Feed on

I’ve Moved

Dear friends, colleagues, and those who have stumbled here via a Google search,

As of September 1st, I have left Sweet Briar and accepted a position as Director of Creative Writing at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan.  While I am sad to say goodbye to so many wonderful colleagues and friends, I am honored to be given the opportunity to lead the creative writing program at the premier arts boarding school in the country.

My new email address is david.griffith@interlochen.org.  My new blog is over on Tumblr at poorerthandead.tumblr.com

I look forward to hearing from you.

The idea to live blog Byrne’s book didn’t hit me until the end of chapter 2, when I ran I out of the colored tape flags I have been using to mark passages that I like, or that I think my students should take note of.  


Going back and re-reading chapter 2 so that you don’t miss out.  It features lots of talk about Byrne’s musical roots, chiefly his early stage persona: body movements (he describes it as “twitching”) and clothing, mostly.

He says that he began wearing Polo-style shirts because they were associated with the WASPy prep culture that was very popular in the 70s.  He writes that it was “portrayed on TV and in movies as a sort of archetypal American look.”  This was during a time when he was living in the Bowery (read: lots of homeless people, drug addicts, and punks) and so the look was ironic.  He writes: “The intention, I guess, was democratic and meritorious, though subtle class signal were there.”

Here’s the Talking Heads on the the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1978.  Note the polo shirt.



He had previously taken to wearing “a white plastic raincoat and sunglasses…” around CBGBs, of which he writes, “I looked like a flasher!”  He tried a polyester suit, because he thought it would be ironic to wear the uniform of the businessman on stage, but upon washing it it shrank.  In the end, “[t]he preppy look was at least more practical in a packed sweaty club than plastic or polyester…”   This was before the big suit.  That must be coming up soon…can’t wait.



Going to fix dinner now.  I leave you with this funky musical interlude: a live performance of “Cross-eyed and Painless” (Passaic, NJ, November 14th, 1980).

So far, Byrne is about thinking about the reasons why music is made and why it sounds the way it does (to wit: “…music composition depends on its context”).  Lots of talk of the ways in which the venue where music is heard influences the kind of instrument–or, for a larger ensemble/band, instrumentation–used to make the music, as well as the melodic and tonal character of the music.  Byrne briefly talks about the acoustics of the legendary CBGB’s, where the Talking Heads cut their teeth and how it affected the musical and performative decisions he and his bandmates made.

The view from the stage at CBGBs

If the music plays a communication and social role, like in a nomadic tribe, the instruments must be loud enough to be heard clearly in the out of doors, and portable enough to carry with you.

And it goes without saying that you have to think about what happens when people get together to listen to said music.  In a Native American tribe, there is likely to be dancing, so the instruments must be percussive enough to urge the dancers on–same goes for discos.  But before there discos, Byrne writes that jazz musicians selected instrumentation that would create a driving danceable beat, and that improvisation sprung from the desire to lengthen tunes whose beat the dancers were digging; in other words, improv wasn’t always about virtuosity, but practicality.

He uses other examples to give us a radically brief, but affecting, history of how the venue and the social function has changed over time.  Chamber music is so called because it was played in small sitting rooms within private homes, though these ensembles soon gave rise to larger ones (symphonies) that necessitated larger spaces, whose cavernous acoustics required greater instrumentation to fill and to drown out the idle talk of audience that had gathered to socialize and eat, rather than listen to the music. 


Tags: , ,

I first began writing about David Foster Wallace’s influence on me and other nonfiction writers in 2007, a year  before his death, in an essay that I am only now finding the words to finish titled “A Redress of the New Journalism.”  But I’ve been thinking about Wallace and his work since at least 1996 when Infinite Jest came out, and I first read his book of stories The Girl With Curious Hair.   I don’t pretend to be an expert on Wallace, but as someone who grew up in the same part of Illinois as he did (just about 40 minutes away) I do feel a kinship to him.

So when Wallace was found dead by his own hand, I had to respond.   I wrote on his legacy as one of the few great midwestern writers for TimeOut Chicago, and this past week, after reading an interview with Wallace biographer D.T. Max, I wrote on what I call his “theological imagination” for  IMAGE’s “Good Letters” blog.

Be sure to check out the comments section.  This is why I love blogging, you never know who is going to respond and how the responses will shape or even change your thinking about what you have written.


Some things that are interesting about episode 19:

With Agent Dale Cooper suspended from the bureau for potential ethics violations (crossing the border into Canada in pursuit of a suspect, which led to the deaths of three men), David Duchovny as “Denise,” a cross-dressing FBI agent, begins to play more of a central roll.

There’s a great moment when Audrey Horne meets Denise for the first time.  She says, “There are women FBI agents.” He says, “More or less.”

Continue Reading »

Teaching Twin Peaks

So I’m on deadline for an essay on Twin Peaks, the short-lived television show created by David Lynch.  Intellect Books out of London is publishing an anthology on the die-hard fandom surrounding the show I’m contributing an essay tentatively titled “Twin Peaks and the Disney Princess Generation.”  I used the show as one of the three primary texts in a section of English 104: Thought and Expression, your run-of-the-mill English Composition class.  The main goal of the class is to help first-year students become better writers of thesis-based essays that draw upon primary and secondary sources.

We began the class by Sophocles’ Antigone followed by Jean Anouilh’s re-interpretation of the play set in Vichy France.  The students had to write about the ways in which the figure of Antigone changed from play to play; specifically, we discussed the ways in which women are discussed and represented.  Our conversation about the plays was framed by Classics scholar Sue Blundell’s work on representations of women in Greek drama (see her book  Women in Ancient Greece) and the ways in which those representations reveal cultural anxieties about women transgressing their traditional roles.

In the second half of the course we turned to Twin Peaks.  I decided to set aside a generous amount of class time to screen several full episodes of the show.  The students were asked to watch the show through the lens of our conversations about Antigone and Blundell, but also armed with and understanding of the ways in which Twin Peaks was regarded/interpreted at the time it was on the air (1989-90).  We read articles from Rolling Stone and other popular magazines of the time, and read “Lynching Women” a feminist critique of the show by Diana Hume George.

Writing soon after the show was cancelled, Hume George admits to obsessively watching the show and being entertained by it; however, after some reflection, she comes to the conclusion that the sexual politics of the series is “reptilian” and argues that the sexualized violence of the series perpetuates misogynistic views that will lead to further violence against women.  In order to better understand Hume George’s perspective, we read Charlotte Krolokke’s insightful overview of the waves of feminism, Three Waves of Feminism: From Suffragettes to Grrls.

As we watched the show, our conversations turned toward feminist critiques of how women are portrayed in pop-culture.  This proved to be a very touchy subject.  Most of the students were wary of feminism generally speaking, and so the idea that much of the pop-culture they so readily consume and are surrounded by is actually deeply misogynistic or, at the very least, perpetuates stereotypes and ideologies that are similar to those found in ancient Greek culture, was difficult for them to palate.  One student said, and I paraphrase, if you looked at the world in that way all the time, you would be really sad.

What I noticed, through class conversation and through their final essays on Twin Peaks, was that several of the students seemed to soften their hardline rejection of feminism and feminist criticism through their eager engagement with the show, in particular looking at the women of Twin Peaks in terms of the wave of feminism they seemed to represent.  Many students in the class pleaded for more episodes of the show.  At the beginning of class it was not uncommon for students to excitedly ask, “Are we watching Twin Peaks today?”

I don’t think that Twin Peaks made some of my students feminists, but it definitely provided an opportunity for them to better understand the personalist, DIY ethos of the Third Wave, and to bear witness to representations and social practices that they would otherwise not have become aware of.

So, now I’m re-watching some of the episodes of the show to refresh my memory and .  And I thought I would live blog my thoughts as I watch.  I did a similar thing while watching Godard’s Helas Por Moi, an insanely complex film that I am writing about in my new book.  Go to the next post for the live blog.


Okay, so I’m a little blocked at the moment.  I’m at an impasse with this chapter “The Sad Children of Art.”  It’s a matter of structure, I think.  The essay is has three separate threads:

  1. The story of my last semester of graduate school when I struggled to write a seminar paper on one of Jean-Luc Godard’s most difficult films, Helas Pour Moi 
  2. The story of a break-up.
  3. The over-arching philosophical/spiritual issues at the heart of the two previous threads.
The problem is that I’m wary of allowing the abstract (philosophical/spiritual) to act as an excuse for the first two.


Mapping the Book

One the other ways I’ve been trying to bring the writing of my book to life, to make it more transparent and engaging for the reader, is to create Google map companions to all of the chapters in Pyramid Scheme.

In many instances mapping the locations mentioned in my book has helped me to remember details that I would have otherwise forgotten.  In the chapter I’ve been working on this week, “The Sad Children of Art,” I couldn’t remember the route I took walking through Philadelphia.  This is because I don’t know the city very well, and because I was very depressed at the time, and so not very aware or interested in my surroundings.  But by using Google Street View I was able to track down the book store that I bought a copy of Nadine Gordimer’s Something Out There.  Being able to see photographs of the inside of that bookstore triggered many other memories of that day.

Also through Google Street View I was also able to fact-check a part of my essay where I describe looking out across the Delaware River at Camden, New Jersey.

Below is the map marked with the locations that figure prominently in the chapter.  My hope is that when the book is published that the maps will be useful to readers who want to experience the story even more deeply.

View The Sad Children of Art in a larger map

Tags: , , , , ,

I’m going to be live blogging the research/writing I do over Thanksgiving Break.  This is an experiment in making the work writers do more transparent.

I got the idea for this from reading Bryan Alexander’s new book The New Digital Storytelling, and some follow-up conversations I’ve been having with him regarding an essay that will be published in the spring issue of IMAGE for which I have created an online companion, “Art From the Inside.”

I told Bryan that I would like the essay to be interactive, and he raised the possibility of doing something with a text box, where the reader could search or respond.  This morning, trying to find a free live blogging program for my journalism students to use, I discovered that WordPress has a live blogging plug-in.  I downloaded it and it’s pretty amazing.  You can configure it with twitter, so every new post is tweeted,  and readers leaving comments see their comments pop-up in “real-time”, too.

So while I don’t have a solution for my other essay just yet, I’m going test live blogging out on this as a way of displaying or make transparent, the note-taking and annotation process–what writers and scholars spend a lot of their time doing, but in private.

The experiment will begin with a Godard film I’m re-watching that plays a big role in one of the later chapters in my book, Pyramid Scheme: Making Art, Being Broke in America.  The film, Helas Pour Moi (1993), like most Godard, is filled with allusions to literature, art, film, philosophy, history, and theology.

While I’m watching, I’m going quote moments from the film that might be useful in my chapter, as well as provide notes and links to the associations I have while watching and reading (I don’t speak French).

Here goes:


Maybe this?


Now it seems to be working


Godard has a thing for Conrad.  He’s quoting Lord JIm .


A couple comes begging Madame Monot to tell them what Romanticism is.  She quotes Lord JIm to them:  The given word…the given word, “which made him in his own eyes the equal of those impeccable men…”


Young man (interrupting): “Lord Jim.”


M. Monot: “,,,,who never fell out of ranks.”


Here is the entire passage from Lord Jim:

‘In this simple form of assent to his will lies the whole gist of the situation; their creed, his truth; and the testimony to that faithfulness which made him in his own eyes the equal of the impeccable men who never fall out of the ranks. Stein’s words, “Romantic!– Romantic!” seem to ring over those distances that will never give him up now to a world indifferent to his failings and his virtues, and to that ardent and clinging affection that refuses him the dole of tears in the bewilderment of a great grief and of eternal separation. From the moment the sheer truthfulness of his last three years of life carries the day against the ignorance, the fear, and the anger of men, he appears no longer to me as I saw him last–a white speck catching all the dim light left upon a sombre coast and the darkened sea–but greater and more pitiful in the loneliness of his soul, that remains even for her who loved him best a cruel and insoluble mystery.


Pastor:  The Church often says that God’s laws are the same as those of love.


The pastor says this to a young woman who is having a spiritual crisis.  She says that she has just realized that “the flesh can be sad.”  He suggests, “Why don’t you just start over at the beginning?”



The young woman is the third character in the film to come to the house of the pastor and his wife (Madame Monot) in search of advice.  Monot and the Pastor are older (60s?) and so there seems to be a generational commentary going on.  The old are secure in their faith.  The young doubt and need guidance.


I guess this isn’t much of a revelation–from age to age isn’t this the case?



Sorry, for those not familiar with the film, IMBD calls it both a comedy and a drama, which is interesting in light of the subject matter: Man’s search for God and trying to comprehend human suffering.  Here’s the trailer:


Lunch time….be back in a few…


I’m back…So the main story here is about that Simon (Gerard Depardieu) and his wife Rachel (Laurence Masliah).  Their relationship and what befalls them over the course of the film follows the plot of the Greek myth of Aphitryon an Alkimene.  For those who are “churched,” it’s a Job-like story.  Alkimene is one of the most lovely and virtuous women in the land, and Zeus decides to test her virtue by transforming himself into a likeness of Aphitryon and then attempting to seduce her.


complicating Godard’s retelling is the addition of a frame story.  A detective named Abraham Klimt, whose name seems both a reference to the Biblical Abraham, the reputed father of all religions (the so-called Abrahamic faiths), and the painter Gustav Klimt who, like Inrgres (also mentioned earlier in the film in relation to his famous arabesques), was obsessed with the female form, and painted portraits of biblical women.)  Below is his portrait Judith with the Head of Holofernes (1901) and Ingres’ Odalisque with Slave (1839).




I should have phrased that as a question.  I’ve not read any interviews with Godard where he admits to the the detective’s name being allegorical, though nearly all the characters in the film have meaningful/symbolic names



There’s a tennis pro named Max Mercure who is actually a messenger of God/Zeus.  Get it?  Mercure….Mercury.  He is a spy who stalks around looking suspicious.


Then, of course, there’s Rachel.  Acc. to Wikipedia: “a prophet and the favorite wife of Jacob, one of the three Biblical Patriarchs, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. She was the daughter of Laban and the younger sister of Leah, Jacob’s first wife. Jacob was her first cousin, and she was the youngest niece of Rebecca.”


And if Simon’s name means what I think it should mean, then Godard is having a bit of fun with the legacy of the Simon Peter, Petra, the rock on which Jesus founded the Church.


Godard’s so clever in how he chooses names that have all this baggage.  Simon is also the apostle who denies he knows Jesus before the cock crows thrice.  He later is martyred by Empero Nero by being crucified upside down.  There’s just so much rich psychology and imagery to work with.




Back to the detective, Klimt…he is the narrator of the film.  He actually said, just now, upon introducing himself to the viewer (“My name is Abraham Klimt”) that “the cinematic language is imperfect.  There is always someone.  There is always something dirty, in exposing the truth…


He begins to ask locals about Rachel and Simon. Interviewing an old woman, he says, Imagine someone who, with the only weapon available, wages against God Himself.


The woman replies, “one must not believe in him.”

Klimt: In who?

woman: In God.


Klimt: On the contrary, what would be the point of all this?


Woman: it would be madness

Klimt: On the contrary, I think it’s someone who sees God clearly….Thus seeing him in all his simplicity, even his vulgarity.”

With this scene (esp. the bit about the “vulgarity” of God) I am beginning to be reminded me of the Through a Glass Darkly, part of Bergman’s trilogy on matters of faith, God, and human suffering.  SPOILER ALERT: At the very end of that film there is description of God as an enormous spider.


Generally-speaking, Godard is playful when taking on the subject of faith, God, etc.  Bergman, on the other hand, is does not mess around at all.  Through a Glass Darkly (1961) is not as painful to watch as The Silence (1964), which, trust me, is not for the faint of heart.

Here’s a plot summary from IBMD:

A young woman, Karin, has recently returned to the family island after spending some time in a mental hospital. On the island with her is her lonely brother and kind, but increasingly desperate husband (‘Max von Sydow’). They are joined by Karin’s father (‘Gunnar Björnstrand’), who is a world-traveling author that is estranged to his children. The film depicts how Karin’s grip on reality slowly slips away and how the bonds between the family members are changing in light of this fact. Written by Mio

In a small family island, Karin, her teenage brother Minus and her husband Martin welcome her father David, who is a writer permanently absent traveling around the world. Karin has just left a mental institution and has inherited the incurable insanity from her mother. Minus feels lost and alone, estranged by his selfish and cold father that left Karin and he behind after the death of his wife. Martin is neglected by Karin and has no sex life with her anymore and spends his time taking care of his wife. When Karin finds the journal of her father hidden in a drawer in his desk, she reads that her degenerative disease is incurable and triggers a breakdown. Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

On an island, Karin, a recently released mentally sick young woman, is spending her vacation with her husband Martin, a doctor, her father David, a writer just back from Switzerland, and her younger brother Fredrick (Minus). Karin is suffering from hallucinations and hysteria. She thinks she is visited by God. Written by Yepok



According to film scholar Richard Brody, Helas Por Moi is, in part, Godard’s response to the “horrific spectacle” of the Bosnian War.   Brody’s book Everything is Cinema is has the most thorough account of the film that I have read.  It’s just a ridiculously complex story.




A very strange scene from the film:

Two couples.  One sits at a cafe table and discusses the plot of a film (not sure which) and the other embrace, motionlessly, in the background.  In the foreground a young man, alone, reads aloud from Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game (1943).  He only reads this passage: “The very fact that The very fact that serious and conscientious men treat them as existing things brings them a step closer to existence and to the possibility of being born.”  Which is the end of a larger passage:

For although in a certain sense and for light-minded persons non-existent things can be more easily and irresponsibly represented in words than existing things, for the serious and conscientious historian it is just the reverse. Nothing is harder, yet nothing is more necessary, than to speak of certain things whose existence is neither demonstrable nor probable. The very fact that serious and conscientious men treat them as existing things brings them a step closer to existence and to the possibility of being born.

The novel was Hesse’s last and is considered his magnum opus.  The novel is set sometime around the 25th century and revolves around  a very complex game.  Note how this Wikipedia entry’s description of the game is uncannily close to  describing the experience of watching a Godard film:

The rules of the game are only alluded to, and are so sophisticated that they are not easy to imagine. Playing the game well requires years of hard study of music, mathematics, and cultural history. Essentially the game is an abstract synthesis of all arts and sciences. It proceeds by players making deep connections between seemingly unrelated topics.


Then a voice over–Klimt?–stating that Alice in Wonderland was published the same year as the Communist Manifesto.


Cut to a different part of the same cafe patio. Three men discuss the Ascension, the pyramids, and ziggurats–they were steps for the gods to come and go.


A young woman sitting on a table, listening, comments: “such erudition!”

One of the men yells: “Erudition is not the acquisition of knowledge but an adventure.”


Let’s pause for a moment for a coffee and to digest the various themes and allusions present in the first 23 minutes of the film.  Seriously, the first 23 minutes contains references to:

Ingres, Martin Luther, iconoclasm, the Holy Roman Empire, Mallarme, Conrad, Herman Hesse, Marx, and Alice in Wonderland.  This is not to mention the symbolic name play at work in the characters of Rachel, Simon, Abraham Klimt, Max Mercure, and a host of other minor characters, including a young woman named Ondine, a water nymph found throughout classical mythology.


So what?  That’s what I have to figure out.  This film is all but unwatchable.  Not because it is ugly to look at, but because the plot is so convoluted.  We only get glimpses of Simon and Rachel and those glimpses come through flashbacks brought on my Klimt’s gumshoe interrogations of the locals.

See, it turns out, that Klimt is not a detective, he is a book publisher.  We don’t find this out until 28:48 mark of the film.  He’s received a mss. telling the story of Simon and Rachel (something mysterious happens, thought we don’t know what it is yet) and it is “missing a few pages,” says Klimt.  He’s interviewing people to fill in those missing pages.  The problem is that this event was, apparently, supernatural (invisible to, or beyond, human comprehension) and so either the people claim to have not seen anything, or to not know anything.


Klimt interviews a group gathered in a video rental store.  They all have a slightly different memory of the day in question.  One remembers her sitting on the dock.  Another remembers her swimming.  Another says she was standing in the water.

Klimt says to the video store owner, in a moment of Godardian meta-commentary: “You sell images….You should know if certain things are impossible to see.”


Klimt’s interrogation leads to the longest flashback yet, during which we see Rachel and Simon together.  Simon must go on a trip to sign some papers on a business deal.  For some reason he does not want Rachel to go.  As they bicker, we get as voice-over a conversation  between God, now identified by the name “Max”(a hilarious gravelly effect is used to make the voice sound reptilian) and his messenger Max Mercure.

Mercure: “Trust me monsieur.  You don’t want a girl like all the others.”

Max: “What’s the point of desire if you need a body?”

Max’s complaint is reminiscent of Rilke’s angels, and psychologizes the motives of all the rapist deities in Ovid’s Metamorphosis.


The owner of the video store is Monsieur Benjamin, as in Walter Benjamin, as in author of “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”  Pretty funny.

In principle a work of art has always been reproducible. Man-made artifacts could always be imitated by men. Replicas were made by pupils in practice of their craft, by masters for diffusing their works, and, finally, by third parties in the pursuit of gain. Mechanical reproduction of a work of art, however, represents something new.

Here’s the full text of the essay.


And then Simon leaves for his trip.  But it’s not as simple as that–no, Godard cuts and rewinds to make Simon leave again, and again, and again, and again.  It’s a rudimentary film trick where one moment he’s there and the next he’s gone, jarringly disappeared.  There’s no lingering shot of him pulling away in his car.  It’s violent and is made more as each cut is punctuated by a cacophonous piano chord.


Voice-over on top of image of Rachel and friend swimming: “A slight detour as a result of fear and despair is perhaps the best path for us in this world.”



So, I’m only at the half way point of the film, and boy am I tired.  There’s so many things I didn’t track down because sometimes the lines are so short that it’s hard to tell if they’re allusions or original.  That’s Godard for you–he loves the fragment.  Actually, I think he trusts the various fragments will add up to something more compelling and true (meaning “real”, as “the real”, as in the Truth) than conventional character driven films.


Here are two images I’ve had in my head all day:  the first is from Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly and second is from Helas Pour Moi.  The stills capture the tone of each film.  Max von Sydow standing the beach looking at the wrecked ship creates a meditative, ponderous atmosphere; whereas, Depardieu standing in the shallows with his ridiculous hat, dripping overcoat, and newspaper tucked under his arm is comical.  The comparison was rich in my mind, too, because von Sydow is looking away from the camera out to sea, and Depardieu is looking straight at us.






Okay, Day two of live blogging Jean-Luc Godard’s difficult film Helas Pour Moi, a film that Godard scholar Colin McCabe once called “perhaps [Godard’s] most difficult film.”

McCabe made this statement in a seminar I took with him in 2001 called simply “Godard.” The first night of the class we were presented with a list of Godard’s films and asked to choose the one we would like to present on.  I had only seen Breathless, and I remembered not liking it, so my only preference was anything but that. By the time the sign-up sheet made it around to me, the only film left was Helas Pour Moi.  I made a joke about not having much of a choice, and then asked if I would like it.  McCabe said, “it is perhaps his most difficult film.”  Great, I thought.  I asked, what does the title mean?  I don’t read French.

“Oh, Woe is Me.”


So yesterday I made it to the 37:16 mark of the film, which means I have 46:05 left.  I need to go faster today, if possible.



One convention of the film, that I can’t recall off the top of my head seeing in films other Godard’s, is the use of what seem to function at first like chapter titles: Book One, Book Two, etc.  These are clearly being used to drive home the idea that the film works on three levels.  There is the story of Simon and Rachel and the visitation/rape by God, there is the manuscript that has been written about this event, and there is the story of  Kilmt’s, the publisher, journey to find, or write, the missing pages of the mss. he was sent regarding God, or a god, visiting earth.  You with me so far?  Okay, good, so these chapter titles are being used to suggest that the film itself is the finished manuscript.

Very clever, very Godardian.

Godard is questioning the written text’s ability to accurately tell/represent such an extraterrestrial event.  Of course, that’s nothing new–one encounters this problem with the Gospels. (see Kermode’s The Genesis of SecrecyBut he’s also questioning the ability of film to do it justice, too.  The reason why the film is so cut-up and jumbled, so full of obscure glimpses is not because Godard likes to be difficult (see David Foster Wallace on this score, especially an interview with Charlie Rose from the 90s where he talks about “the footnote thing”), it’s that this is the only way to accurately represent what happened, by finding its edges.

Here’s DFW on footnotes.  Fast-forward to the 7:05 mark.



I should say more about Kermode’s book, briefly.  In the draft of my the chapter that this live blogging is supposed to help me deepen my thinking about, I integrate Keromode’s thinking in this way (note that this book is largely a personal essay/memoirish sort of thing):

Events are occurrences that have importance.  Events are rarely random.  They have roots, a germ, planted early on.  Drama relies on Chekov’s Gun: “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.”  Kermode calls such germs/guns “virtualities.”  Like us, they are either fulfilled or go unfulfilled.

According to Kermode, when the early Christians were constructing the canon they preferred the codex to the roll, which the Jews still use, because they were trying to “establish consonance between the end of the book and the beginning.”  They were trying to show that the roots, germs, virtualities, had indeed been fulfilled by Jesus.  The Evangelists in their copying, augmenting, and embellishments [not sure that this is the right word] were trying to create consonance.

And I’m just trying to make sense of a year and half of my life.


Back to the chapter title convention I was talking about…the titles gets more complex and poetic.  Book One, Book Two, gives way to:


Meaning what?  Well, the visual experience is an imaginary one.  The last clause (“…which always draws attention”) seems to reveal some chagrin on Godard’s part.  Is he saying that because the visual experience is imaginary it will always draw attention?–not so much a comment on visual experiences as such, which we are asked to agree are imaginary, so much as a comment on the human weakness for spectacle, or the human need for visual evidence.  This would make sense considering that the whole film is built around the loss of faith and tradition, which has introduced a deep skepticism about the invisible, or unseen.

Theories of the simulacrum seem ripe for exploration here.  In fact, a quick Wikipedia search reveals Baudrillard, in his Simulara and Simulation, believes that the idea of God can be understood through understanding the simulacrum.

Beyond medicine and the army favored terrains of simulation, the question returns to 
religion and the simulacrum of divinity: "I forbade that there be any simulacra in the 
temples because the divinity that animates nature can never be represented." Indeed it can 
be. But what becomes of the divinity when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied 
in simulacra? Does it remain the supreme power that is simply incarnated in images as a 
visible theology? Or does it volatilize itself in the simulacra that, alone, deploy their 
power and pomp of fascination - the visible machinery of icons substituted for the pure 
and intelligible Idea of God? This is precisely what was feared by Iconoclasts, whose 
millennial quarrel is still with us today.*3 This is precisely because they predicted this 
omnipotence of simulacra, the faculty simulacra have of effacing God from the 
conscience of man, and the destructive, annihilating truth that they allow to appear - that 
deep down God never existed, that only the simulacrum ever existed, even that God 
himself was never anything but his own simulacrum - from this came their urge to 
destroy the images. If they could have believed that these images only obfuscated or 
masked the Platonic Idea of God, there would have been no reason to destroy them. One 
can live with the idea of distorted truth. But their metaphysical despair came from the 
idea that the image didn't conceal anything at all, and that these images were in essence 
not images, such as an original model would have made them, but perfect simulacra, 
forever radiant with their own fascination. Thus this death of the divine referential must 
be exorcised at all costs.

Here’s a full pdf of the text, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser.

It’s all starting to cohere–Godard’s thinking, anyway.  It’s either an uncanny coincidence or Godard had Baudrillard in mind when making this film, as early on the film there’s a scene (I didn’t blog it, but I will) where a young woman comes to the village bookstore to ask the shop owner if he would give her drawing lessons.  She asks the man why Luther’s men destroyed paintings.

Beyond that allusion, the film also seems to take to heart the possibility that the simulacra becomes omnipotent.  The pure idea or mental image of God becomes effaced in the mind’s of people by an icon. “There are icons and then there are images,” Klimt says to himself.

However, Godard is not a theorist, and this film is not a theoretical text; it is still a story.  This is what I admire about Godard: he seems to be always searching for that balance between theory and praxis, or idea and story.  An idea is nothing; it is inert.  Ideas need stories to carry them to others, like pollinating bees.


“They want to carry the weight of the world on their shoulder, but not the weight of their sins.”

This is said melancholically by the video store employee, a young hipster in a teel linen jacket, as he helps a middle-aged woman make selections from the Horror section of the store.  With her finger to her lip. she seems to be really making conscientious choices. She says the names of each film aloud out loud–“Wild Orgy,” “Cannibal Man”–and he takes them from the shelf.  She isn’t fazed by his monologue.  She doesn’t even seem to hear him.  They could be in two different scenes.  He seems out of place, superimposed.

He continues:

“In order for evil to exist the creature that God created in His image must also exist.”

She continues to choose films: “The Devil’s Daughter,” she says, pointing.





Cut to Klimt on a short dock, which is recognizable as the one where Rachel was last seen swimming with a friend.  It’s twilight now.  He searching for clues at the place Rachel was last seen.

Klimt (voice over): “It’s not going to be easy.  There are images and there are icons.”

Flashback to Rachel swimming in the water, alone, back to the same dock Klimt was standing on in the previous shot.

Woman’s voice interrupts: “Cones?”

Rachel has now vanished from the water.

Kilmt (voice over): “You’ll publish a good book.  Pages will be missing from all the right places.”

Rachel appears again in the water and reaches the ladder.



Cut to a church. A pastor stands out front greeting congregants as they leave. Klimt approaches.  We overhear the pastor saying something about the name children are given at birth being the “last remnant of the divine language in the language of mortals.”

He goes on about how names are linked to our destiny.

Klimt interviews a young woman, Aude.  She claims to be a friend of Benjamin, the video store owner.  She mentions another friend, Ludovic, who has died at Dubrovnik (the first clear mention of the on-going conflict in Bosnia).  She remarks to Klimt that in the Fr. word for Yugoslavia “there are the words ‘life’ and ‘kids.'”

She wrote a letter to Klimt claiming to have seen something.  There were two men, “Simon and his Lord.”

Klimt is troubled by this news.  Aude asks him if he knows the “ten historical proposition of the Old Testament.”  No.

“…a tradition exists concerning the truth, and that this tradition can be passed on. [she gives an ironic laugh] It makes me laugh, because the truth we are talking about has all sorts of properties, but no one allows for it to be passed on.”

Klimt (clearly disturbed): “What are you talking about. I don’t understand!”

Aude (scoffs): “You say that well.  ‘I don’t understand’  But I have seen it.  No, heard it.  Yes, that’s right.”

She points out where she was sitting when she saw/heard the two men.






In the FB we see what Aude saw.  Mercure drilling Max (God) on how to speak like a human, instead of his natural croaky, reptilian voice.  Max has on a floppy brimmed hat.  Without removing the hat, Mercure cuts Max’s hair so that it better resemble’s Simon’s, who, as the camera pull back, is revealed to be standing outside the church.  Mercure fills Max in on Simon’s bio–the kind of person he is, “He has some money. Nothing flashy.” He drives an old Lancia.

Max approaches Simon from behind and places the hat on his head.  This moment symbolizes Max/God’s possession of Simon.

Cut back to the same sequence of Rachel swimming alone toward the dock.


So, I’ve just let the film run ahead for fifteen minutes without making notes because I had a feeling that in interrupting the intended rhythm of the film I was also interrupting/frustrating the process of meaning, which comes through experiencing it.  I feel very much deep down inside the guts of the film–or is it the brain? (Godard’s films aren’t so much visceral as ethereal, so let’s say brain, or mind, though “mind” has other philosophical problems.  Whatever the metaphor, I feel close to the film, but I haven’t been able to capture its rhythm until now.

When I say rhythm I mean like the kind you fall into while walking in the city.


The problem is, though, how do you not start to feel icky (an uncritical term, sorry) once you’ve waded around in the theories of the filmic image and the simulacra?  I start to feel paranoid, like those few hours right after I saw The Matrix.


Right after I wrote the previous line, I un-paused the film and Aude says to Klimt, “Your’re not missing any pages, Monsieur? There’s simply nothing to see.  An event is something that happens.  It simply has meaning.  ‘Be in my image.’ The commandment to mankind means ‘Let me sanctify myself in you so that you may then be sanctified.’  Lovers don’t say anything different.”

Aude, then says, “Do you mind?” and lays her head on Klimt’s shoulder. “Looking at the invisible is exhausting.”



In the fifteen minutes that I let the film run without comment, is when God (inhabiting Simon’s body) goes to Rachel’s house where he causes her to faint. It is during this black out that he rapes her.

When she comes to they engage in a long theological dialogue in which human love and desire become entwined/confused with faith and piety.  Nothing here that we haven’t read in the work of mystics like St. John of the Cross of Teresa of Avila.

At the end of this scene, God says to Rachel:

“What we believe is an image of the truth.”


Rachel walks with God to the docks, and asks her if she wouldn’t like to be immortal.  She declines: “Then life would end.”

God again causes her to faint, and then he disappears, leaving behind his raincoat floating in the shallows.

When Rachel awakes she finds Simon, back from his trip, in the cafe.  She is affectionate toward him now.  All seems to be well.

Cut to a train station where two men sit discussing what has happened to Rachel.  It’s not clear what they know, what they think happened.  But one refers to it as an “invisible stain.”

One says to the other:

The most profound human instinct is to challenge the truth.  In other words, what is real.

The other replies: “The truth is perhaps sad.”  Your Peguy?

–No, Ernest Renan… [who I am not familiar with.  See his bio here.]

They then join together in reciting two axioms:

1.) a property is positive if its negation is negative

2.) theorem–there exists an X and X resembles God.

They shout this is unison above the sound a passing express train.


Then we have the denoument, the tying up of loose ends.

Klimt is seen walking out of town, exactly the way he came.  Aude stops her car and asks if needs a lift.  He declines.  She asks if he found the missing pages.  No answer.  He says instead, “I am blind but not deaf,” and the walks off.

Cut to a classroom full of teenagers reading Dashiell Hammet’s The Thin Man aloud.  This is the first we’ve seen the school and these students.  They all shout in unison “a sentimental education!”  I’ll definitely have to read Hammet’s novel now, as the characters (Nick and Nora–Nick is a retired private investigator, Nora a well-to-do socialite) seem to gesture toward Simon and Rachel.

Finally, Klimt finds Simon alone a a gas station pumping gas in a downpour and asks for his version of what happened.

Simon is reticent, cagey.  Klimt reassures him, “Don’t worry.  As the Americans say it’s ‘off the record.’

Simon: “Nothing happened.”

Klimt: “But that man in your image.”

Simon: “There is only one man here–me.”

Klimt: “Darkness can permeate the ‘me'”

Simon insists that nothing happened.  That it was he who came back from his trip early to be with Rachel.  But Klimt does not believe him.

“We have to accept love,” Simon finally says.

Is this a resigned way of saying that we must accept that God is cruel and loves his creations in ways that are beyond their understanding?




The final scene:

Klimt sits in on the train platform where earlier the two men shouted axioms.

Klimt narrates: “I will just say there is nothing left to say about Simon and Rachel’s life.  The rest goes beyond images and stories.”

A man comes on to the platform.  He paces, turns and says to Klimt, as though he was able to hear Klimt’s thoughts, “This side of”–a correction to Klimt’s sense that the “rest goes beyond.”

The man then opens his bief case and tries to see Klimt cigarettes, a bra, a lighter.  Klimt rifles through the case but turns him down.

The salesman sits and says, “Excuse me, monsieur. I read your thoughts.  Not ‘beyond,’ but ‘this side’ of the images and stories.  In ‘this.'”

Klimt laughs, maybe you’re right. My God, let he who has never sinned…”  –a train flashes by interrupting.

Cut to the tracks.  The two men who recited Renan’s axioms earlier cross on to the tracks and yell in unison, “…cast the first stone!”


Tags: , , ,