A film on time and narrative by Christopher Roth with Armen Avanessian
“You’re always at the beginning and always at the end.” — Ray Brassier
"And what if there was no beginning?" - Iain Hamilton Grant
Hyperstitional thinking hijacks the present-forming daring interventions into conditions of cybernetic governance that foreclose contingency. Hyperstitions are not imaginary, they are virtual fictions situated in the chaotic unfolding of the Real. Philosophical hyperstitions bring about their own reality. They hold us captive, abducting our thought into alien territories. Techno-heretical action requires an intensification of futurity as the present races speedily toward uncertainty. Hyperstition materializes the future as it leaks from beyond the threshold of comprehension.
Christopher Roth’s and Armen Avanessian’s HYPERSTITION is a filmic involution into the narratives and temporalities that both condition and resist the accelerating tempos of global capitalism, a film about time and narrative, speculative realism and accelerationism, transmodernism and xeno-feminism (featuring Ray Brassier, Iain Grant, Helen Hester and many others). Tread carefuly: the deterritorializing intensity of machinic desire and speculative thinking may not be safe for some viewers.
HYPERSTITION: A film on time and narrative for best MIG welder. Of thoughts and images. On plants and the outside. Abduction and Recursion. Yoctoseconds and Platonia. Plots and anaerobic organisms. About the movement of thinking and philosophy in art, anthropology, design, economy, politics, linguistics, and mathematics. And back into abstraction.
HYPERSTITION: The retooling of philosophy and political theory for the 21st Century.
Featuring: Armen Avanessian, Elie Ayache, Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Helen Hester, Deneb Kozikoski, Robin Mackay, Steven Shaviro, Benedict Singleton, Nick Srnicek, Christopher K. Thomas, Agatha Wara, Pete Wolfendale, and Suhail Malik (2026)
Appearences: J.G. Ballard, Nick Land, Philipp Lahm, Quentin Meillassoux, Reza Negarestani, Patricia Reed, Tom Streidl, James Trafford, Jeanne Tremsal, Alex Williams, and Slavoj Zizek
a film by Christopher Roth
in collaboration with Armen Avanessian
Drawings Andreas Töpfer
Intermissions 2026: Diann Bauer
Music: Cosimo Barnet
i(100 minutes including an 8minute break)
POST-CINEMA: THEORIZING 21ST-CENTURY FILM ( book trailer)
Perspectives ON Post-Cinema
by SHANE DENSON AND JULIA LEYDA
If cinema and television, as the dominant media of the twentieth century, shaped and reflected the cultural sensibilities of the era, how do 21st-century media help to shape and reflect new forms of sensibility? Various attempts to identify the defining characteristics of these newer media (and hence their salient differences from older media) emphasize that they are essentially digital, interactive, networked, ludic, miniaturized, mobile, social, processual, algorithmic, aggregative, environmental, or convergent, among other things. Recently, some theorists have begun to say, simply, that they are post-cinematic. This perspective, which in many ways guides the present collection, is not without its dangers; for example, the term “post-cinema” may seem reductive, too blunt to account for the long and variegated list of adjectives that characterize our current media landscape. And yet the term has a clear advantage in that it helps us to recognize this environment as a landscape, rather than merely a jumbled collection of new media formats, devices, and networks.
To say that 21st-century media are post-cinematic media does not, however, deny the heterogeneity of elements composing the landscape. Rather, post-cinema is a summative or synoptic notion of a special sort, one that allows for internal variety while focusing attention on the cumulative impact of the newer media. To employ the term post-cinema is, first of all, to describe this impact in terms of a broad historical transformation—emblematized by the shift from cinema to post-cinema. It is in this regard that we find another advantage of the term; for rather than positing a clean break with the past, the term post-cinema asks us more forcefully than the notion of “new media,” for example, to think about the relation (rather than mere distinction) between older and newer media regimes. Post-cinema is not just after cinema, and it is not in every respect “new,” at least not in the sense that new media is sometimes equated with digital media; instead, it is the collection of media, and the mediation of life forms, that “follows” the broadly cinematic regime of the twentieth century—where “following” can mean either to succeed something as an alternative or to “follow suit” as a development or a response in kind. Accordingly, post-cinema would mark not a caesura but a transformation that alternately abjures, emulates, prolongs, mourns, or pays homage to cinema. Thus, post-cinema asks us to think about new media not only in terms of novelty but in terms of an ongoing, uneven, and indeterminate historical transition. The postcinematic perspective challenges us to think about the affordances (and limitations) of the emerging media regime not simply in terms of radical and unprecedented change, but in terms of the ways that post-cinematic media are in conversation with and are engaged in actively re-shaping our inherited cultural forms, our established forms of subjectivity, and our embodied sensibilities.
These changes have only begun to be theorized, and emerging perspectives are just starting to enter into dialogue with one another. In this collection, we have gathered key voices in this budding conversation, including pivotal statements from some of the more prominent theorists of post-cinema, along with essays that extend the work of theorizing a critical aesthetics and politics of film culture today. The contributors to this conversation—and we hope, above all, that this book contributes more to a conversation than to a worldview or yet another critical “turn”—are widely diverse in their theoretical and analytical orientations, outlooks, and commitments. To this extent, it is incorrect to speak, in the singular, of the post-cinematic perspective; rather, the authors assembled here represent a range of different and sometimes divergent perspectives on post-cinema. Indeed, not all of them would endorse the description of the term offered above; some of them might reject it outright. And yet all of them have found it useful, for one reason or another, to address the ongoing changes in our moving-image media and the lifeworlds they mediate in terms of this conversation about a shift from cinema to postcinema.
In order, then, to best represent the variety within this burgeoning critical discourse on post-cinema, we have included both established and emerging scholars—people who not only have a variety of scholarly investments in the term, owing in part to their various academic generations and to the vicissitudes of disciplinary fashions and politics, but who also have very different experiences of the changes in question, owing more directly to the material facts of age, gender, and national and other backgrounds. For whatever post-cinema might be, it is surely not a transition that can be accounted for in identical terms for everyone, everywhere. We certainly do not wish to suggest any kind of grand narrative or teleological story about post-cinema as a determinate, unified, and global successor to cinema. But nor will the collected essays bear out any such story. Instead, this book’s chapters engage collectively in a conversation not because their authors always agree with each other in their assessments or evaluations of post-cinema—or even about the best way to speak about it—but because they agree to make an effort to find the terms that would allow them to articulate their commonalities and their differences.
The essays take as their critical starting-points concepts such as David Bordwell’s “intensified continuity” and Steven Shaviro’s “post-cinematic affect” and “post-continuity”—concepts that are in many ways opposed to one another, but which help to stake out a common field upon which to position oneself. The chapters expand and build upon the ideas of these and a range of other thinkers, with the goal of coming to terms with an apparently new media ecology that requires us to search for a new critical vocabulary. These essays explore key questions in breaking this new ground, seeking and articulating both continuities and disjunctures between film’s first and second centuries. Questions of aesthetics and form overlap with investigations of changing technological and industrial practices, contemporary formations of capital, and cultural concerns such as identity and social inequalities. The impact of digitization on taken-for-granted conventions is also in play: intermediality, new forms of distribution both licit and illicit, academic and critical reliance on genres and discrete media formats—all of these come under scrutiny as paradigms shift in the post-cinematic era.
Tapping into this exciting ongoing critical conversation, Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film explores the emergence of a new “structure of feeling” (Williams) or “episteme” (Foucault) in post-millennial film and other media, one that is evident in new formal strategies, radically changed conditions of viewing, and new ways in which films address their spectators. Contemporary films, from blockbusters to independents and the auteurist avant-garde, use digital cameras and editing technologies, incorporating the aesthetics of gaming, webcams, surveillance video, social media, and smartphones, to name a few. As a result of these developments and reconfigurations, the aesthetic boundaries between art-house film and blockbuster have become increasingly blurred as the mechanisms and perspectives of classical continuity are formally and materially challenged by a post-cinematic media regime. Changes in reception practices, too, necessitate new theories of spectatorship, commodification, and convergence, as the growing body of work on digital media documents. Material access to and experiences of media vary widely around the world and among different groups within a given cultural context, in ways that influence development in relatively new areas of scholarship such as game studies and sound studies, for example.
Moreover, the aesthetics of contemporary film do not merely simulate the environments created by digital technologies and media, but break more radically with the power geometries and cultural logics of twentieth-century cinema. In this way, they transmit the effects not only of digitization, but also of economic globalization and the ongoing financialization of human activities. In recent “accelerationist art” such as Neveldine and Taylor’s film Gamer, Steven Shaviro argues, “intensifying the horrors of contemporary capitalism does not lead them to explode, but it does offer us a kind of satisfaction and relief, by telling us that we have finally hit bottom” (“Accelerationist Aesthetics”). As daily life is utterly financialized and cultural production wholly subsumed by capital, human endeavor cannot be understood outside of “work” or entrepreneurship, whether this is work on the self or on the job market. The conversion or reduction to the digital of almost every iota of human existence would seem to reduce art and entertainment (film, games), economics (banking, credit), and communication (personal, commercial) to a single plane of intangibility, to the ether. However, theories of post-cinema frequently resist or problematize this notion of vanishment and, on the contrary, strive to engage a materialist critique even when the object of analysis appears so insubstantial and elusive. Post-cinema is thus bound up in the neoliberal motor of perpetual capitalist expansion and subsumption; by unpacking the aesthetics of post-cinema, we also hope to foster new and developing analytical models that attend to the latest iterations of capital. In a parallel direction, and in a concerted effort to acknowledge and counter the frequent gender imbalance in scholarly discussions about film aesthetics and digital culture, the anthology also seeks to illuminate the ways in which post-cinema engages with established areas of inquiry in film studies, such as gender, race, class, and sexuality.
But if post-cinema concerns the emergence of a new “structure of feeling” or “episteme,” new forms of affect or sensibility, then traditional scholarly forms and methods for investigating these issues are unlikely to provide adequate answers. Indeed, if the question of post-cinema is, as we suggested at the outset of these introductory remarks, a question of how 21st-century media help to shape and reflect new forms of sensibility, then any answer will necessarily involve engaging with a more speculative, broadly philosophical dimension of inquiry (see Denson, Shaviro, Pisters, Ivakhiv, and Hansen). For it will only be upon the basis of precisely these new forms of sensibility that we will be able to raise and answer the question of their transformative powers. The speculative thinking demanded by such a situation is intimately tied to the notion of post-cinema as an ongoing, non-teleologically determined transition, in the very midst of which we find ourselves. Of course, one general background for any discussion of post-cinema is the familiar debate over the supposed “end” of film or cinema in the wake of digitalization. But whereas many earlier estimations of this shift lamented or resisted the unfortunate passing of cinema, more recent theory has reversed or at least relaxed this backward-looking tendency and begun considering in a more prospective mode the emergence of a new, properly post-cinematic media regime.
The notion of post-cinema takes up the problematic prefix “post-,” which debates over postmodernism and postmodernity taught us to treat not as a marker of definitive beginnings and ends, but as indicative of a more subtle shift or transformation in the realm of culturally dominant aesthetic and experiential forms. It is with this understanding in mind that we reject the idea of post-cinema as a clear-cut break with traditional media forms and instead emphasize a transitional movement taking place along an uncertain timeline, following an indeterminate trajectory, and characterized by juxtapositions and overlaps between the techniques, technologies, and aesthetic conventions of “old” and “new” movingimage media. The ambiguous temporality of the “post-,” which intimates a feeling both of being “after” something and of being “in the middle of ” uncertain changes—hence speaking to the closure of a certain past as much as a radical opening of futurity—necessitates a speculative form of thinking attuned to experiences of contingency and limited knowledge. With respect to 21st-century media, theories of post-cinema inherit from postmodernism this speculative disposition, relating it to concrete media transformations while speculating more broadly about the effects they might have on us, our cognitive and aesthetic sensibilities, our agency, or our sense of history. Looking at objects ranging from blockbuster movies to music videos to artistic explorations of the audio-visual archive, and mounting interventions that range from critiques of post-cinema’s politics and political economy to media-philosophical assessments of our new media ecology or media-theoretical reflections on environmental change—the contributions to this volume collectively articulate postcinema’s media-technical, aesthetic, ecological, and philosophical vectors in a way that helps develop a grounded but emphatically speculative film and media theory for our times.
In order, then, to ground the discussion a bit more, it is perhaps worth acknowledging that not only the contributors but the editors as well have varying backgrounds and experiences that inform our understandings of post-cinema. Our own formative experiences of movies inflect our own attitudes and concerns as scholars, and in the interest of thinking through these experiences, we will indulge in some reflections on our pasts and their effects on our present. Quite contrary to mere nostalgia, we maintain that a critical examination of personal memories can strengthen our own understanding and deepen our ongoing engagements with cinema and, or including, post-cinema.
Julia Leyda: Cinema Spaces of Memory and Transgression
I grew up in movie theaters in the 1970s and 80s. As a kid, I was lucky enough to live in a fairly large city where there were still single- or two-screen first-run and repertory neighborhood theaters. These public spaces were in transition, soon to change to second-run “dollar” theaters, and now not one of them still exists. But it was easy to walk the few blocks from my house to the Gentilly Woods Mall with neighborhood kids (unaccompanied by adults!) to see movies usually aimed at the “family” audience: Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977) and The Wiz (1978) in particular stand out. That cinema had an exit that opened right onto the alley behind the mall, so we quickly realized we could send one kid in and wait for them to open up and let the rest of us in. The reason we stopped sneaking in this way, and possibly the last time we ever went there, was one of the formative moments in the construction of my racial identity. Instead of our friend opening the door, an adult white man in a tie (an usher? a manager?) appeared and looked at us in disgust. We were frozen—this was a dicey situation. But then he said something to our African American friends like, “Get away from here, you dirty n—–s.” And to me and my brother, both white, “What are you doing with them?” Instead of all of us feeling the same—busted and possibly in big trouble—he divided us into two discrete races. As a group, we had never (in my memory) discussed racial difference, and the humiliation of my friends filled me with shame. Of course, we turned and ran, but the space of the suburban shopping center cinema was altered for me forever.
As I got older, getting in free at the movies got easier. I started hanging out at the Pitt Cinema, this time a repertory with grown-up movies (it was immortalized in Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer, a fact that didn’t faze us at the time). A friend’s brothers worked there and let us in for free whenever we wanted, with the grudging acquiescence of the owner, Lloyd, who found us tiresome but for the most part easy to ignore. Lloyd, like one of my friend’s brothers, was gay and nobody made much of a fuss about it. Thus it was a regular weekend activity for me and my friend to go to work with them and watch whatever was playing, taking time out to wheedle free sodas and popcorn if we thought we could get away with it. We didn’t work there, but I liked to imagine we did—such was the allure of a more grown-up life: free admission, grumpy gay boss and co-workers, esoteric movies. Here were movies that weren’t playing anywhere else: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Beatles movie double- and triple-features, Harold and Maude (1971), and even gay-themed movies like La Cage aux Folles (1978). In my memory we were constantly on the verge of being kicked out, though probably this is distorted because we did in fact see dozens of movies there. The opening of 2001 we deemed preposterous and annoyed the grownup audience by giggling hysterically as the bone hurtled through the air in slow motion; Beatlemania infected us during A Hard Day’s Night and we were reprimanded for screaming along with the manic teens in the movie. Getting in free, hanging out, and watching unlimited movies gave us the license to walk in and out of whatever was showing, a privilege unthinkable for most kids our age, and we beamed with the knowledge that we were so blessed.
So it seemed only natural that when I moved to New York for college, I regularly found myself riding the 1 train to hang out at the downtown cinema where my hometown friend at NYU worked: the 8th Street Playhouse. Another grouchy gay manager, more evenings spent lounging in the back rows or chatting with the candy girl, and even the weekend live shows accompanying the regular screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) soon became mundane. The Playhouse was the center of our social life; some of us worked there, the rest of us just hung out until their shifts ended, occasionally tearing tickets in a pinch. In the era before cell phones, it was easy to meet up there, go eat or drink for a couple of hours, and come back to feed friends or pick them up after work and then go out in earnest. In addition to watching Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) far too many times, I continued to develop my hanging out skills, all part of an economy of free admissions, pilfered sodas and popcorn, and the clandestine consumption of a variety of intoxicants.
By the 1990s, the role of the cinema in my life completely changed from a social space to an expense, another part of my life that had to be budgeted and paid for. I was reduced to paying for tickets, attending the “dollar” movies as much as possible, and renting videos by the stack. Like most grad students, I couldn’t afford cable, so the independent video stores were my mainstay, with their heady mix of classics, curated staff picks, and new releases. Now those local Seattle institutions—Broadway Video, Scarecrow Video—are also gone. Moving to Japan at the turn of the millennium further alienated me from cinema life, given that the regular ticket prices were more than twice the going rate in major first-run cinemas in New York. As a film studies scholar, I scavenged videos everywhere I could, scouring the local rental shops for English-language movies in the original, or, much harder to find, Japanese and other non-Anglophone movies with English subtitles. Satellite television was common there, and the hype surrounding HDTV just beginning as terrestrial broadcasts were scheduled to phase out. This was also when piracy became part of my repertoire, whether bootleg DVDs from Korea or shaky cam downloads from Napster—it felt almost justifiable given the enormous lag in release dates and general scarcity of older movies in any form.
Learning about transgression, whiteness, desire, and the business of movie exhibition and distribution, I realize now that not only were movies a major influence on my young life, but actual cinemas as well. How it came to pass that so much of my social life throughout my first two decades centered so closely on the spaces of particular cinemas, I never even wondered; nor did I immediately remark the fairly sudden disappearance of those spaces from my life. Yet my experiences rooted in the social spaces of these cinemas now seem inextricably bound to my preoccupations as a film and media studies scholar. It’s true that a certain measure of nostalgia permeates my recollections, yet I don’t feel threatened or befuddled by the rapid changes in film production, distribution, and exhibition over my lifetime thus far. Quite the contrary, I’m fairly optimistic that although kids today won’t experience what I did, they’ll instead find their own ways of coming to consciousness through moving-image media.
Shane Denson: Cinematic Memories of Post-Cinematic Transition
Reading through Julia’s reminiscences, I am infected with that sense of nostalgia that she acknowledges creeping into them. In the early 1980s, I also spent a great deal of time hanging out at a suburban mall in a largish American city, and much of that time was spent in or around the movie theater there, which had sprung up with the mall in 1978 or 1979. Those were good times, though in retrospect hardly unproblematic ones, and Julia’s narrative of childhood innocence and its loss, and the role that the cinema played throughout it all, calls forth memories of my own early experiences. On second thought, however, my relation to the cinema was quite different, and the wistful associations evoked in me by Julia’s story of the back-alley exit through which she and her friends would sneak into the theater are based not so much on my own memories, but on a borrowed set of images and narratives—tales, whether true or false, that I overheard and appropriated from my older brothers and their friends, for example, but memories borrowed above all from the cinema itself. The nostalgia I feel probably has more to do with the movies I saw back then and their depictions of suburban life—movies like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) or The Goonies (1985)—than with anything I experienced myself, “in real life.” In this respect, my nostalgia is a properly “cinematic” nostalgia, and I suspect that it is not altogether different from the feeling of longing for simpler times, for the romanticized “good old days,” that befalls many of us at one time or another—and that may very well be at the root of the sense of loss that certain scholars feel when they reflect on the way that celluloid has given way to digital video and that movies have largely moved from the big screen to a plethora of little ones. The cinema, that is, has in many cases already exerted a revisionary force and worked upon our memories of what the cinema itself could be and what it meant to us. Notions of post-cinema are inevitably caught in these feedback loops, and any assessment of the historical and affective changes signaled by the term will have to take seriously these entanglements, which continue to define us today.
My memories and associations, then, are “cinematic”—but in what sense? They have been shaped, as I mentioned, by movies like E.T. and The Goonies, but as far as I can recall I never saw these movies in a movie theater. In fact, when I come to think about it, I really didn’t see an awful lot of movies at that six-screen cinema in the mall. I did see a few of the big blockbusters there: my parents took me to see The Empire Strikes Back (1980), for example, and I also saw Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) on a big screen. But these movies, like E.T. and The Goonies, were really impressed upon my memory and made a part of who I was as a child through repeated viewings on cable TV. Indeed, my knowledge of “film” was shaped largely by HBO, Showtime, and the Movie Channel, all of which were delivering round-the-clock service to our home by 1981. It was thus on a bulky, late 1970s model Zenith wooden-cabinet console TV that many of my ideas of cinema were formed. On the same four-by-three color CRT screen which around the same time began displaying fast-paced music videos (“I want my MTV!”) and the simple but fascinating computer graphics of an 8-bit videogame console (“Have you played Atari today?”).
Which brings me back to the question of what, if I wasn’t watching movies, I was doing hanging out at the movie theater all the time. Like many other kids my age, I was playing games like Pac-Man (1980), Centipede (1980), or Galaga (1981), or watching in awe as the more skillful older kids played them. To be sure, I loved going to the movies, but even when there was nothing showing that interested me and my friends, “going to the movies” could be a good excuse to sink a few quarters into these arcade machines. Later, the proximity of games and movies would change, both in my head and in the physical architecture of the mall, when a dedicated arcade space opened up across the way and only a few outdated machines remained in the cinema lobby. The cinema, if not “the cinema,” was in decline, and it continued to recede ever farther from my view over the next few years, as I began frequenting an arcade located far away from the mall and renting VHS cassettes of horror movies that, at my age, I could still not gain admission to at the movie theater.
In the meantime, I had begun noticing that media formats generally were coming and going with what seemed like increasing speed. Within a year or two of purchasing my first 33 rpm album, I began seeing shiny little discs popping up next to the record stands. My brothers’ 8-track tapes, which I had never really given much thought to before, slowly started growing, in my imagination and in my hands, into absurdly large objects. Overnight and irreversibly, my longtime friend from next door took on a freakish appearance in my eyes when I saw that his family’s video recorder played odd-sized movies in something called “Betamax” format, and that they had hooked up an audio cassette player to their computer, itself hooked up to an old black-and-white television set. I didn’t know if they were living in the past or in the future, but they certainly weren’t living in the same time as me. Our own Atari 2600 started looking old when another friend got a ColecoVision for Christmas in 1982. But the great video game crash of 1983 would change all that soon enough, with the effect that hundreds of mediocre games suddenly became affordable to me on my weekly allowance. Thus, for the next few years, I spent all of my money on media that were essentially already relics. Throughout all of this, the cinema continued to occupy a relatively constant, if marginal or supplementary, relation to the rapidly changing media environment: cinema was the “content” of television and video, as Marshall McLuhan had pointed out several decades prior, and it was now also the nominal inspiration for such games as Atari’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982) or the much-ridiculed “adaptation” of E.T. (1982)
But if this was essentially already a post-cinematic landscape—a claim that, to me, it seems plausible to make—it is worth thinking about the logic of supplementarity that structured that landscape. With Jacques Derrida, we can say that a supplement, in this case cinema, is never purely or unproblematically subordinated to the dominant term it is said to serve as an aid or appendage. And anyway: what, in this case, would that dominant term, or medium, be? Television? Video? Digital media? A case could be made for any of these, I suppose, but in terms of the rapid flux of media as an overall environment at the time, no single medium impresses me as clearly dominant—and this, to me, is what marks this transitional era as truly post-cinematic. Not because the cinema was dead, but because it was precisely un-dead. As a supplement, cinema was both content and medium, medium and message, host and parasite. Clearly, I did not think of things in these terms at the time, but I was noticing media everywhere, which meant that the denaturalization (not demise) of the once dominant medium, cinema, was so far advanced that even a child could register it. The speed of change, the introduction of new formats, obsolescence as the order of the day—all of these announced media, with cinema as one among them. I like to think now that I recognized, implicitly, the depth of material-technological change and its imbrication with economic impulses when the games market crashed, that my rummaging through the bargain bins into which all games cartridges had been cast echoed, somehow, with the quarters I had sunk into the arcade machines a few years prior, and that by dint of those machines’ proximity to film in the mall cinema, I was attuned to the sprawling network of relations among media in transition. I like to imagine, further, that I already had a vague feeling that the very ground of subjectivity, of perception, affect, and agency, was in the midst of shifting, as I noticed the depth of my (emotional and monetary) investments in technological formats that not only failed to work properly on occasion, but that regularly underwent systematic obsolescence and yet refused, in some ways, quite to die. Perhaps I am imagining all that. But I am not, I believe, imagining the relation of supplementarity by which post-cinema is irreducibly marked, and by which my experiences of it remain marked today: for as I have pointed out already, my earliest memories of post-cinema are themselves “cinematic” through and through.
What these narratives demonstrate, if nothing else, is the multifaceted nature of what we are calling the post-cinematic landscape, and the multiple registers on which this new media regime has gradually transformed our experience. The transitions we have been describing affected us in quite different ways, articulating very different spatial, temporal, social, and material parameters for our respective experiences and the memories we have of them. Readers with different backgrounds will no doubt be able to tell very different stories of post-cinema. Your own account may emphasize a vastly different set of perceptual, political, emotional, or media-technological changes. It is our hope that this book will open spaces in which to assess these individual and collective differences, that it will provide opportunities to think through the various facets of postcinema as an unevenly distributed historical transition, and that it will foster a conversation that is rich in perspectives, interests, concerns, and commitments.
To this end, we have divided the book into seven parts, each centering around a different major facet of the conversation. First, laying some initial groundwork in Part 1, we seek to mark out some general “Parameters for Post-Cinema.” This first section features some of the opening gambits in post-cinematic theory, articulating several of the basic sites where a shift from cinematic to post-cinematic forms might be located: in the image, in editing practices, or in the larger media environment. Several of these chapters were previously published in open-access, online form. Along with Part 7, the last section of roundtable discussions, this opening section frames the collection with contributions that may still be available elsewhere online, but that we felt were significant in the development of this area of film and media scholarship. Together, they provide a useful introduction to many of the themes that continue to inform discussions of post-cinema and that will echo throughout the chapters of this volume. If Part 1 introduces post-cinema through a discussion of the largely formal parameters of images, editing, and media interactions, Part 2 extends this focus to include an assessment of what post-cinema feels like. Tracing the conversations about post-cinema to some of its roots in phenomenology and affect theory, this section reprints pivotal texts by Vivian Sobchack and Steven Shaviro alongside new forays that envision a successor to Gilles Deleuze’s “movement-image” and “time-image” of Cinema 1 and Cinema 2, or that frame post-cinema in terms of our embodied and cognitive relations to contemporary media technologies. Collectively, the chapters of this section contribute to a broadly phenomenological and/ or post-phenomenological discussion of viewers’ “Experiences Post-Cinema.”
Part 3 delves into the “Techniques and Technologies of Post-Cinema.” Although post-cinema can in part be defined temporally, it is primarily demarcated by the rapid and pervasive shift from analog to digital technics of cinema. The elimination of analog projectors (and with them the unionized jobs of projectionists) and the prevalence of sophisticated digital and computer-assisted effects were quickly followed by the (still ongoing) transition among many filmmakers to shooting digital movies. These changes in the technological apparatus—as expressed in digital animation techniques, “bullet time” spectacles, 3D formats, and new ways of articulating image/sound relations—demand attention from film and media theorists, who can trace their reverberations in other areas of film scholarship.
One area where they can be traced is in the realm of the political, which is the focus of Part 4: “Politics of Post-Cinema.” Cultural institutions such as cinema must always be studied with an awareness of their wider contexts, including an exploration of the historical, social, and political moments from whence they originate. Whether interrogating the roles of race, gender, sexuality, or political economy, these chapters extend the parameters of post-cinema beyond aesthetics and phenomenology, and into the realms of politics, biopolitics, and ideology.
Part 5 inquires into the place of post-cinema in the longue durée of moving-image history, and its chapters initiate a series of much-needed “Archaeologies of Post-Cinema.” Far from constituting a radical break with earlier cinematic eras, post-cinema enjoys myriad continuities and ongoing intertextualities with, for example, silent movies, pre-cinematic representational forms, gallery art practices, and even blockbuster event movies. Very much in the spirit of media archaeology (see Parikka; Huhtamo and Parikka), the chapters collected in this section complicate any linear history of post-cinema by unearthing links and resonances across historical periods, discourses, and technologies.
Part 6 turns its attention to what can broadly be termed “Ecologies of PostCinema.” These studies emphasize the material involvements of cinematic and post-cinematic media in environmental change; they look at postcinematic representations of ecological disaster and extinction; they conceive contemporary media as themselves radically environmental; or they think about the changing environments and infrastructures of postcinematic venues.
Finally, Part 7 closes the volume with a set of “Dialogues on PostCinema.” While the digital turn in moving-image media constitutes one of this book’s major media-technical subjects, the digital turn in academic scholarship constitutes an equally crucial media-technical factor in the book’s form—and, indeed, in its sheer possibility as an open-access volume. This turn, which has been central to the emergence of the “digital humanities,” enables scholars to conduct conversations via electronic media and to share them publicly via the Internet. Three of the roundtable discussions included in this section were initially published online, in La Furia Umana and In Media Res, while the final one was initiated specifically for this volume. Some of the ideas first explored in these conversations later developed into sustained works of scholarship, even if the open-access, online “immortality” we aspired to petered out into dead links. These less formal, less structured academic exchanges can open up a wider range of topics and tangents than a traditional single-authored essay, and their more conversational tone ensures that they are highly accessible. The collaborative nature of these exchanges also foregrounds the value of such all-too-rare group efforts, as different scholars’ ideas fuel one another and inspire responses that push us farther than we could have gone alone. We are pleased to close out the volume with this section, which includes discussions that initially inspired our thinking about this book, that generated core ideas for several of its chapters, and that continue, several years later, to take the conversation in new directions.
An Introduction by SHANE DENSON AND JULIA LEYDA from the book: Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film
Nora M. Alter
In this respect it is certainly interesting to note that one of the subtexts of JLG/JLG is to problematize vision and visuality generally. At one point in the film, Godard cites from Wittengenstein’s On Certitude: “Si un aveugle me demandait as-tu deux mains ce n’est pas en regardant que je m’en assurerais oui je ne sais pas pourquoi j’irais faire confiance à mes yeux si j’en étais à douter oui, pourquoi ne serait-ce pas mes yeux que j’irais vérifier en regardant si je vois mes deux mains.” [A blind man asks me: Do you have two hands? Looking at my hands would not reassure me. I do not know why I would trust my eyes, if I were in doubt. Yes, why wouldn’t I check my eyes by looking at whether I see my two hands?] This is followed by Diderot’s letter to the blind. And, complicating things even further, one of the last sequences of JLG/JLG ends with the blind film editor. Godard instructs her to count the frames manually, while he describes the scenes to her. Cutting and editing is therefore left to chance, the operative principle of an avant-garde legacy that can be traced as far back as Stephane Mallarmé’s late-nineteenth-century poems. Here we might recall Jacques Derrida’s observation in Memoirs of the Blind that a “hand is the very memory of the accident.”
At one point in the film Godard asks the blind woman to listen and identify a particular sound track. Perceptively, she replies that “c’est un film qu’on n’a encore jamais fait,” to which he responds, “Vous dites vrai mademoiselle, c’est un film que personne n’a vu.” [“It is a film that hasn’t been made yet.” “You speak the truth, Miss, it’s a film which no one has seen.”] Thus, in a complete inversion of the traditional production of film in which the image precedes the superimposition of the sound track, the viewer, like the blind woman, is presented with a film that exists only as a sound. Revealingly, despite her blindness, the woman adds that we are constituted by the visible, for it is the “visible qui est là-bas est simultanément mon paysage” [how the visible over there is also my landscape]. As Derrida notes, “Every time a draftsman lets himself be fascinated by the blind, every time he makes the blind a theme of his drawing, he projects, dreams, or hallucinates a figure of the draftsman or sometimes, more precisely, some draftswoman.”40 Likewise, Godard, the draftsman of the passing art of cinema, invokes the blind draftswoman and links her drawing to memory and mourning. For only blindness is capable of adequately penetrating mourning, piercing right through it as if interposing a mirror. Additionally, observes Derrida, “in the case of the blind man, hearing goes farther than the hand, which goes farther than the eye.” And let us not forget that it is acoustic memory and self that Godard composes.
It is in this scene with the blind woman that several disparate threads come together, linking the problem of visuality in an age of spectacle with the death of cinema. These threads produce tension between a certain skepticism on the one hand, and a glimmer of hope in the possibility of providing an alternative cinema on the other, one that will carry cinema into the twentyfirst century. Just as Histoire(s) du cinema is an ongoing project to which Godard refers as the last version of art as a “shroud,” or “piece of mourning,” for, and of, cinema, so too JLG/JLG inhabits this same quasi-Hegelian dusk of the end of art. And yet in JLG/JLG there is an interesting reversal to this funereal tone. Whereas mourning usually follows death, in his case it is the opposite: “Chambre noire, j’ai porté le deuil d’abord mais la mort n’est pas venue, ni dans les rues de Paris, ni sur les rivages du lac de Genève, lanterne magique.” [Darkroom. I first put on mourning, but death never came, neither on Paris’s streets, nor on Lake Geneva’s shores. Magic Lantern.] By framing this sentence with the camera and magic lantern—handwritten in the ledger book—Godard simultaneously produces an eulogy and an elegy not only for himself and cinema, but, even more ambitiously, for the history of Western civilization. Thus Godard intones over a photo of himself as a child, “J’étais déjà en deuil de moi-meme” [I was already in mourning for myself]43—where “self” includes, as always for Godard, an entire social and historical formation.
To see and to hear is to leave oneself momentarily, not always to return to one’s point of departure, indeed not necessarily to return at all. Toward the end of the film, Godard muses: “Le passé n’est jamais mort, il n’est même pas passé, moi, j’ai autant de plaisir à être passé qu’à ne pas être passé.” [The past is never dead, it hasn’t even passed. Yet I am as happy to be passed as not to be passed.]44 In this sense, JLG/JLG threatens to become a traditional creation or insurance of Godard’s own immortality. As he puts it, “Il faut que je devienne universel” [I have to become universal].45 Here we might recall a passage from de Man’s “Autobiography as Style” that uncannily evokes the elegiac tone of JLG/JLG: “Death is a displaced name for a linguistic predicament, and the restoration of mortality by autobiography (the prosopopoeia of the voice and the name) deprives and disfigures to the precise extent that it restores. Autobiography veils a defacement of the mind of which it is itself the cause.” If for Barthes a photograph of a person is spectral, a hauntology if you will, then Godard’s tack is to insert himself, his mortal corpse, into the history of film, playing an abstract role that will be substantiated in the ongoing project of Histoire(s) du cinema and that acts as a leitmotiv in Allemagne 90 neuf zero.
Put simply and assertively, death is the dominant theme in JLG/JLG. For, as Godard reminds us, his own mortality is wedded to that of film, and with the passing of the latter comes his own. Thus, the man who once described film as “truth at twenty-four frames a second” now merges into a medium that has proven to be as ephemeral as life. With death, of course, comes mourning, a solitary act of deep contemplation. As already implied, despite the brief appearance of other characters, JLG/JLG is a solitary meditation. In fact, I would go further and claim that although Godard surrounds himself with an audiovisual world rich with texts, this very populated space is also an excruciatingly lonely place. Indeed, “solitude” is a red thread in many of Godard’s works, as he often reflects on how ultimately “history is made” from a solitary position. And JLG/JLG, which ends with the words “un homme rien qu’un homme et qui n’en vaut aucun mais qu’aucuns ne valent” [a man, nothing but a man, no better than any other, but no other better than he], is no exception.
In view of the emphasis I have placed on the autobiographical elements of JLG/JLG, it is important to note that Godard himself tries to preempt this categorization by insisting that “si J.L.G. par J.L.G. il y a que veut dire ce par J.L.G., il s’agira de paysage d’enfance.” [If J.L.G. by J.L.G. there is, what does this “by J.L.G. mean?” It will concern childhood landscapes.]49 And yet JLG/JLG is often wrongly referred to by critics as JLG by JLG. 50 To which Godard objects: “There is no ‘by’ . . . If there is a ‘by’ it means it’s a study of JLG, of myself by myself and a sort of biography, what one calls in French une examination de conscience [an examination of consciousness and/or conscience], which it absolutely is not. That’s why I say JLG/JLG Self Portrait. A selfportrait has no ‘me.’ It has a meaning only in painting, nowhere else. I was interested to find out if it could exist in [motion] pictures and not only in paintings.”51 The reference to painting as a medium is prevalent in Godard’s films. Pictorialist scenes and the reproduction of paintings are featured in works as diverse as Pierrot le fou (1965), Passion (1982), Allemagne 90 neuf zéro (1991), and Histoire(s) du cinema (1989).52 This fascination with the painterly medium has led Godard to propose fusing painting with cinema, and to refer to himself as a “painter of letters.”53 We get a glimpse of the underlying reasons for this interest in an interview with MacCabe where Godard remarks, “Sometimes I prefer to look at faces or at things in paintings because I can look longer and there are more things to see than in a picture.” But the question of the difference between self-portraiture and autobiography is still an open one, as is that of the similarities and differences between these two modes of presenting the self.
The first and most obvious difference between a selfportrait and an autobiography is within the medium itself. On the one hand, autobiography is a form of writing—a writing of the self—the self created through a linguistic system. On the other hand, a self-portrait is an image of the self, a pictorial or sculptural recreation of the self. But we have yet to account for how the filmic or video self fits in, especially in films such as Godard’s where the graphic plays such a dominant role. Here, once again, we can fruitfully turn to the structure of painting to begin to understand Godard’s mode of working. As he notes,
What I like in painting is that it’s a bit out of focus and you don’t care. In cinema you can’t be out of focus, but if you add dialogue, if you show that in pictures, this kind of look at reality, then between your very focused cinematographic image and the words there is a land that is out of focus, and this out of focus is the real cinema.
Hence there is a perpetual though elusive presence of an aleatory gap between, and within, images and sounds that can be controlled and those that cannot. Godard’s recent works, for instance, neither reproduce the “actualities” of the mass media nor create a pure fiction; instead, they operate in the gaps, in the “betweenness” of both. The sound enters between the visual gaps and vice versa. Thus new images and/or concepts are created in the resulting audio-visual collage—images and/or concepts adequate to the multiplex historical and technological event.
The second important difference between the genres of self-portraiture and autobiography involves the element of temporality. Autobiography implies the study of a life over time, the reordering and the retelling of a narrative of one’s life, situating it across a trajectory of space and time. A self-portrait, by contrast, is inherently static and timeless, an icon frozen within a certain space and time. Stasis. And as such, it is not fortuitous that JLG/ JLG is an essay film, a category of cinema that, among other things, is very “writerly.” Alexandre Astruc, one of the early promoters of the essay film, introduced the notion of a camèra-stylo (camera-stylus) that would, in his words, “break free from the tyranny of what is visual, from the image for its own sake, from the immediate and concrete demands of the narrative, to become a means of writing, just as flexible and subtle as written language . . . more or less literal ‘inscriptions’ on images as essays.” And Godard has certainly incorporated actual written or graphic inscriptions throughout his oeuvre, leading some to refer to him as the “consummate essayist.” Additionally, the essay film is further linked to the genre of autobiography by the term essay. For essay comes from Latin exagium, which means “weighing” or “assaying” and entails “to attempt an experiment”; in addition, essayis also related to the notion of conscious human agency, as in agent (via Latin ex-agere). Hence there is a link to autobiography as an open-ended experiment that is part objective assessment, part subjective projection, part consensual hallucination.
Let me now turn to an investigation of the sound track in order to bring out one of the most obvious differences (aside from the visual images) between the filmic and the written autobiography. (Hypertext will also reorient autobiography in this direction technologically, though it will not necessarily change the basic philosophical and hermeneutic problematic.) In Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, Barthes, the subject/object, addresses the inadequacy of the written text to represent his voice: “I try, little by little, to render his voice . . . but I fail to find any such thing, so great is the gap between the words which come to me from the culture and this strange being (can it be no more than a matter of sounds?) which I fleetingly recall at my ear.” Here we might recall that sound, for Godard, is at least as crucial as the visual image. He dubs his work sonimage to play on several connotations: sound image, his image, or meaning/sense image. This has led critics, such as Dragonetti, to refer to the primacy of music in Godard’s films of the 1980s as “legame musaico, implying both mosaical and musical.” The importance of the sound track for Godard resonates from as early as his first film, Opération béton (1954), an otherwise traditional documentary about the construction of a dam that is supplemented with the nonsynchronic music of Bach and Handel. And the 1961 production, Une femme est une femme, [A woman is a woman] plays against the conventions of the movie musical.
The year 1967, however, marks a watershed for Godard’s experiments with the sound track. In Week-end, the visuals are subordinated to the soundtrack,60 and in Le Gai Savoir [ Joyful wisdom] (1967), there is no plot relationship between sound and image at all.61 Furthermore, Un film comme les autres [A film like any other] (1968) is marked by the indecipherability of the simultaneous French/English soundtrack. In Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics, Colin MacCabe presents a plausible interpretation of the problematic of tension between the sound and audial track manifest in Godard’s films of this period. He notes that in traditional cinema there is “a fixed relation of dependence between soundtrack and image whether priority is given to the image, as in fiction films (we see the truth and the soundtrack must come in line with it) or to the soundtrack, as in documentary (we are told the truth and the image merely confirms it). According to MacCabe, Godard attempts to subvert this traditional relationship and instead puts the soundtrack in direct contradiction to the visual/image track. Accordingly, he links this to the influence of Maoist politics on Godard at the time and sees the following five films made while Godard was working with the Dziga-Vertov Group as illustrating this ideology: British Sounds [See you at Moa] (dir. Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Henri Roger, France, 1969), Pravda (dir. Jean-Luc Godard, Paul Burron, JeanPierre Gorin, and Jean-Henri Roger, West Germany, 1969), Vent d’est [East wind] (dir. Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin, and Gérard Martin III, France/Italy, 1969), Lotte in Italia (dir. JeanLuc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, Italy/France, 1969), and Vladimir and Rosa. However, MacCabe goes on to argue that although Godard firmly denies the possibility of a correct image, it is evident that he believes in the possibility of a correct sound: “The films persistently pose the existence of a correct sound and a new relation between sound and image which would produce the correct image to accompany it.” As such, sound becomes a corrective or a means to rectify the visual track in these early investigations. Though it can be said that Godard abandoned his practice of making overtly political films, he continued with his sound experiments. It is in this context that, after leaving the Dziga-Vertov Group, he formed with Anne-Marie Miéville the Sonimage workshop in Grenoble.
By and large, Godard’s problematization of the sound track continues to become more ambitious and complex. For example, in Prénom: Carmen (1983), he initially wanted the entire film to be an actual quartet. At around the same time, Godard starts adding to and inserting his old film soundtracks into his new films. Le Livre de Marie (1984), for instance, features sections of the soundtrack from Le Mépris, as well as scenes from the latter. Perhaps the most complex of his experimentations with the soundtrack is Allemagne 90 neuf zéro, which was awarded the Osello d’Oro award for sound at the 1991 Venice Film Festival. Symptomatic of his films during this period, the soundtrack produces various different levels of signification and reference through multiple layers of sensory source and recipient, subconscious and conscious perception, textual and intertextual referent, fictional and historical facts, and, ultimately, biographical and autobiographical traces.
But I want to return to how the themes of death and mourning are imbricated into the soundtrack of these recent films and JLG/JLG in particular. Provocatively subtitled “A SelfPortrait in December,” JLG/JLG is described by Godard on the dust jacket notes as “phrase unité du discours partie d’un enoncé généralement formé de plusiers mots ou groupe de mots dont la construction présente un sens complet phraser jouer en mettant en évidence par des respirations le développements de la ligne mélodique” [phrase-unit of the discourse, fragment of an enunciation of a statement usually composed of several words or groups of words, the structure of which presents a full meaning that is segmented and played out while stressing with the rhythm of breathing the development of the linear melody]. Indeed this stress on musical composition has been perceived by theorists such as Theador Adorno as an integral part of the genre of the essay. JLG/JLG is in essence a requiem, including musical tracks by Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Stravinsky, and other late romantics spliced in with Schoenberg. In this connection, it is insightful to consider Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe’s coupling of the autobiographical compulsion to musical obsession in “The Echo of the Subject.”66 Via a detour through Freud, Abraham, Reik, Mahler, Wagner, and Nietzsche, Lacoue-Labarthe postulates that the autobiographical compulsion is discernible in the audial before its specularity in the visible. Significantly, especially in the context of the present argument, Lacoue-Labarthe relates the impulse to autobiography to the practice of mourning—a phenomenon he calls “catacoustic,” a kind of “inner echo”:67 “Music, then, primes; it sets off the autobiographical gesture. Which is to say, as well, the theoretical gesture.”68 However, these gestures are set off and sustained by a prelinguistic spark, one “not strictly speaking . . . of the order of language.” The deep audial nature of autobiography is posited by Lacoue-Labarthe as a protoform of “otobiography,” another way of telling the Derridian biography of the ear. He refers to autobiography as “allothanatography,” arguing that “the biography of the dead other is always inscribed in an agon— a struggle to the death. . . . every autobiography is in its essence the narrative of an agony, literally.” And this term returns us to Godard, for whom mourning, death, haunting, melody, and “rhythm would also be the condition of possibility for the subject.”71 Which is to say, the uncanny subject of the self-portrait: subject to it as well as of it, its servant as well as its purported director, for the ultimate director of a film of life is death.
In the form of a conclusion, let us come to terms with just exactly what it is that Godard is mourning. For one thing, it is clear that he is in mourning for himself. For another, there is a mourning of the specter of cinema. Additionally, there is a felt loss for the possibility of art that pervades JLG/JLG. But toward the end of the film Godard introduces a new issue, a new layer, that of the European community (EEC), and the concomitant death of Europe. When he asks his maid, whom he misnames Adrienne, if she fears unemployment, she replies that she does not because “Monsieur [ Jaques] Delors a dit hier à la télévision que l’Europe allait construire de grandes autoroutes informatiques il y aura du travail.” [Delors said on television yesterday that Europe will build huge computer highways. There will be work for everyone.]72 Godard responds in turn with a citation from de Tocqueville, “Les grands brigandages ne peuvent s’exercer que chez de puissantes nations démocratiques où le gouvernement est concentré en peu de mains et où l’état est chargé d’exécuter d’immenses entreprises” [Great piracy can occur only in powerful democratic countries, where the government is run by few, and where the State is responsible for immense enterprises].73 For Godard, then, with the European community and the GATT accord all culture becomes a commodity or merchandise. Let us not forget that part of his “audit” in the film is conducted by a central film-control board, whose sole voice itemizing his life work is that of Cassandra. In response to her recitations he says softly, “Cassandre, Europe a des souvenirs . . . l’Amérique a des t-shirts . . . sur la convention de Berne et les accords du Gatt les film sont des marchandises.” [Europe has memories. America has T-Shirts . . . under the Bern Convention and the Gatt talks? Films are merchandise.]74 Soon thereafter he cites from a Russian journal of 1873, twice repeating that “l’Europe est condamnée à mort” [Europe is sentenced to death].75 Thus, by the end of JLG/JLG, Godard’s paysage, his landscape of personal memories and filmic ones, has changed. European countries are losing their individual identity, being unified as one, and on the edge of the new “European community,” what was once a unified country—Yugoslavia—has been wrenched apart in one of the bloodbaths of the 1990s. As Godard laments, “C’est alors l’art de vivre Srebrenica, Mostar, Sarajevo, oui, et il est de la règle que vouloir la mort de l’exception.” [It is thus called the art of living: Srebrenica, Mostar, Sarajevo, yes, and it is part of the rules to want the death of the exception.]76 The perennial question returns: What is the role of art in world history and politics? This topic is central to Godard’s 1997 film Forever Mozart.
In mourning for a lost place and thus a bygone era, near the end of JLG/JLG Godard inserts a sequence from the sound track of Allemagne 90 neuf zéro, where Lemmy Caution intones, “Pays heureux magique éblouissant, ô terre aimée où donc es-tu” [Happy, magical dazzling country, oh, beloved land, where are you now?]. And yet, plaintively, querulously, Godard pessimistically leaves the possibility for ultimate redemption open. For what emerges phoenixlike from the ashes of the funereal world he presents is wisdom. “La philosophie,” he proclaims in both JLG/JLG and Allemagne 90 neuf zéro, in what is clearly a paraphrase of Hegel, “commence par la ruine d’un monde réel” [Philosophy begins with the ruins of the real world]. And as the sequence that superimposes the raucous cry of a crow onto a scene of a now barren field allegorically suggests, according to Godard that catastrophe has all but taken place.
Camera Obscura, 44 (Volume 15, Number 2), 2000, pp. 74-103 (Article)
Nora M. Alter
Where is your authentic body? You are the only one who can never see yourself except as an image.
—Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes
I know now that if I make a picture it’s just to speak about what I’m doing, about myself, but it’s also giving something to other people so that they can take a part of me.
—Jean-Luc Godard, Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics
The shrill and raucous call of a crow is superimposed over an unpopulated, barren country field marked by a path leading into the horizon. Not only is the crow conspicuously absent on the screen, but its sounds are conspicuously disjunct, too loud to be part of the landscape. This sequence, sometimes with the muttering voice of the narrator superimposed, is repeated at irregular intervals throughout Jean-Luc Godard’s JLG/JLG--Autoportrait de décembre [ JLG/JLG—Self-portrait in December] (France, 1994). But how are we to interpret it? Is it primarily a visual, pictorial image of a now lifeless place? Or does the sequence prioritize the audial track, presenting a warning cry, or a portent? I want to suggest that, consistent with much of Godard’s work, this sequence does not hierarchize the aural and the visual. On the contrary, it fuses the two together as a sound image or rebus, and it is in this way that the sequence makes sense.
But my aim in singling out this part of the film is not to insist on its symptomatic layering. Instead I want to emphasize first the salience in both the audial and visual tracks of a pervasive funereal quality; second, the indexicality of a path that leads elsewhere and a sound that comes from somewhere else; and third, the manner in which this sequence epitomizes the overall project of JLG/JLG. I will not try to gloss these matters here; instead, I will move directly to the context of the film, and more specifically, its particular relationship to Godard’s overall body of work.
Jean-Luc Godard has consistently been viewed as one of the main practitioners and theorists of an alternative or countertraditional narrative cinema. His experiments with representations of history, truth, and fiction, media such as video, television, and film, as well as techniques such as collage and montage, and the interplay between sound and image tracks have led some to position him as “resolutely postmodernist.”1 Simultaneously he has been characterized as the “ultimate survivor of the modern.”2 No matter how he is identified, though, what cannot be disputed is the importance of Godard’s cinematic and video production in breaking new ground in representation and in creating new forms. And he has not slowed down. Following his political and highly experimental work with the Dziga Vertov group in the early 1970s, and his creation with Anne-Marie Miéville of the Sonimage workshop in the late 1970s, Godard today continues to search for new strategies of image production and consumption. In particular, he has experimented with video technology, with the interchange between video and 35mm film, and especially with how each of these media affects the representation of history, politics, and the self.
History has always been important for Godard, and his products of the late 1980s and early 1990s reinforce this significance. A case in point is his ongoing project Histoire(s) du cinéma [Histories of cinema], commissioned in 1988. Conceived with the approaching centennial of cinema in sight, this project is based on the premise that, for a history to be “true” (any history, but a fortiori cinema’s), it must be constructed not out of “illustrated texts” but from “images and sounds”: son+images. The result, as well as the later Allemagne 90 neuf zéro [Germany 90 nine zero] (1991), are richly layered palimpsests—collages of images and sounds. In these two films, the articulation of political, technological, and cultural history is ruthlessly simple: the death of cinema and the death of communism are intimately related; indeed, in a strange sense presented as “the same.” What is striking in both of these films is that Godard constructs a new formal style of image production, one that raises montage to a new level. He further complicates his theory of history by problematizing the role of the individual subject position or actant. Whereas in Allemagne 90 neuf zéro this appears in the character of Lemmy Caution and the philosopher “Siegfried,” in Histoire(s) du cinéma it is the shadowy figure of Godard with his voice-over dominating the soundtrack that guides the viewer through the barrage of images. In each instance, though, these characters are on the margins.
By contrast, in JLG/JLG the figure of the director, Godard, is the main focus in this hour-long self-reflexive study of the relation of the directorial “I” to image production, consumption, and history. But here, a word of caution, for despite the film’s autobiographical claim, already evident in the title, we must remain skeptical of the project, recalling Paul de Man’s warning that “just as we seem to assert that all texts are autobiographical, we should say that, by the same token, none of them is or can be.” The film at once synthesizes the themes and problematics of Godard’s earlier works (the history of cinema, distinctions between art and culture, the role of the individual, and, in more general terms, the vicissitudes of Western civilization), while at the same time presenting Godard’s theory of visuality and film today. Furthermore, like many of his recent works, JLG/JLG presents a constant self-referencing and intertextual dialogue with Godard’s entire oeuvre—thus a film about JLG is also a film about JLG’s films. But what are the characteristics of the category of self-portrait for Godard? How are we to understand this self-representation in JLG/JLG with the consubstantial presence of Godard in and as text? And to what extent is JLG/JLG in excess of the genre of self-portrait? I want to argue that Godard attempts to fuse the written/graphic genre (autobiography) with the visual genre (self-portrait), subtending both with a third mode: aural representation of an acoustic self.
In contrast to the innovative collage and montage visual experimentations and techniques of the Histoire(s) du cinéma video project, in JLG/JLG Godard returns to a more linear mode of visual exposition. But the innovative complexity of Godard’s films continues in the audial track of JLG/JLG, in which the representation of the self is rendered through a world of sounds, indicative of Godard continuing to fundamentally mistrust visual imagery (not a just image, just an image) and to privilege the aural.
That Godard decides to feature himself prominently in one of his films comes as no surprise, since his work anticipates this almost from the outset of his career. Indeed, he appears as an actor as early as his second film, Une Femme coquette (1955), and subsequently plays the informer in A bout de souffle [Breathless] (1959), the director’s assistant in Le Mépris [Contempt] (1963), Vladimir in Vladimir et Rosa [Vladimir and Rosa] (dir. Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, France and West Germany, 1970), and the institutionalized film director “Uncle Jean” in Prénom: Carmen [First name: Carmen] (1983). Yet another celebrated example of the insertion of his physical body into his films is his contribution to the 1967 omnibus production Loin de Vietnam [Far from Vietnam], where, filmed behind a movie camera, he directly addresses the audience as “Godard the director,” discussing the frustrations and limits of the role of cultural worker within world politics. It is important to stress, however, that although Godard is immediately recognizable as himself in these films, he is still playing consciously scripted fictionalized roles. What is just as important, though rarely noted, is Godard’s predilection to cast the individual in world history both as fictional character and representative self. In Loin de Vietnam, for instance, and again in Allemagne 90 neuf zéro, Godard presents a surrogate for himself as author/intellectual/writer accompanied by an attendant female muse. And even if he does not appear corporally or by proxy as image, his (disembodied) presence is easily recognizable in films such as Une histoire d’eau [A history of water] (1958), Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle [Two or three things I know about her] (1966), and Pravda (1969). For, as Kaja Silverman insightfully notes, authorial subjectivity is inscribed into the cinematic text not only in the iconic representation of the author (here Godard playing himself), but also in the voiceover. As evidenced by the never-realized project Moi, je [Me, I], Godard already had designs of making a film about himself as early as 1973. Furthermore, in J.L.G. Meets W.A. (1986) (where W.A. is Woody Allen), Godard uses the initials J.L.G. to designate himself, and Helas pour moi [Oh woe is me] (1994) has been received as a semiautobiographical meditation on his life and work. But JLG/JLG is Godard’s first unabashed attempt to represent himself filmically. The overlapping of the iconic presence of Godard (as author/director/actor) with an aural track of speech indexically pointing to the author/director induces the spectator/reader/listener to (mis)believe the veracity of the autobiographical claim: We see him and hear him, ergo the information presented must be true. But one of the root claims of Godard’s oeuvre is that cinema is a “dream machine,” an industry based on ideology, sleight of hand, and phantasmatic projection. His autoportrait, I am suggesting, is one of these projections no less for his than for our awareness of the fact.
From a slightly different perspective, many of Godard’s earlier films, though not explicitly signed as such, are (or can be read as) autobiographies. In this sense, it is as if Godard’s films enact Nietzsche’s sly remark that even (indeed, especially) when writing a biography one is actually being autobiographical, that one is, in effect, all the names of history. Godard does, after all, locate the “political” in relation to highly personal and subjective projects, at one point going as far as to assert that “the real ‘political’ film that I’d like to end up with would be a film about me.”8 This is a striking statement, one that is made only more complex by such later proclamations as the following from a 1988 interview in the Socialist newspaper Libération. While François Truffaut may have affirmed an “auteur politics,” Godard states polemically, “Today, all that we have left is the term ‘auteur.’” And yet, continues Godard, “what was interesting was the term ‘politics.’ Auteurs aren’t important.” But how, one may ask, do politics figure in this essay of self-(re)presentation?
Always one to play with traditional genres and to push them beyond their limits, in JLG/JLG Godard at once evokes the literary/philosophical genre of autobiography and the autoportrait, or self-portrait, category of painting. Indeed, Godard seems to privilege the latter, since he subtitles his film “Autoportrait de décembre” while the book version does not contain this subtitle.11 Furthermore, toward the end of the film he stresses, “Autoportrait pas autobiographie” [Self-portrait not autobiography].12 But in a seeming contradiction he also argues that “le papier blanc est le vrai miroir de l’homme” [blank paper is the true mirror of man].13 To be sure, JLG/JLG is set up like a book, opening with ruled lines of a schoolboy’s ledger upon which various words and phrases are scrawled, among others the months of the French Revolution, when there was an attempt to radically alter the order of things. And the pages are turned as the film progresses, culminating in a series of blank pages at the end. However, earlier in the film Godard explains, “Si J.L.G. par J.L.G. il y a que veut dire ce par J.L.G. il s’agira de paysages d’enfance et d’autrefois sans personne dedans et aussi de paysages plus récents oú ont eu lieu les prises de vues.” [If J.L.G by J.L.G. there is, what does this “by J.L.G. mean?” It will concern childhood landscapes both of yesteryear with no one in them, and also more recent ones where things are filmed.]14 Thus the filmed landscape plays as much a role in personal identity and memory as anything else, something that is further emphasized later in the film, when Godard notes that the word “nation” in French (pays) is contained within the French word for “landscape” (paysage). In short, for Godard the concept of landscape is loaded with meaning in terms of forming or constructing the social, cultural, historical, political subject.16 And it is in this sense that the link between national identity and cultural product (filmed landscapes) is forged, a connection that resonates with Godard’s pronouncements on national cinema, such as the following: “I think cinema was the identity of nations, of peoples (who were more or less organized as nations), and that since, this has disappeared.”
Forgoing the more flexible video technology, JLG/JLG is made in traditional 35mm film. It opens with the sound of a telephone ringing against a blank screen. As a poorly illuminated room comes into focus, the accompanying soundtrack is of children’s voices at play, followed by the credits. The first voice we hear is Godard’s, imitative of a breathless and wheezing Lemmy Caution in Alphaville, muttering as if to himself these opening words: “Exercice 174, procéder la distribution des rôles, commencer les répétitions, résoudre le problèmes de mise en scène, régle soigneusement les entrées et les sorties, apprendre son rôle par coeur, travailler à améliorer son interprétation, entrer dans la peau de son personnage.” [Cast the roles. Begin the rehearsals. Settle the problems concerning the direction. Perfect the entrances and exits. Learn your lines by heart. Work to improve your acting, get under the skin of your character.]18 And as an early childhood photograph of Godard slowly appears on the screen, ultimately filling the entire frame, he switches his tone of voice, now acting out the clichéd role of an old man ruminating on his youth in the third person. In this scenario, we recognize Godard’s disguised voice, but simultaneously are aware that he is playing a role. This slippage between fact and fiction, reality and simulacrum, is not surprising in Godard. On the contrary, it has characterized his work from its inception—a characteristic which may in part be explained by Godard’s “essayistic” mode of filmmaking. And just as the essay film challenges the generic categories of fact and fiction, so does autobiography. Indeed, we have come a long way since Philippe Lejeune’s initial search for a fixed definition of “autobiography”—one predicated on a heuristic contract that promises to deliver the “truth.” In opposition to this, today autobiography is commonly seen as exemplifying irreducible tensions between a lived life wie es eigentlich gewesen, and self-created fiction(s) of a narrating self or selves. In this sense, instead of trying to determine whether or not this is the “real,” it may be more productive to adapt Paul de Man’s argument that “autobiography is not a genre or a mode, but a figure of reading or understanding that occurs, to some degree in all texts.”This is, I am arguing, something that certainly takes place in Godard’s JLG/JLG.
In this complexly edited film, Godard meticulously constructs a richly layered aural palimpsest—one could even say a mystic writing pad. Quotations from philosophers and writers as diverse as Hegel, Stendhal, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Bernanos, and Giraudoux are juxtaposed with film clips and sound tracks from Godard’s own films, as well as from classics such as Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar, a rich classical music sound track, and paintings, primarily of courtesans, by, among others, Velázquez, Boucher, Fragonard, Courbet, Manet, and Schiele. Amid the multitude of images and sounds, several major themes gradually emerge. At one point, the director, JLG, is visited by the “contrôleurs du centre du cinéma” (cinema center inspectors). At another, in the ultimate ironic gesture, JLG hires a blind woman to edit his films intuitively. Vision is thus completely undermined in relation to other senses. But while the film never lapses into randomness, it never totally resolves itself either; instead, it teases the viewer along cresting waves of delirium, and just when one feels utterly overwhelmed and about to drown, a partially delineated current spins one toward a new thematic connection.
The film is a labyrinth. One is continually confronted by the work of reading, listening, viewing, deciphering, and searching. Throughout, interior shots of Godard’s residence in Rolle, Switzerland, are intercut with landscape shots of a vast field, Lake Geneva, and a rough-hewn path that leads into the woods. As JLG aimlessly wanders on a spit in the lake—a more solitary walker than Rousseau—the exterior changes seasons. In one of the final scenes, set in winter, he encounters an old woman in black on a path that is said to lead nowhere: Heidegger’s Holzweg. This crucial image or trope, evoked by Godard in such earlier projects as Histoire(s) and Allemagne both visually and as writing across the screen—“chemins qui ne menent nulle part” [woodcutter’s paths that lead nowhere]—is Heidegger’s postwar trope for authentic, noninstrumental thinking in the fallen age of technology. But Godard has refunctioned this scene into an allusion to filmmaking as noninstrumental art, what he calls the exception, versus instrumental production culture—the rule. “Il y a la culture,” JLG maintains in a crucial segment of the film, “qui est de la règle qui fait partie de la règle. Il y a l’exception qui est de l’art qui fait partie de l’art.” [Culture is a question of rules. It is part of the rules. Exception is a question of art. It is part of art.]24 And he goes on to list elements of the rule: cigarettes, computers, T-shirts, television, tourism, and war. The segment ends with the high modernist statement that it is part of the “rule to want the death of the exception.”
In this connection it is as interesting as it is revealing to note the relatively vast array of media introduced by Godard in the film. This array ranges from photography (the film, after all, begins with the conventional autobiographical formula of the photo of the author as a young child), to painting, graphics, written text, video technology, and more. Indeed, in JLG/JLG we can see a product exemplary of what Rosalind Krauss, expounding on the theories of Michael Fried and Thierry de Duve, refers to as a “post-medium age” in which individual media implode “into a single continuum.” Alternately, though, we can begin to understand why Godard opted for 35mm film as the medium through which to represent himself if we follow Jameson’s argument that “whenever other arts are foregrounded within a film—and, generally visual, those can range from video to cuneiform, or, as here, from theater to painting—what is at stake is always some implicit formal proposition as to the superiority of film itself as a medium over these disparate competitors.”26 For we cannot fail to observe that despite JLG/JLG’s extensive referencing of other media, it still seems that Godard stands by his candid response to Colin MacCabe that the only way to counter the “structures of television” is “to make movies.”27 Which leads one to question just exactly what it is about the filmic medium that, even (or especially) for Godard in its death throes, still retains a superiority over all the other media?
But film is not the only medium whose death is being mourned in JLG/JLG—it also laments the “death of writing.” Indeed, the argument that we are moving from a literate society to one dominated by the image also runs through the film. And though cinema has often been cited as instrumental in this shift, arguments for the structural and syntactical similarities between the novel and cinema have been advanced by Marshall McLuhan and numerous others. In this respect, the autobiographical film can be considered part of the legacy of the literary genre of autobiography. And, by extension, Godard’s film therefore also constitutes an investigation of the death of literature. Interestingly, in what appears to be an effort to combat this occurrence, Godard publishes a print version of his film. He thereby firmly binds his film to literary creation through the publication of the screenplay, strengthening its position as a film for a literate audience.
Heavily scripted, Godard’s autobiographical essay is also a philosophical reflection on the reproductive medium of film, a preemptive performance of film criticism—a contemporary adaptation of Schlegel’s famous dictum: “A theory of the novel should itself be a novel.” In this sense, JLG/JLG challenges the institution of criticism as it inhibits and resists scholarly discourse, always already appearing to have done the critic’s work. Surely, it is in this way that one can properly begin to understand Godard’s claim that since his departure from narrative film he has considered cinema as primarily “an instrument of thought.
It is unnecessary to spell out the structural relationships between Godard’s son+image—a type of aural collage consisting of repeated or overlapping film clips, written or spoken poetry, philosophy, high and low literature, as well as paintings and visual citations functioning as rebus—and concepts such as Walter Benjamin’s “dialectical image” or Gilles Deleuze’s “image-events.” But, true to his nature, Godard does not always “footnote” his original sources, preferring to fuse them into his own sounds and images. (The book JLG/JLG gives a few citations in the form of proper names at the back.) Regarding Godard’s ubiquitous literary and philosophical allusions, the implied “reader” of JLG/JLG indeed seems required to possess a lycée, gymnasium, or British public-school education that is barely accessible in the United States or elsewhere, and is shrinking fast even in Europe. As such, Godard addresses at least two audiences: those who are in the know, who will recognize the references, and those who will not.
ly temptation may be real, and even pleasant, this pursuit is something of a red herring in the case of Godard’s play with allusions, which are at once playful but also exert their influence rationally and affectively. By the same token, even without trying to grasp completely the intertextual clarification of Godard’s every allusion, it is important to understand his basic structure of appropriation. Can intertextuality produce a pure son+image? Can a pure son+image produce indeterminacy? We get a glimpse of Godard’s response to such questions in a key section of JLG/JLG. Discussing image production, Godard presents a theory of montage in which the realities put together have to be both “lointains et justes” [distant and right]. If these elements do not have any relationship to each other, Godard suggests, then an image will not result. Godard then goes on to assert that it is not “brutale” or “fantastique” elements that will make an image powerful. Rather, a strong image is one in which “l’association des idées est lointaine, lointaine, et juste” [the association of ideas is distant, distant, and right].31 In a further sense, too, Godard maintains that this idea of montage is not one that is found only in the realm of visual imagery, but one that encompasses the aural realm as well. Thus the shrill sound of the crow against the barren, rough-trodden landscape at once alludes to Van Gogh’s last painting, Wheatfield with Crows (1890), while referencing the squawk of the crow in Allemagne 90 neuf zéro.
By design, then, Godard’s resulting son+image is impossible to fully absorb or comprehend at one viewing. Raymond Bellour’s 1992 observation in “(Not) Just an Other Filmmaker,” that in Godard’s films generally there are “four modalities that link text and speech to image, but also divide them,” is applicable to JLG/JLG. 32 According to Bellour, the first modality is “the book circuit,” the frequent shots of books as physical objects, including Godard’s personal library. Here, the “book is the object in hunt-the-slipper: you can hold certain moments of it, which you hold out to the other, your partner, as the spectator. You can expect a sort of grace from it, which is always deferred, since the real belief is the image—before which the text is lacking.”33 Second, there is “quotation, issuing from books on this side and beyond: on this side to mark how references spontaneously exercise memory and the body, like available traces; beyond, to create impalpable dissociations—to contain, to veil the image as such, which is at once too simple, excessive, immediate, and out of reach.” Third, there is another modality of textuality, Godard’s patented privileging of “text over image, ready-made texts—ads, signs, graffiti—all foregrounded by the framing of the image.”
And finally there are all the voices: those of the book and of quotation, and those of all the characters from whom Godard’s voice stands out more and more frequently and insistently. But all share with his voice the singularity of always addressing the spectator, at least somewhat— even when talking to a partner, whether on- or offscreen. Thus, they constantly double the film with a critical layer that isn’t commentary, since the voices remain engaged in the fiction. But the fiction is based, as much as or more on plot, on an analysis of the condition of fiction, the conditions of a possible (hi)story, in the context of images and sounds.
Camera Obscura, 44 (Volume 15, Number 2), 2000, pp. 74-103 (Article)
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