Throughout the Western world, the 1960s were a time of immense cinematic innovation. In France, the person who most epitomized this phenomenon was, unquestionably, Jean-Luc Godard and he is still active today. Indeed, if from A bout de souffle (1960) to Notre Musique (2004) Godard has retained the ability, as Jean Cocteau once said about Igor Stravinsky, to find a fresh spot on the pillow, it is because, from the outset, he has thought cinema in an individual way.
Less sequential than disjunctive, less logical than analogical, even his later films, although more relaxed, are as innovative as ever. It is this individual way of thinking that I'd like to examine. Arguably, it informs his entire output as, possibly, it has informed his entire life.
L'Anaiogieest un moyen de creation--C'estune ressem-blonce de
rapports; or de la nature deces rapports depend la force of la
faiblesse de I'image creee. (2)
--Pierre Reverdy, L'lmage (1918)
In JLG/JLC--autoportrait de decembre (1994), there is a moment when Jean-Luc Godard is sitting at his desk. On the desktop are paper and pens. He has been reading from Wittgenstein and Diderot--Wittgenstein on certainty and Diderot on blindness. He begins to talk about Jeannot which, he explains, rhymes with stereo--as if the creative use he now makes of sound has been influenced by his name.
He draws a triangle, first in black, then in red; first right-side up, then upside-down--intersecting to form a hexagon. Stereo projects Jeannot, the responsive function, he explains. Within the history of stereo, of triangles that respond to one another, Godard clarifies, the Euclidean triangle projected Pascal, as Germany did Israel, and (while we hear thunder in the background) Israel necessitated Palestine.
This sequence encapsulates the artistic thinking of Jean-Luc Godard. As a tribute to Pierre Reverdy, let us call it analogical thinking. Even if disjunctively, one image leads to another. Every sound has its projection; every statement its dialectical opposite. Written ninety years ago, Reverdy's disquisition on the image is a celebration of analogical thinking. References to it occur in Passion (1982), King Lear (1987) JLG/JLG, and Histoire(s) du cinema (1989-97).
Thoroughly to investigate the validity of this idea could involve a substantial philosophical digression. As far back as the eighteenth century, Immanuel Kant was arguing that the mind is less a passive receptor of experience than an active processor of it, that we know the phenomena of the world less in themselves than through their representations. (3) At the beginning of the twentieth century, Henri Bergson championed intuitive over intellectual models of perception, positing anelan vital as a creative process of apprehending the world. (4) And more recently, philosophers of mind have begun to re-examine analogical as opposed to digital models, continuous-time systems as distinct from discrete-time systems--systems that can distinguish between the biological and computational functions of the human brain. (5) If I understand them sufficiently, these examinations offer a more scientific endorsement of the intuitive potentiality of mind, especially concerning its ability to synthesize disparate bits of information into new intelligible wholes.
Such a digression, however, invokes a territory I have no wish to enter. It defines a field in which I am more a rambler than a cultivator. For this essay, I would rather return to more manageable matters--to an investigation of how this process of analogical thinking, whatever its philosophical justifications, informs the way by which Godard constructs his cinematic works. Analogical thinking is crucial to the binary organization of the films of jean-Luc Godard. It inflects his montage, affects his addiction to citation and, while filling his work with irresolvable contradictions, it imbricates absurdity with the sublime. …