Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Speak On What It Is You Cannot Put Into Words: Erik Luers Final Paper Topic

For my final paper, I decided to focus on Godard's poignant voiceover narration in 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and what it says about language, knowledge, and style. I came to this choice after watching the film again fairly recently, feeling that Godard's internalized monologues to the audience were confessional and sincere. Here was a man wrestling with existential ideas and problems of ontology, admitting that he had so far only been able to grasp a small amount of their entire context.

As a starting-off point, I used David Bordwell's chapter on "Godard and Narration." Originally, I wanted to use Bordwell's theory that Godard's films invite interpretation but defy analysis as my thesis but, after wrestling with it and giving it much thought, I realized that I didn't agree with him. Still, Bordwell makes some good points in the chapter that I felt helped me shape my own argument.

I was also amused by the irony of the narration in 2 or 3 Things, by the fact that, for a film that breaks down language and questions its everlasting constrictive abilities, it so expertly employs words to describe situations that may very well be deemed indescribable. If "language is the house man lives in," 2 or 3 Things features Godard coming to terms with and challenging that impenetrable fact. We are bound by words, but we will nonetheless use them to describe our situation thoroughly. Below is an excerpt from my final paper:

There is an irony at work in Godard's choice to employ his narration over 2 or 3 Things, a film which, quite explicitly, makes a case for the oppressive ability of language. A key theme in many of his films, Godard uses the essence of language and its inability to completely describe thought as a mirroring of the human condition, the boundaries put in place by one binding the expressive abilities of the other. When, early in the film, Juliette's son curiously asks his waking mother to define 'language', Juliette responds quite matter-of-factly, “language is the house man lives in.” The film backs up this claim with scenes of her husband's obsession with the transcribing of political audio soundbytes, and the inclusion of two befuddled men, seemingly existing in another movie entirely, aroused by a constant barrage of knowledge through books. Godard appears to be implying that although language is a necessary and infinite tool, it lacks the ability to describe the indescribable, to give meaning and authenticity to the wordless. His films, often filled with what Bordwell deems “transtextuality”, that is, “citations, allusions, borrowings” (312), emphasize the narrative's need for an unobtainable degree of knowledge. By presenting close-ups of book covers sporting didactic titles, he engulfs the viewer in the onslaught. Man's greatest insecurity is that he may never learn quite enough.

This idea is particularly true given 2 or 3 Things' most famously linguistic scene approximately twenty-five minutes into the film. Sitting in a cafe by herself, relaxing with a glass of Coca-Cola, Juliette glances at another woman reading a hip 60s fashion periodical. Godard shows us this woman's enamored face while providing us with shots of the magazine's colorful pages, each featuring women in chic attire and cosmetic overstatements (i.e. the woman with the United Kingdom-inspired lipstick). As Juliette glances over, Godard's questioning narration kicks in, asking how it is possible to accurately describe the scene unfolding before our very eyes. Does the word 'magazine' efficiently describe what it is? How can descriptive language sum up not only mood, but essence? At the aforementioned garage scene later in the film, Godard again prompts us to remain wary of the restricted fundamentals of this man-made communication system. While we observe Juliette at the garage greeting her husband lovingly, there is something that occurs between them, between them and their placement on the Earth, that is beyond language and conceptualization. Godard's voiceover, comically enough, realizes its uselessness even as it continues forward; the director admits that he cannot do much more than relate it to Faulkner. Since the spelling out of that which is instinctively organic is reckoned useless, no one therefore bothers to attempt the task. Language supplies us with the illusion of thought, of the comfort of placing the enormity of the universe into a few common phrases. By doing so, it teaches us less about the world and rather more about man's never-quite-complete definition of it. 

Erik Luers

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