Long Days, Long Months [3]

4 August:
I've been reading A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel de Landa, and now Everything Is Cinema by Richard Brody. What a surprise that a book on Jean-Luc Godard written by a member of the New Yorker staff accuses him of being an anti-Semite. I suppose I shouldn't have skipped to the end, but I wanted to read the chapters on Eloge d'Amour and Notre Musique. Are New Yorker writers required to be smart, but strangely clueless? as if reminding the world that the very notion of New York being a center of global culture had always been a sick joke.

Some "sharity" postings deserve special notice because they offer Free Audio Lossless Codec (F L A C) files, not M P 3. Given that most listeners willing to pay money for M P 3 files probably don't fill their computer to the brim with downloaded music, one would hope that the artists and record labels doing the selling would begin to offer F L A C files, despite their larger size (keep in mind how much more space computers have now, compared to a decade ago when widespread M P 3 downloading began). Maybe they will begin to do so, years from now, when playback media have changed yet again, much like decent re-masterings of analog recordings for the C D format didn't start until the format was, unbeknownst to most, beginning its decline. C'est la vie!

5 August:
Brody's book on Godard... so boring! The type font, the narrative approach. A biography of a great artist that reads like the biography of, say, Jackie Kennedy is, I repeat, a bore! How dare one make Godard boring? I want more analysis, less dull recounting of what happens in his movies, and especially less gossip.

Brody sets you up for the later charge of anti-Semitism by making note of Godard's (and other New Wave filmmakers') rightist tendencies in the 1950's. Fair enough, but he ignores the farcical, confrontational nature of these professed beliefs. Brody even mentions a Situationist of similar persuasions [Michel Mourre, he of the famous "God is dead" speech interrupting the Easter mass at Notre-Dame in 1950] and still doesn't get it.

Even when he considers Godard's politics more seriously, as in the director's erratic Maoist period of 1968-1972, Brody sticks to his strict chronological approach. Besides, those years did bring Godard's first foray into the Middle East, disclosing those awful anti-Israeli opinions that leave a nice New Yorker like Brody aghast (you mean he suggested that the Israelis have conceived of Muslims in the same manner Germans thought of Jews? the horror).

In those final two chapters I noted earlier, Brody descends at times to sheer idiocy. Regarding Notre Musique, he says the scenes featuring First Americans "suggest [Godard's] an endorsement of the idea that Israel and the United States, alone among nations, developed by conquest and forced displacements, and were thus fundamentally illegitimate and tainted," certainly an inappropriate conclusion to reach. Since when do films endorse such intricate sociopolitical positions? Certainly, characters might espouse them; the directors might even want viewers to walk away thinking such things. But films themselves do not; they are not politicians, they're not individuals; they do what we want them to do. Brody's taking an purposely-elliptical web of allusions and direct references and delineating what he wants to see - not so such to critique Godard, as he's quite gentle toward the aged filmmaker considering what he accuses him of, but to state clearly certain opinions he finds untenable.

He goes on to say, "This rhetorical trick - of [Elias] Sanbar, who wrote it [in Le Bien des Absents], and of Godard, who filmed it - lent intellectual responsibility and a progressive profile to the conjunction of the ancient right-wing bugbears of the European right: the United States and Jews." First, perhaps Brody's copy editor will let us know what left-wing bugbears the European right has.... But seriously, is Brody suggesting that any sort of comparison between the U S A and Israel, two nations who have by their own choice conjoined fates, is principally a right-wing phenomenon? Now we see more clearly why those youthful rightist indiscretions of Godard and his friends figured so importantly in the narrative. Brody wants to ignore a fundamental fact about Godard's career: despite the Maoist rhetoric dissipating after '72, Godard's politics had been forever altered by his radical period.

If anything, it is Brody, in desperately looking for others who share his obsession with Israel and anti-Semitism, who has confined himself too much to right-wing thought, while still thinking of himself as a liberal or progressive. Believe it or not, this curious intellectual position is quite common in the U S. The only right-wing bugbears at work here are those of the American Israel P A C, or the Anti-Defamation League - groups that, by distorting or ignoring the actual progressive opinions of a substantial majority of Jewish Americans, have helped make North American Jewry a right-wing force in global affairs.

18 August:
Regarding Eloge d'Amour, Brody has the temerity to accuse Godard of being obsessed with Judaism. While Eloge, as Brody describes quite well, is in some respects a response to both Claude Lanzmann's Shoah and Steven Speilberg's Schlinder's List, Brody de-emphasizes other historical and philosophical matters central to the film, to the point where he presents it as Godard's "Jewish movie," though if anything its ultimate concern is the French Resistance, and more broadly speaking the perils of devoting oneself to the state or any political movement. Not surprisingly, then, Brody blatantly misrepresents a quote from Godard about Jews involved in the Resistance. The quote, from an interview in Le Film Francais, presumably translated by the author himself: "Many French Jews who came back from the camps thought of themselves as French first, then of the Jewish religion, like me - I'm of the Protestant religion. It's afterwards that the singularity of Judeity was constructed and they didn't want to make a big deal of it, which explains why they made use of their nom de guerre." Whether because of the translation or not, the quote is, first of all, muddled - not surprisingly, as it's from an interview where the journalist in question might not have sought clarification regarding an awkward or botched phrasing. Nonetheless, Brody interprets the comment as follows: "Godard [...] suggests that, despite having been deported to concentration camps because they were Jewish, some French Jews took the high moral and political ground by not 'making a big deal out of it.'" A misplaced view, to say the least! Godard was certainly not saying that French Jews of the Resistance failed to recognize the importance of the Holocaust for the Jewish people. Rather, he's either saying that these Jews, because they saw themselves as French most of all and because of their commitment to the Resistance cause, kept their nom de guerre, a trait of one of the major characters which reflects, again, not any theme about Judaism, but rather - to repeat - the film's central focus on devotion to political and ideological causes. Since Brody acknowledges that one cannot get his interpretation from the film itself ("he also had a more invidious explanation in mind," apparently only brought to light in this single interview!) he's bringing up an unclear comment, which he then gives a poorly-explained particular unambiguous interpretation, for the sole purpose of (once again) rebuking Godard's supposed insensitivity to the Jewish plight. Or perhaps only his lack of support of Israel, since later Brody makes this ridiculous idiotic comment about the film: "he also avoided mentioning Israel in a context that could have served to justify its existence." Word's truly can't convey such peculiar critical ineptitude.

Godard's demand - and hope - that more, or clearer, images of the attempted genocide of the Jewish people - that is, of the actual killing - would come to light certainly does not suggest an anti-Semite. Yet, having accused Godard as such, and having emphasized a few right-wing familial connections and youthful indiscretions, Brody exudes a certain disgust toward this interest of Godard's. Moreover, Brody seems to suggest that Godard's wanting greater filmic documentation of the Holocaust, and his criticisms of Schlinder's List and Shoah, leans toward a denial of Jewish suffering. Any suggestion, as Brody suggests elsewhere in the book, that a man who speaks philosophically - and, yes, negatively - of Jewish fears of the visual (similar perhaps to one rebuking Muslim proscriptions against music) is therefore an anti-Semite represents intellectual irresponsibility of the worst sort.

Though it offers a goodly share of excellent interpretations of Godard's films [the chapter on Le Petit Soldat especially] the book frustrates in other ways. Brody uses selected Godard statements to suggest that he believes in the primacy of the visual, and yet he also repeatedly suggests that Godard focuses on the texts involved, too disorganized to obsess over the cinematography. This contradiction relates to Godard's uneasiness with film's high status in modern society, and doubts about the value of his own art; but it also would allow for a thorough discussion of the relative independence of text, sound, and image in Godard's films. Either way, it deserves more attention than the pithy analyses Brody offers at the end of each section of the chapters, where generalizing statements and an emphatic tone let you know the author wants to say something very important.

As Brody sees it, Godard's use of recordings from the E C M label, instead of selections of European Classical music, represents a turn toward Hollywood methods: no longer works of music that exist beyond the film itself, that are in a sense quoted, but instead snippets of sound that perform the standard function of music in soundtracks: ambient noise, moving the action along. This interpretation works if you assume that the E C M music Godard utilizes exists in a debased, non-art state simply because it's not Classical music. The Modernist Classical and Jazz and other musics on E C M lend themselves more to cut-ups; the sound waves intersperse themselves in the surrounding aural environment more successfully than music where strucutural complexity, not timbral, is emphasized. Godard understands this difference, Brody does not. If you want an example of a book that is useful only in pieces, because of its debased artlessness, look no further, dear author, than your own book.

9 August:
Mahmoud Darwish died on this date last year.

Authors' Calendar;
Electronic Intifada;
Democracy Now!;

Al Jadid;

Now, As You Awaken;
Modern Arabic Poetry.