Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Formal Renewal: Godard and Nietzsche

In an interview entitled "Nietzsche and the Image of Thought", Gilles Deleuze illustrates the way Nietzsche creates new conceptions of thought by introducing new forms to philosophy. This ‘formal renewal’ occurs when the philosopher or artist has something new to say that cannot be enunciated using old forms.  New content demands new form.  Perhaps this is what Nietzsche alluded to by naming his 1888 book Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer (quoted below).

Interestingly, Deleuze points to Godard as an example of an artist that creates new forms demanded by new content.  He says, “Godard transforms cinema by introducing thought into it.  He didn’t have thoughts on cinema, he doesn’t put more or less valid thought into cinema; he starts cinema thinking, and for the first time, if I’m not mistaken.  Theoretically, Godard would be capable of filming Kant’s Critique or Spinoza’s Ethics, and it wouldn’t be abstract cinema or a cinematic application.  Godard knew how to find means and a new “image”-which necessarily presupposes a revolutionary content”(141).  This “new image” or thought that Deleuze is referring to is the injection of philosophy into film. Not film as a medium for explaining a particular philosophy, but rather, film as thinking, film as philosophy.

Although he does not point to any particular work from Godard, I think this notion of ‘formal renewal’ is an interesting way to approach 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her.  For the first time in Godard’s work, the audience does not have any familiar cinematic forms to use as an easy point of entry into the work.  The film serves as an example of a new kind of work that functions within the impossibility of language while thinking that very impossibility.  Godard’s approach here is directly analogous to Nietzsche’s.  The content for each cannot be enunciated with old forms so, like the latter’s need to smash philosophy, Godard must return to cinema year zero.

An Imagined Conversation between JLG and FWN.
I listen to commercials
On my transistor radio
Thanks to E, SS, O,

37. You run on ahead?- Do you do so as a herdsman? or as an exception? 
A third possibility would be as a deserter….
First question of conscience.

I set out calmly on the road to dreams
And I forget the rest.

38.  Are you genuine? or only an actor?  A representative? or that itself which is represented? – Finally you are no more than an imitation of an actor…
Second question of conscience.

I forget Hiroshima,
I forget Auschwitz,

40.  Are you one who looks on? or who sets to work? – or who looks away, turns aside… Third question of conscience.

I forget Budapest,
I forget Vietnam

41.  Do you want to accompany? or go on ahead? or go off alone?...
One must know what one wants and that one wants. –
Fourth question of conscience

I forget the minimum wage,
I forget the housing crisis
I forget the famine in India

42.  For me they were steps, I have climbed up upon them –
therefore I had to pass over them. 
But they thought I wanted to settle down on them…

I’ve forgotten
except that,
Since I am reduced to zero,
It’s from there that I shall have to set out again.

In enacting a ‘formal renewal’ in each of their fields, both artists, in their own unique way, create what John Drabinski calls a primary text (Godard Between Identity and Difference, 2008).  As opposed to secondary texts, which can only reference something previously established, Drabinski sees Godard’s film as primary text in philosophy (xii).  While the notion of 2 or 3 things I Know About Her as philosophy may seem a stretch to some, I think it is safe to reposition Drabinski’s distinction between primary and secondary texts into a discussion of film.  By injecting thought into film with 2 or 3 things, Godard formally renews and creates a primary text in cinema.


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