by GLEN W. NORTON
After the tumuItuous events of May '68, in which he actively participated, Jean-Luc Godard joined with Jean-Pierre Gorin and others to create the film collective known as the Dziga Vertov Group. Highly informed by Althusserian Marxism and dedicated to the collective process, the Group envisioned dialectical materialism as a means to save cinema from an assumed and unquestioned dominant ideology of narrative. The process of dialectic inquiry was designed to lay bare what was (somewhat naïvely) understood as "the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence". Unfortunately, this notion of interrogation usually came with its own pre-supposed synthesis.
In the struggle to make political films politicaily (under the rallying cry 'No more narrative! Materialist dialectical fiction!"), any notion of what Godard (at his most polemic) termed "feeling" (what one might now, looking at Godard's work today, call transcendence, or possibly even jouissance - see chapters two and three) was dismissed by the Group as mere bourgeois" aesthetics. Take for example what Godard says in 1970 about One Plus One, a film he made in 1968, just previous to formation of the Group: "It's a wrong picture. If you like the Rolling Stones, you can see them work, that's all . . . There is nothing but feelings, an opposition of feelings, but no opposition of - it's not dialectic. It's metaphysical, not dialectic". Between episodes of revolutionary diatribe and the Stones rehearsal lies associative uncertainty, a notion not easily integrated into the linearity of dialectics. For the Dziga Vertov Group, then, dialectics was about certainty, about showing a reality aiready assumed to exist; it was on the level of production: not speculation, substantiating itself by re-producing a synthesis coming well before any discursive dialectic of the films themselves. In retrospect, the period seems one of little inquiry into actual cause/effect relations - the priority was to show things as they are and to attack the mot cause, not to question what that cause might be. This is not to say the films of this period are not interesthg or Fuitfiil in creating debate, just that the policy behind hem was rigidly dogmatic. Perhaps these films let slip too much of an irreverent attitude toward their own tenets to be taken seriously; perhaps in some way this lead Godard to ultimately question the assurnptions behind the practice of materialist dialectical fiction. The self-cnticism that ensues begins a struggle to see beyond the barrier of dialectics, the ciilmination of which supplants argumentative proof with the suggestion of a collective memory.
Ici et ailleurs: Seeing In-Between
This new struggle announces itself in force with Ici et ailleurs. The fllm is, ostensibly, about the unfinished Dziga Vertov Group film Jusqu'à la Victoire. In the spring of 1970, Godard and GOM (now Godard's only collaborator within the Group) shot footage in Jordan of Al Fatah, a militant, revolutionary faction of the PLO. Before they could finish the film, however, most or ail of the participants were kilIed by troops loyal to King Hussein. The footage was not assembled by Godard until four years later, now with a new collaborator, Anne-Marie Miéville.
The first section of Ici et ailleurs reveals how Godard had planned Jusqu'à la Victoire back in 1970. He wanted the film to be divided into five sections, each incorporating a set of images (pre)supposed to convey a singular ideological message. Running these images one after the other wouid (theoretically) produce the "right" dialectical synthesis.
Thus the progression of would have been:
1. Will of the People - typified by an image of an AL Fatah member's speech to his cormrades about taking back their land through armed struggle.
2. Armed Struggle - typified by an image of an AL Fatah member firing a large machine gun.
3. Political Work - typified by an image of a woman's speech about the need for direct involvement in the revolution by Palestinian women.
4. Prolonged War - typified by an image of girls training for future battle, what Godard calls the "Long Mach".
5. Until Victory - typified by an image of a drawing of an Al Fatah man wielding a gun. Superimposed over this is an image of Golda Meir (Israel's prime minister during this period), which then, in an interesting use of early video technology, dissolves. The technique vividly depicts this category as Godard's ''final synthesis".
After presenting the five categories in this order (the order he had, in 1970, concluded would produce the "right" effect) Godard then goes on to explain what conclusions would arise through a "correct" dialectical combination:
The Will of the People + The Armed Struggle = The People's War
The People's War + The Political Work = The People's Education
The People's Education + The People's Logic = The Popular War Extended:
It is true that reducing a film down to a few equations seems rather simplistic. However, when one starts to analyse not the just the thesis, antithesis and synthesis of these equations but also the relationships between these parts, one begins to understand a little of what Godard must have felt watching and editing the footage of these long-dead Palestinians four years after the fact. Here the critique of the past begins.
As Jacques Aumont points out, "the striking thing is that for Godard, seeing is less an analytical activity than an immediate, synthetic relation (and relation also means 'between')". To begin to ask what constitutes this "between" means to go beyond the dialectical conclusions of Jusqu'à la Victoire, for as Godard says in Ici et ailleurs: 'It is too simple and too easy to divide the world into two". To understand what went wrong in the process of making Jusqu'à la victoire, Godard focuses upon what lies between the images of his equations, in the "+", thus revealing what had been effaced by dialectics: the movement fiom image to image. Godard, in voice over, tells us that when it comes to film, each image does not quite replace the next: "A new image keeps more or less the memory of the image before. This is because the film is moving. And on the whole, time has replaced space, speaks for it, or rather space has inscribed itself on film in another form". This other form is memory, or as Godard puts it, a totality of "translations and feelings". For Godard, then, film no longer consists of the sum of images but a chain of images - an image- chain can speak (in the plural) whereas dialectics can oniy produce (in the singular). Extrapolate upon this chain of images and one discovers a plurality of images, a disorder of images (rather than the neat, fixed order of dialectics), images that cannot remain self-contained within any single nIm, images that combine in a chain of global images that refer us to ourselves and to others: "mon ton son image".
So in Ici et Ailleurs, Godard (with direct support from Miéville) returns to his five images, not to "read" them but in effect to re-read - to see them. By refusing to give images a singular meaning ("read" them) Godard comes to understand the problem of using different images to represent the same category. These five images, then, had not been used as images at all, but as factors in an equation: any one image in a given category was inherently presumed to have the capacity to represent the category as a whole. Something had been lost between the gathering of images (ailleurs) and the re- see-ving of images (ici), between the space of the image (the pro-filmic event) and the time of the image (the memory of the event, the event as history). In 1970, Godard had not seen these images - he had a pre-conceived notion of what they should be saying and then read what he wanted into them and out of them.
It would be wrong to exclude the effect of Miéville on this film (and on Godard's artistic output as a whole); one might say she, and not Godard, initiates and enunciates the criticism in Ici et ailleurs. It is her voice near the end of the nIm asking questions of the images, interrogating the image and the image-maker, laying bare the ideology that had usurped these images before they had any chance to sign as images. This critical act continues into Godard's later work, in films such as Soft and Hard (A Soft Conversation on a Hard Subject Between Two Friends). Here Godard represents iinear, self-assured meaning and MiévilIe the doubting, hesitating force of critique (especiaiiy in an analysis of Détective, telling Godard he is "too timid" when it cornes to the love scenes). Much could be said here (and has ken said already) about dîviding "hard" production and "soft" seduction dong gender lines, something Godard bas been severely chastised for, but I will leave this for now, to bring it up again in chapter four.
excerpt from the CRITICAL THEORY AND JEAN-LUC GODARD'S PHILOSOPHY OF THE IMAGE by GLEN W. NORTON