Monday, November 29, 2010

Féminin masculin

With Godard’s emphasis on the exchange value in/of capitalism as colonizing (most often, although not exclusively) the female body, contemplations of prostitution, trade, manual labor and misogyny abound.  We have discussed this from Vivre sa vie (1962) to 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle (1966) to Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1979).  The dialogue or narration in these films highlight the trajectory of influences from Brechtian distanciation with Nana to Rouchian ethnography with Juliette to the internal thoughts of Isabelle as externalizes her focus while her body is in the act of a sexual-barter.  

Vivre sa vie

2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle

Sauve qui peut (la vie)

Morrey discusses Debord’s argument of the effacement of freedom by the “alibi” of choice in consumer capitalism.  I want to take this level of prostitution, labor and capitalist choice into another colonization of the body and look at the labor of war on the male body (although we now have many women in the armed forces, for the sake of this argument I will focus on the male war-body as juxtaposed to Godard’s female sex-body).  While Godard focuses on prostitution as a choice/non-choice within a capitalist system, it is important to acknowledge that prostitution is a profession that retains a long history (it did not birth from capitalism).  Likewise, the soldier is a profession with a history of ideals including protection, honor and sacrifice that are aligned with and by the body as implemented through national identity (other than mercenaries who also retain a long historical practice).  The dilemma with the contemporary global market economy is that the retained national allegiance of the soldier is problematized as countries negotiate new trades and alliances.  We all know these issues of war and legitimacy…I need not elaborate especially in this time regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, especially in this time of the US’s global influence. 

On the subject of “choice” and the soldier, many (although certainly not all) of our warriors are young and basically educated (high school) prior to their enlistment.  Many of them have limited employment/educational choices.  Indeed, my father enlisted with the Navy when he was 18.  At the time he could chose to join the Navy with the possibility of educational compensation after his initial service, or he could chose to stay in Illinois and work at the steel mill on the Mississippi River.  For my father, joining the Navy meant an education and employment.  I guess what I am trying to express is: what is the essential difference between representations of those working in the trade of sex and the trade of killing?  I’m not trying to negate one over the other- these are choices.  Choices based on survival.  However, the choice of the prostitute is often negative and the choice of the killer is valorized as the protector.  What Godard chooses to do is “represent” the prostitute (more often) as opposed to the warrior.  This in and of itself drastically juxtaposes his work to other (traditional/normal/safe) cinematic protagonists or the Hollywood system, for example.  Although, it is also evident that an instant critique towards Godard is that his work can be construed as a chauvinistic approach especially in regard to capitalism as a colonization of the female sex-body (as opposed to say the male war-body).  However, as Aiste mentioned to me in conversation on the topic, he is obviously “concerned.”  And he is much more concerned about this topic than most other filmmakers.  I guess my concern regarding the female sex-body is my own curiosity about the “prostituted” bodies of the warrior and the warring mentality of humanity in general, as well as the issues over representations of sex (pornography versus love) and violence.  I have no answers here, just more concerns; more questions. And I’m thankful to Godard for making the choice to address the topics of prostitution and labor though his (perplexing at times) discourse.  

Codey Wilson of YouTube fame

Sauve qui peut (la vie)

Codey Wilson 



  1. You bring up some very interesting issues here...some thoughts of my own: the male solider is said to make sacrifices, do his duty, for the survival of the nation: he is contributing to the security of the state, which the state tells us is for our own security. Of course this is valorized, it reinforces the status quo. Female prostitutes are said to make an individual choice, and I can't help think that there is something about a woman using her body as an economic exchange that scares power--even as it is a forced choice based on survival. In the same way, traditional "men's work" (outside the home), is compensated with money because it it contributes to the economy, while "women's work" is uncompensated and makes women dependent, even though it is no less integral to the functioning of the economy. I tend to think that Godard's films show us all caught in and affected by the capitalist forces at work around us, but it is interesting that we have not yet seen representations of this side of the coin.

  2. Ahg I posted a long response to this before but it was deleted!

    These are very interesting points indeed, Courtney.

    Military combat is its own type of prostitution; economic incentives dangled above the heads of the less fortunate-enticed by the money and the Orwellian "freedom" it name checks so often. It seems selling one's body is only culturally acceptable if the exchange is officiated by the state and used for violence.

    I know always bring her up, but you might be interested in Claire Denis if you haven't checked her films out yet. Especially "Beau Travail," which borrows a character (and actor) from Godard's second film "Le Petite Soldat", along with some underlying themes. The film also explores the male body and psychology/sexuality in the context of a military group. An aspect less considered about the film is Denis' portrayal of the women of Djibouti, but I will leave it at that since I don't want to ruin the film!