Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her: Art Against Homogeneity

There’s a key scene in Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her (Deux ou Trois Choses que je Sais D’Elle 1967), a quiet moment of contemplation that takes place in a café amongst the rapid transformation of Paris under the De Gaullist programme of infrastructural development and against the backdrop of Pax Americana, the US’s revitalising post-war project for Europe. The soft whisper of the narrator provides a subcurrent to the images, an anti-authoritative (and anti-authoritarian) consciousness that accompanies the scene. A man considers cup of coffee, amidst the hubbub of the café; the spontaneous worlds that are conjured within it are analogous to fulminations of the narrator’s speech:

We Watch Coffee in a Small Espresso Cup

Narrator VO: This is how Juliette, at 3.37, watched the turning pages of that object known in journalese as a magazine. And this is how, frames later, another young woman, her twin saw the same object. Where, then, is the truth? Full-face or profile? But first, what is an object? Perhaps it is a link enabling us to pass from one subject another, therefore live together. But since social relations are always ambiguous, since thought as much as it unites, since words unite or isolate by what they express or omit, since an immense gulf separates my subjective awareness from the objective truth I represent for others, since I constantly blame myself, though I feel innocent, since every event transforms my daily life, since I constantly fail to communicate, since each failure makes me aware of solitude since…since I cannot escape crushing objectivity or isolating subjectivity, since I cannot rise to the state of being, or fall into nothingness…I must, I must look around more than ever. The world…my kin…my twin…

The world alone…today when revolutions are impossible and wars threaten me, when capitalism is unsure of its rights and the working class retreats, when the lightning progress of science brings the future closer than the present, when distant galaxies are at my door…my kin…my twin

Where is the beginning? But what beginning? God created heaven and earth. But one should be able to put it better. To say the limits of language, of my language…are those of the world, my world…and in speaking I limit the world, I end it. And when the mysterious and logical death abolishes those limits…there will be, no question, no answer, just vagueness. But if things come into focus again…this can be through the rebirth of conscience. Everything follows from this.

As the foam and froth swirls on the surface of the coffee we see spontaneous galaxies evoked, the birth of universes, an embryo bifurcating and a nucleus bombarded with electrons. This is the rupture in the Parisian reality that we experience through the moment of contemplation; a ‘gap’, if you will, a break from ordinary habits. This is a puncture in the continuum of the city that Godard enacts to allow us to consider what might lie beyond. It alludes to the cosmic and microscopic beyond the ‘all too human’ world, to the world of nature, chemistry and biology, as well as to something not yet drowned by the totalising system that Paris is becoming. All the while, Juliette, the main focus of the film, sitting a few seats away, is continually captured and recaptured, subject to the homogenous capitalist reality and ‘the crushing objectivity’ that subsumes her and isolates her, alienating her from her ‘twin’, as she is distracted by the magazine image. Paris, the ‘her’ of the title, is represented by Juliette (actress Marina Vlady), the human face that is eradicating nature, her beauty compromised by the necessity to work as a prostitute to afford the utilities of the new city. Her identity is subordinate to the spectacle, the indifference of men and inadequate desires of this totalising reality, all of which are window-dressed as emancipation. She is unable to individuate herself from anyone else. The ‘gap’ of the event of the coffee cup is a point through which possible universes and future potentialities flood, glimpsing a fully realised and self-satisfied life, as well pointing towards potential liberation and unity against the alienating despotism of the Fordist present. In fact, in the following scene Juliette attempts to evoke a memory of trees, sky and nature, but fails, as if she is unable to escape from the totality of mass-distraction. She returns to shopping and is once again subsumed by the present, falling back into matrix of commodities.

The coffee cup seems to function much in the way that Bergson’s schema of the Cone from Matter and Memory describes, as an escape from materialism; the escape which Juliette cannot adequately perform and which Godard ably does on our behalf as he reattaches our perception to true memory. It frees us from the tyranny of the present through a simple, almost banal, everyday event. For Bergson, the ability to draw down the past (collective and ‘pure’ memory, the AB of his diagram, the virtual circuits of recollection-images), through a process of motion and duration, activates it at point of the subject (S) on the plane of the present (P). Bergson outlines the dynamic process as such:

We tend to scatter ourselves over AB in the measure that we detach ourselves from out sensory motor state to live in the life of dreams; we tend to concentrate ourselves more firmly to the present reality, responding by motor reactions to sensory stimulation. In point of fact, the normal self never stays in either of those extreme position; it moves between them, adopts in turn the positions corresponding to the intermediate sections, or, in other words, gives its representations just enough image and just enough image and just enough idea for them to be able to lend useful aid to the present action

The plane of the present, the ‘actual’ plane of representation on which our subjective self is situated, is the sensori-motor realm of reactive activity. Despite this, Bergson tells us we are able to reach up into the virtuality of memory and dream by detaching ourselves from the present and perform a gap through our ‘leap of imagination’. The ‘pure’ memory we access through this performance of the gap is not to be confused with ‘habit memory’, the automatic repetitive memory that is merely reactive and if anything represents a break from ordinary habits. This ‘leap’ is not merely an act of contemplation, but a movement of memory between contemplation and action. We can then utilise recollection-images to disrupt the present and consequently the future. This interruption prevents us from being subject to the tyranny of reality in which we are merely an actor (like Juliette) and allows us to access other potentialities, as Godard does in the coffee cup scene. He is ‘reaching up’, in that moment, from the univocal, totalising present to the polyvocal, immanent multiplicity, allowing plurality to spontaneously flourish; a heterogeneity against homogeneity. Conversely, Juliette is unable to activate her own memory, the one she attempts to evoke and is trapped like a pinball in one of the noisy, ubiquitous machines we see throughout the film. She rebounds from one set of motor-sensory stimuli to the next, on the two-dimensional plane of the present, a creature of consumerist habits:

Juliette: I don’t know when or where…I have tried all day long to recapture that feeling…there was a scent of trees. I was the world and the world was me.

The inability to detach from the plane of perception limits Juliette’s ability to access the virtual past, leaving her fixed in the present subjectivity, unable to perform the gap. The coffee cup, much like Godard’s film, calls a new subjectivity into being, whereas Juliette’s efforts are abbreviated. Godard allows us to glimpse this process of the production and creation of a new subjectivity through the actualisation of a recollection-image. This new subjectivity is then set in contrast to the homogenised collective-subjectivity of capitalism. There is then a possibility that this could be integral to a new political and social unity to overcome our modern urban alienation –– in fact, post-modern alienation maybe more accurate given Frederic Jameson’s assertion that:

Postmodernism is what you have when the modernization process is complete and nature is gone for good.

Man has replaced nature with his own face. Godard sees this as the inexorable result of the modernisation of the Paris –– itself a logical extension of the Hausmann-isation of the city in 1870’s carried out in reaction to the uprising of the Paris Commune –– an upheaval that disrupted the cohabitation of classes in Paris. The original city is supplanted with a second-nature that is only useful to commerce. The infrastructural program is then a process by which Parisians are further totalised by the State’s materiality, an apparatus of control. Timothy O’Leary examines the consequences of these apparatuses, as Foucault understands them, and the State’s bio-power in relation to the individual. It helps explain Juliette’s ‘fixed’ subjective experience:

Firstly, there are the actual forms of subjectivity themselves which are made possible within, and enforced by, modern apparatuses of subjectivity. These are forms, which, as we have seen, frequently entail what Foucault calls the ‘effects of misery’. Secondly, Foucault clearly implies there is something particularly, effective and therefore pernicious, about modern Western techniques of subjectification: these techniques force individuals back on themselves and fix their own identities in a constraining way (Sex and Power, p.212). Not only are we ‘fixed’ to forms of subjectivity which entail the effects of misery, but more importantly, we are fixed to them in an extremely effective and thoroughly ‘naturalized’ way: they have become a ‘second nature’ from which it will require a massive labour to free ourselves.

What could constitute this massive labour that frees us from these ‘fixed’ or proxy subjectivities? Perhaps, through what Delueze refers to in Godard’s films as a ‘pedagogy of the image’, there is an instructive element to the creation of new subjectivities that to edifies us to the possibilities of other potential modes of existence and creates a space for self-determination; a non-totalisable space. This would fit in with Bergson’s conception that the activation of memory-images in the present is an essential constituent part of the process, a dissemination of ideas, if you will. If cinema is a ‘movement-image/time-image’ then Godard’s a principle exponent of this, by effecting a ‘process of actualization’, an actualization of the virtual that speaks to us of new modalities of being and a radical creativity that frees us from the fixed subjectivities of the dominant Western mode.

So why else does Juliette fail in her efforts to ponder the consequences of the restructuring of the city? Previously to this we witnessed Juliette lying in bed, wrapped in a sheets that correspond to the tricolor, being asked by her son whether she dreams, but she replies she is unable to and feels fragmented in her dreams. She is alluding to an inability to produce her own personal subjectivity, ‘to live in a life of dream’, such is the effectiveness of the collective subjectivity she experiences and consequently she cannot generate her own desires. Even in sleep her individuality is disrupted and fixed in the plane of perception; capitalism even penetrates her dreams. This is the totalising effect of the State is described for us by the bed sheets that wind round her body and mimic the French flag. There are many moments in the film in which she has partial realisations, but seems unable to act on them or begin to produce something more important or meaningful. There is an analogy to this situation in what Marx referred to as the production of species-life. Through the ‘estrangement of labour’ Marx says that man, or in this case Juliette, is prevented from realising his/her own species-life (their full potential) through their own alienation from the product of their labour. This means that they are little more that an animal, unable to control the purpose of their labour. Marx sees this as the fault of capitalist society, as he deems society as yet unfit for human nature (we could read Godard’s Paris of the late-60’s as such a society):

It is true that animals also produce. They build nests and dwellings, like the bee, the beaver, the ant, etc. But they produce only their own immediate needs or those of their young; they produce only when immediate physical need compels them to do so, while man produces even when he is free from physical need and truly produces only in freedom from such need; they produce only themselves, while man reproduces the whole of nature; their products belong immediately to their physical bodies, while man freely confronts his own product. Animals produce only according to the standards and needs of the species to which they belong, while man is capable of producing according to the standards of every species and of applying to each object its inherent standard; hence, man also produces in accordance with the laws of beauty.

By reducing man’s ability to produce his own life, he is merely an animal reactive to the needs of the homogenous capitalist conception of reality and producing only for the ‘standards and needs’ of capital. This ‘estrangement’ and ‘self-estrangement’ is characterised in the film by Juliette’s labour as a housewife/prostitute, which reduces her to a function of labour, as well as function of men’s desires (which are really just the fetish desires of capitalism; in the same way as Juliette applies lipstick for her clients, whether her clients desire it or not). It is ‘the alienation of activity, the activity of alienation’. In fact, the premise for the whole film is based on an article Godard read about housewives in Paris working as prostitutes to afford their rent and bills. He even illustrates this idea with the life-cycle of a Parisian woman –– almost in the format of wildlife documentary –– a subject of study that would correlate with Marx’s definition of the animal’s inability to produce man’s potential species-life. She is sexually subordinate to the State’s assemblages that function for the purposes of accumulation (through her paid and unpaid labour, her rent, her bills, her spending, the potential labour of her children), alienated from ‘true love’ and forced to enact her ‘sad situation’ within a collective subjectivity that allows capital to operate –– i.e. through the increased homogeneity of the burgeoning Parisian cityscape that we endlessly see being constructed during the film. As the narrator says: “…I cannot rise to my state of being”.

Beyond this alienating process, Marx in The German Ideology explains that there is a philosophical error of individuation of the subject that is emphasised under capitalism. Individuation is an error in thinking of the individual as the end-point of a progressive specification of the species. This is also the error of transcendentalism in Kant that produces the hierarchy that precedes individuation. Through this collective-individuation the capitalist subject suffers under the delusion of the ‘lie of the individual’. For Marx the ‘transformation of personal powers (relationships) into material powers’ is not possible without community. In that respect he privileges communal forms (i.e. communalism, socialism, collectivism, etc,) over the false-individualism and false-community that capitalism provides through property and under the division of labour. Marx states that the overcoming of this process of individuation:

… is not possible without the community. Only in community [with others has each] individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible. In the previous substitutes for the community, in the State, etc. personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed within the relationships of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class. The illusory community, in which individuals have up till now combined, always took on an independent existence in relation to them, and was at the same time, since it was the combination of one class over against another, not only a completely illusory community, but a new fetter as well. In a real community the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association.

So here is an explicit statement about the ‘illusory community’ through which we are individuated. Conversely, ‘real community’ and social relations are identified as the basis of the revolutionary liberation of the individual and source of personal freedom: the individual is freed by social relations to produce their own life, rather then perceiving themselves to be a individual in ‘independent existence’. This is particularly useful to remember when we come to talk about Guattari, creativity and the manner in which art has been able to escape from its axiological references. We will see how collective and real community is instrumental in the formation of radical new subjectivities against the homogenising systems of capital. For Guattari ‘transversal collective identities’ become central to the exceptional ennunciative qualities of art. The collective then becomes a cell from which liberatory consequences manifest themselves on the plane of the present and flourish through what Guattari refers to as ‘crystallizations of complementary segments of subjectivity’.

Returning to the subject’s inability to produce their own life for the moment, Deleuze in Spinozist mode would say that Juliette is unable to rise in stature as she is unable to match the extrinsic parts of the world with her intrinsic parts. She is subject to the effect of bodily shocks (again sensori-motor) and unable build the relative proportions of knowledge that would adequately describe her world. She is ‘composed of an infinity of extrinsic parts of which (she) has inadequate perceptions’:

The simplest bodies do not have any interiority…they are always determined by the outside. What does this mean? By shocks. By impacts from another part.

The poverty of the capitalist experience for Godard is a ‘regime of extensive parts’ that limits the individual’s experience to the first kind of knowledge as much as possible. Marxism and other philosophies, on the other hand, could be said to fit with the second kind of knowledge (the knowledge of relations…explicitly social relations in the case of Marx…approaching a more adequate knowledge, even the intuition of an essence that comprises the third kind of knowledge). Juliette and the other Parisians we encounter are characterised by their relativity to the external, content to merely react, like ‘Pierre’, Deleuze’s imaginary subject:

Let us take the individual ‘X”, the individual “Pierre”. Let us consider Pierre as himself. He spent the majority of his life –– you see how this becomes very nuanced and very concrete –– one can say that Pierre spent most of his life mainly in the first kind of knowledge. This is the case for most people, since according to Spinoza, it is necessary to have even a little philosophy, it is necessary to get out of the first kind of knowledge. Take the case of someone that lives mostly in the first kind of knowledge. What do I specify by mostly? It is necessary to be optimistic, even if it does not always happen. This person, in any case, he will have properly understood a small part of his life, a time, not a long time, a day, an evening, an evening while returning to his home. He will have understood a small part. He will have had the impression of understanding a little of something. Maybe he will have the impression he understood a little of something and then, all his life he tries to forget he understood something so striking. Suddenly he says to himself: but wait, there’s something not quite right here. All, even the poor wretches, have this experience. Even the worst moron has passed close to something where he has said: I couldn’t have passed all my life in deception? Then one leaves to a small extent the first kind of knowledge. I.e., in Spinoza’s terms, you will understood even a tiny point, you will have an intuition of an essence, or the comprehension of a relationship…Nobody is condemned to the first kind of knowledge, there is always a small hope. There is a glimmer with someone.

And so the door of possibilities is always ajar. In the contemplation of the espresso cup, the moment which brings ‘distant galaxies to our door’, we can catch a glimpse what constitutes the Spinoza’s eternal: the glimmer of ones own relationship with the eternal, ‘that which is not under the form of time’, that may help us build the relative proportions of knowledge that a grasp of the intuitive essence requires. This finds a parallel in Godard’s narrator’s resolution that, ‘…if things come into focus again…this can be through the rebirth of conscience. Everything follows from this.’ This is clearly an ethical pronouncement that is the consequence of a culmination of his thoughts and points to an ethics that is based in aestheticism.

In Chaosmosis, Felix Guattari develops a geneaology of Assemblages Ennunciation (i.e modalities of subjectivation). He then uses this to illustrate how art has recently detached itself from its axiological references (particularly, capitalism’s overcoding axiomatic) and becomes something wholly new. In effect, he identifies that an exceptional new paradigm that art has come to embody. Art now has the ability to produce alterity: mutant creative subjectivities and actualisations of heterogeneous otherness. Through art, individuals find themselves ‘enveloped by transversal collective identities’ and ’situated at the intersections of numerous partial subjectivation’. The subject is now connected to the exterior with a direct contact to outside/social life rather than building ‘interiorised faculties’. Guattari states that a new ethical understanding is brought about from this relation to the exteriority. In a sense, ethics reconnects us to the external.

Art, in contrast to other spheres of human activity, through the restraints of finite materials, through percept and affect, allows the infinite (virtual/immaterial) to irrupt and crystallize on the plane of the real. This is entirely a result of certain mutations that have allowed art to detach itself from its historical axiological references and give it this privileged position as laboratory for the subject. Gauttarri’s genealogy of this evolution of the Assemblages of Enunciation is divided into three modalities of subjectivation, which chart the development of societies through history to demonstrate how art has arrived at what he names ‘the ethico-aesthetic paradigm’. It is perhaps useful to point out that these assemblages overlap somewhat and are not necessarily distinct historical periods:

The first assemblage is the Collective Territories. This is the nascent, emergent territorialized assemblage, the clan, tribe or collective-for-itself; that which we previously and erroneously called primitive. This assemblage articulates itself through pre-institutional religious practice, which has the ability to actualise immaterial universes through chants, dances and animism and effect a positive, affirmative drive toward deterritorialised infinity (which then folds over into territorialised one). Everything the collective-for-itself does connects it to the immaterial or cosmic and the all other universes of value and their consequent potentialities. All practice, including hunting and reproduction, connect this assemblage to cosmic universes of value.

– The second phase in the geneology is that of the Transcendent Universals (or Capitalistic Deterritorialised Assemblage). The mechanisms of this assemblage very much in keeping with Lacan’s Name of the Father, which Guattari expands and retools here. The society of transcendent universals erects an autonomised pole of reference, which precedes the individuation of subject and gives rise to the error of transcendentalism. This assemblage attempts to reify the immaterial universes of the collective-for-itself into material form. It creates hierarchies of Will, Reason, Understanding and Affectivity. What was rhizomatic and polyphonic, becomes bi-polar and dualist. This bi-polar nature results in valorisations such as good/evil and creates morality. It also rests on a continual recourse to transcendent, despotic, homogenetic instances such as Truth, God, the Signifier, the Scriptual, the Law, the Phallus, the Name of the Father, the Imperial Order, The State, and eventually Capital. In contrast to these ‘universals’ the collective-for-itself becomes unsure in the face of this signification. It is now risky for the collective to perform its ritual activities in the face of such universal surety. So there is a motion from the emergent values of the tribe to neutralised universals, which operate via the Lie of the Ideal. Through the standardisation of the subject the ennunciative compositions are limited. In some respects it infantilises us and, as Lacan would no doubt say, it fixes us as the cause of others. This is the nature of collective individuation under capitalism. In the most extreme forms the subject is informationized ‘as so many pieces compatible with the mechanics of the social domination’.

– The third assemblage, the most pertinent to contemporary art practice, is Processual Immanence. This is the assemblage we currently find ourselves in. Guattari traces out this assemblage somewhat prospectively, as it still bears many symptoms of the proceeding assemblages. We should perhaps be mindful that is also the assemblage under which global capital operates. Yet, rather than marginalising the aesthetic paradigm it privileges it and ‘confers a key position of transversality with respect to other Universes of Value’:

The incessant clash of the movement of art against established boundaries (already there in the Renaissance, but above all in the modern era), its propensity renew materials of expression and the ontological texture of percepts and affects it promotes brings about if not a direct contamination of other domains then at least highlighting and a re-evaluation of the creative dimensions that traverse them all. Patently, art does not have a monopoly on creation, but it takes its capacity to invent mutant coordinates to extremes: it engenders unprecedented, unforeseen and unthinkable qualities of being. The decisive threshold constituting the new aesthetic paradigm lies in the aptitude of these processes of creation to auto-affirm themselves as existential nuclei, autopoietic machines. We can already sense a lifting of shackles from the sciences that constituted by reference to a Transcendent truth as the guarantee of its principle consistency, which increasingly appears to relate to operational modelisations that stick as close as possible to immanent empiricism.

Art contaminates homogeneity through creativity. Art practice is an auto-affirming and self-creating machine. It crosses the threshold of capitalist values and ideological structures. So art, under the new aesthetic paradigm, through its extreme modalities, creates an ethics of it’s own, not dependent on transcendental values, or hierarchy. It manages to crystallize into singular and dynamic constellations through its own mechanism: self-creative and ethical-ontological.

The third assemblage should lead to the fall of an ontological Iron Curtain, the one erected between mind and matter. Guattari posits the emergence of an inter-monadic transversalist-bridge opened up by ruptures in the continuity of reality. This transversal-bridge is discursive between the actualised world and the incorporeal universes; much like the operations of the Collective Assemblages of the tribe that allowed them to touch immaterial universes of value, yet without the magical or mystical aura. It communicates between, the finite/infinte, material/immaterial, and complexity and chaos. This isn’t the bi-polar dualism of the transcendence; one end of the bridge envelopes the other with a kind of fold, the limited finite of the real to unlimited infinity of the virtual. There is a continual rebounding between the two, a strobing if you like. There is also an operation of two speeds: an acceleration to the infinite and a simultaneous deceleration back to the finite (much like the contracting telescopic nature of Bergson’s Cone, with it’s two-fold motion of past towards the present and present towards the past). The immaterial (other values, other universes) then irrupt on the surface of bodies, crystallizing into new, mutant subjectivities. In turn, this allows for alterities that provide heterogeneous singularities that contaminate the Transcendent Universals and capitalist monotheisms, causing a short-circuiting between Complexity and Chaos. Guattari is confident that these crystallizations of subjectivity will overcome the boundaries between other human spheres (philosophy, science, politics). Through rhizomatic interconnectedness –– like ‘so many monadic points of view’ –– we receive a multiplicity of subjective viewpoints that better model the immanence of things. Importantly, Gauttari suggests that the body is the key site of this resingularisation brought about by the new paradigm. He proclaims it as the site of the subject of resistance ‘in search of actualisation’ in the face of the univocal market of fanatical neo-liberalism.

In his essay Art Against Empire, based on Alliez and Negri’s essay Peace and War, Alberto Toscano discusses the consequences of the new ethico-aesthetic object in light of the ‘roaming automatism’ of capitalism under globalisation:

The artist…[is a]…emblem of that subject of resistance, which is capable of inventing peace; the subject, at once larval and ubiquitous, that these authors [Alliez & Negri] name multitude. Against the indistinction of democracy and policing that Benjamin diagnosed so acutely more than eighty years ago, and which defines the neutralization of all common avenues of political conflict and negotiation in today’s state of exception, Alliez & Negri propose a wager: To mobilize all the constructive forces of an inherently collective subjectivation –– from the inhuman materials of sensation to the innovative energy of cooperative cognition –– in order to construct a politics of immanence which finally capable of neutralizing the lethal violence of imperial capitalism and the false peace of parliamentary democracy, for the sake of a radical emancipation from the fetters of sovereignty.

Here Toscano identifies the artist as one model of the ‘subject of resistance’ capable of inventing a ‘war against war’ in the face of obstacles to traditional methods of resistance or as Godard says: ‘…today, when revolutions are impossible’:

…The idiotic ubiquity of imperial warfare must not simply be disarticulated by way of a more profound cosmic immersion into the materials of sensation –– these same materials must be fashioned into the very real vectors and components for the construction of collective forms of existence and production which are subtracted from the blackmail of security and the perceptual lures of a fragile and anxious commercial peace.

So again there is a reassertion of the importance of collective forms that are antagonistic to the individuation of the subject, outlining the formation of new cells of subjective resistance; a necessary opposition to the dominance of the neo-liberal global paradigm. This resistance is autopoietically called-forth through desire. Toscano is also stressing that this potential needs to actualised, through it’s ‘continually renewed materials of expression’, in order to be effective on the plane of the present, so as to break down the barriers of transcendentalism. This, for Alliez and Negri when talking about the special mobile capabilities of art ‘freed from it’s axiological references’, is the sphere of human activity that is best able to match the mobility and recombinatory operations of global capital:

In this world abandoned to the communication of a blind facticity, the artist or ‘anartist’ imposes –– i.e., poses in the immanence of this world without-inside-or-outside –– exodus as the only possible creative event. Exodus from obedience to the regulation of utterable and visible identities, exile toward the measurelessness opened up by the deregulation of the a priori forms of war and peace. Because exodus and “war against war” are one and the same thing, leading nowhere but here, and conditioned by an extreme deterritorialisation that decides on the common telos. The fugitive does not flee the spectacle of the market without turning its annihilating power against the State management of nihilism; s/he does not desert war without attacking the semblances of peace in favour of new spaces of commonality and cooperation.

Here exodus, an affirmative refusal, is key. Alliez and Negri draw an important correlation between art-practice and ‘desertion’, which could be described as ‘strike’ under capitalism or global labour mobility under Empire. This is the creation of the war machine against war. Exodus is an escape from the transcendental circuits of power and a flight from the ubiquitous real subsumption of global capital. This desertion opens up the gap in that allows for a new ‘political laboratory’, a new commons or non-place, through the creation of war machines against war, that resist the over-coding axiomatic of capitalism.

Returning to Godard’s film momentarily: In a distinctly memorable scene Juliette catches herself wondering about the face of an Asian man…a Vietnamese man. The Vietnam War, current at time of the making of the film, is ever-present and often represented by toiling intellectuals and journalists assessing the conflict. We see them as indifferent to Juliette’s plight. Juliette’s burgeoning awareness of the face of a foreign stranger, contrasted with her own, is seemingly important and novel. It’s is perhaps an identity that she is not completely able to connect with, a face from news reportage, the flattened conception of the face of an enemy, a binary division, but perhaps not as dialectically opposed as we first presume. It is an instant in which Juliette is aware of the suffering presence of a far away other, another alienated twin, situated on the frontier of the homogenising, globalising programme of capital. She is uncertain of this stranger’s relevance to her, or the causal links that potentially unite them. The immanent operation of global capital allows us to link the disparate personalities and situate them within the same paradigm, on the same plane of consistency, the manufactured plane of immanence of globalisation above and beyond the State. The Vietnamese man is also subject to a process of ‘massive deterritorialization’ analogous to the one that Paris is undergoing, one in which the US hegemony is the principal actor and aristocrat. The war is part of a programme of to neutralize any externality to capital. There is a causal network of relations between them that Juliette is unable to grasp. Hence Juliette’s question: Why am I thinking of this man? The reason being that this process of globalisation is the inter-connective logic that links both actors, whose lives and self-determination are limited by the needs for a ‘friction-free’ global space for capital to best operate. This dream of unity now has the potential to be realised. The new-aesthetic paradigm is crucial to this formation of new solidarities. As Alliez and Negri assert in Peace and War:

It belongs to the contemporary register of the arts that the experience of the possible, as an aesthetic category of the world, only produces work through the material subtraction from the world’s collective and unworldly squalor, and to the degree that the unworking of community is reversed into the site of processual revival for the singularities which we are in-common, outside of any representative identity.

It might now be useful to discuss some examples of what the ethico-aesthetic paradigm might be. These examples are not necessarily limited to what we traditionally understand artist practice to be, but articulate the process of active experimentation that Guattari hopes will bring about creative mutation and change. The examples that follow are both artistic and anartistic to show how the object of the new paradigm might manifest itself and even blur our preconceptions of what art might in fact be and invent new possibilities of life. With these examples I also want to demonstrate how these expressions of the new paradigm are naturally antagonistic to the state and resist state power. Political assemblages now resemble artistic ones and vice-versa.

A recent contemporary, gallery-based example of this was Mark Wallinger’s State Britain, a recreation of Brian Haw’s long running anti-war demonstration that was situated, illegally, outside the Houses of Parliament. Haw’s ‘peace-camp’, a shrine-like assemblage was a very visible landmark and touchstone for popular anti-war sympathies in Britain. It was demolished by the police in May 2006 following the retro-active implementation of the ‘Serious Organised Crime and Police Act’ (SOCPA) prohibiting unauthorised demonstrations within a one kilometre radius of Parliament Square. Wallinger’s exact recreation of the protest in January 2007 allowed Haws’ protest to enter the discourse of art, a discourse freed from some of axiological references of Brian Haw’s personal belief system, whilst still speaking truth to state power. Wallinger then situated the simulacra of the peace-camp in the gallery on a line that straddled the limit of the zone of exclusion of protest. What better example of art clashing with a ‘transcendental barriers’, in this case the law? The reassertion of Haw’s camp re-established the possibility of the irruption of peace on the plane present. Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave –– his re-enactment of the bitter confrontations with police and miners during the 1984 Miners’ Strike –– performed something similar. He also used the social fabric as material and drew on collective memory of a not so distant event, highlighting the antagonisms between real and illusory community; in this case the miners, who were on the sharp end of an ‘unworking’ of real community. Deller’s re-enactment cast light on the way British history and heritage regards industrial and social history by retriggering an event from collective memory in the present and using the original participants as the ontological surface of his work. Again the work operates as abstract machine within a number of discursive registers, not just in the sphere of art alone, but oscillating between real event, historical re-enactment and public perception.

Similarly, the filmmaker Peter Watkins’ work mines a comparable social vein to Deller, audaciously tackling society, history and culture as the material of his work. His most recent film, La Commune (de Paris, 1871) (2000), revisits the short-lived Parisian insurrection of 1871, that ended with the massacre of 30,000 communards, after they seceded from the rest of France during the Prussian siege of the city and tried to introduce a series of radical social measures, including: the separation of church and state, the establishment of their own educational system, the equity of women and the self-organisation of their own labour. Watkins’ trademark documentary/drama style is deployed to counter the seamless ‘Mono-form’ narrative style of Hollywood, using the format of investigative documentary to explore the revolutionary consciousness of the Commune through interviews with the actors. The cast importantly undertook intensive research for the film and later spent a long time discussing their roles in collective meetings. Watkins states:

For me –– the tension, and I must admit, the pleasure in filming La Commune in this way, was in pushing and testing the possibilities of the cast –– and myself –– to rise to the rare opportunity given in those few days to create a series of spontaneous, and yet collective statements –– ones coming from the depths of personal experience, and helped by the collective process of preparation for the filming.

In the film contemporary personal perspectives mingle with historical ones as the actors begin to talk about their reflections on the France of now, as well as their relationships with the characters they play. It is art as social laboratory in the best sense. They encounter, many of them for the first time, the radical social experiment of the Commune, a history whose importance is suppressed in the French educational system. The result is a kind of discursive, ethical feedback that intertwines the history of the actor and role they are playing, many of whom relate the situation of the Communards to the economic situation of contemporary France (or even to when France was fighting the Fascists). He dismantles the traditional divides between medium, actors and audience. Regimes of domination are examined for critique through the multiple perspectives that Watkins opens up. The interviews with the actors form a ‘terracing’ of perspectives that operates via multiple points of being, unlike more normative, hierarchical and centralized filmmaking Indeed, Godard’s own reaction to Paris ’68 was to collaborate with the Dziga-Vertov Group of political film makers, a film collective which attempted to make work in the a Brechtian/Marxist collective manner, with the aim of achieving something similar.

Anartistic political practice also provides us with new modalities of being and often resembles artistic practice, effecting reality in a similar fashion. The news recently featured a spectacular staged ‘revolt’ by Tibetan nomadic herdsman, in which they rode down out of the hills in Gansu province to erect a Tibetan flag within China itself. It was the performance of revolt, an actualisation of virtuality, the possibility of self-determination for Tibet. They were allowing us to imagine a break from state tyranny by the production of a war machine against war (literally nomadic, in this example) and the production of a subject of resistance, grasping the tools of globalisation to create wider solidarities. Other recent protests have focused the journey of the Olympic torch, with its accompanying ‘sacred flame protection unit’, a totemic signifier of manufactured commercial peace. Here the protestors confronted spectacle with genuine demands for peace, railing against the reified symbol of global capitalist values, which was guarded as if it was a real head of state. This sort of phenomena can only be seen for what it is: the ‘crystallization of immense collective desire’, casting the repressive apparatus of nation states into sharp relief. This is good example of the way that political dissent and refusal is beginning to be located in proximity to artistic production.

Conversely, at times we see artists emulating political refusal through the formation of experimental cells of subjective resistance that appear more like the terrorist cell or political party. In Detroit in the Late-Sixties we saw the rock group the MC5, under the tutelage of radical poet John Sinclair, aligning themselves with the Black Panthers’ 10-Step-Programme and declaring themselves a radical cell of alterity in sympathy with ghetto minorities, calling for a ‘total assault on the culture by any means necessary’. They stand as a manifestation of Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of the bastardization of the major by the minor:

Minorities, of course, are objectively definable states, states of language, ethnicity, or sex with their own ghetto territonalities, but they must also be thought of as seeds, crystals of becoming whose value is to trigger uncontrollable movements and deterritorializations of the mean or majority.

They created a singular subjectivity that changed the aesthetics of rock music and refused the easily co-opted platitudes of liberal counter-culture. Here the rock group, the collective-for-itself, literally oscillates between the effusive and cosmic with a freeform feedback-heavy song like ‘Starship’, whilst still grounding itself in the social field with a gutsy electric blues number such as ‘Motor City is Burning’. They emulate the dances and chants of the tribe, a noisy irruption of heterogeneity, whilst prophetically heralding a ‘society-yet-to-come’ and producing an emancipatory ethical paradigm that still reverberates today. John Sinclair originally organised his activities under the communal umbrella of the Detroit Artist’s Workshop, which later evolved into Trans-Love-Energies, a commune producing free-concerts, poetry readings, the publishing of their own community newspapers, books and revolutionary pamphlets, as well as broadcasting their own community radio. They operated as a loose organizational hub around which artists, poets, musicians and crafts people could produce their own lives on the basis self-reliance and self-determination, much as the utopian socialist Charles Fourier had envisioned over a century before with his experimental ‘Phalanx’ communities or perhaps like Nathaniel Hawthorne had set up at Brook Farm, with the purpose of combining thought and labour for the benefit of all.

Hopefully, through some of the artistic and political examples I have highlighted the usefulness in the espresso cup of Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her, operating as a transversal bridge that opens the subject to something external to capitalism, rupturing the plane of consistency of the present. It contaminates the plane of the real by connecting us to new universes of value, non-human values that through creativity bring forth potentialities that produce a difference and metamorphosis of subjectivity that breaks the individuation and subjectivation of capitalism. Godard’s stylisation of reality as a true-fake further allows to analyse the consequences of life within capitalism by effecting a distance, just as Sigmar Polke or Gerhard Richter create ‘capitalist realism’ as a form of social contemplation. They bring into question our subordination to the regimes that constitute modernity. Art, in this regard, could then clearly be seen to form part technology of the self that could allow a subject to weather the anaesthetising shocks on the modern individual, the individual being the site for this empirical practice. It is a transformative practice and namely a transformation and elaboration of the self. As Foucault says about his own writing:

I am an experimenter and not a theoretician…in a sense that I write in order to change myself and in order to no longer think the same thing as before.

If the creation of difference is crucial to the production of subjectivities, subjectivities that liberate us from the prevailing paradigms of the present, then an art that emphasises difference may be the most important to us, an art that speaks to us of the relational distance between different subjectivities. This art may even just be an affirmative refusal of the normative. The creation of alterity is predicated on Spinoza’s ‘experience and experiment’ that moves the art-object, art-practice or even the mind of the artist/anartist away from being fixed, trapped within the global capitalist totality and allow it to operate more like Godard’s espresso cup: an object that aids us in actualising the plurality of possibilities rather than reducing them to signs and mere concepts. Through the actualisation of these potentialities, the process of resingularisation ultimately increases our capacity to act in the world. Towards the end of Two or Three Things I Know About Her the narrator, who I think we can safely presume is Godard, enunciates this as an express purpose of his art. Speaking of an attempt to escape the billboard hoardings and signage that dominates the new city (the regime of signs), he says:

I think there is a reason for simply living in memory and in the facility for stopping to enjoy the present that is, to catch a fleeting glance to be alive…and to have kept it a few seconds after it has been unearthed from the circumstances surrounding. To bring into the world of man the simplest things, to see the human spirit take possession of them, to create a new world where man and things live in harmony, that is my aim. As much political as poetic, it explains this passion for expression. Whose passion? Mine writer and painter.

Once again aesthetics and ethics are linked and set forth as the basis of a heady emancipatory project. This delineates an art of importance and the importance of art that ‘plays across the differences’ that alienate us and ‘ruptures and sutures’ the increasingly uniform social field. In the new ethico-aesthetic paradigm, that manifests itself as ‘…psychoanalysis, institutional analysis, film, poetry, innovative pedagogies, town planning and architecture –– all the disciplines will have to combine their creativity to ward off the ordeals of barbarism, the mental implosion and chaosmic spasms looming on the horizon’.

About andrewosborne

Andrew Osborne has recently completed his MA in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmith's.
This entry was posted in Art against Homogeneity. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her: Art Against Homogeneity

  1. LV says:

    It is a great read, and this is the first of a few comments…
    my issue with mark wallinger’s brian haws artwork and jeremy deller’s orgreave reconstruction is that these works enscribe and embed a mythic pastiche that sadly finds it’s ideal home in sunday colour supplements and broadsheet art critique, media organs which communicate with the state around a familiar after dinner table…the artification (my useage) of these significant human events is like a neutering process where histories are appropriated and voices dubbed over, original tales filtered through eviscerating art theory burgerisation (my word) …a name forever connected to an event that the name had no reason to connect with…money talks, and bullshit walks…i need to sleep, in a Bergsonesque flowerbed of childish sunshine xxxx love

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