's exploration of quotation and translation – of quotation as translation – is uniquely Godardian. This doesn't mean it can't be imitated, but the imitation remains precisely that: Godard without Godard.) Godard’s use of citation and allusion is not an acknowledgment that the expressive potential of art has been exhausted; instead, his citations and allusions affirm the enduring power of art, always waiting another chance to provoke, to excite, to disturb. As Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit observe, “Godard quotes inordinately in his films – through passages projected onto the screen, or through characters who recite bits of literary texts, or directly from books.” And this citational practice works to liberate the texts that he quotes, allowing them to remain in process or in movement. “By citationally picking at literature, he de-monumentalizes it, therefore resurrecting it from the death of finished being, and allows it to circulate – unfinished, always being made – within the open time of film” (Forms of Being, p. 65). Unfinished, always being made, open: all keys to Godard’s particular form of art. All characteristics that we can attribute to the author referred to as "Godard" – a figure who doesn't precede or transcend his art works but who emerges, comes into being, alongside them. (And, if any reminder is necessary, all characteristics described by Eco in "Poetics of the Open Work.")


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