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cover of the book Theory's Empire

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cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

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Friday, September 07, 2007

And Now for the Katastrophe!

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 09/07/07 at 12:20 PM

I’m interested in how violence works in Godard. Well, not Godard tout court, but the previously referred to Masculin/Feminin, as well as Vivra Sa Vie and Week End. The Criterion Masculin/Feminin disc has suppléments, mostly interviews. Such as, two middle-age guys from back in the day, talking about how they didn’t like the film when it first came out, but now they can see it’s formidable. & one of its virtues, they claim, is how accurately it predicted the future. For example, the pervasive violence in society. If he is predictive, I think it’s more a matter of the pervasive violence in the media. But in any case, I’m not so interested in what violence represents in the films as how it works.

Another of the supplemental interviews gets more at it. One of the producers talks about how a film about the banality of day-to-day living, such as Masculin/Feminin, still has to work as a film. Hence the interludes of violence, says the producer. This gets more at it. I have an idea of my own, which involves reference to Krazy Kat. What would the Valve be without comics?

The remarkable feature in my experience of the films is how often the violence is funny. Of course “often” doesn’t mean always. Shooting Anna Karina at the end of Vivre Sa Vie feels cruel. It would have to be the woman who gets shot. (Another remarkable feature of these films would be issues with women.) But in Masculin/Feminin, the moments are so gratuitous, and so surprising and predictable at the same time, they startle me. & though this may be a perverse reading, I think Godard cues it during the first shooting, at the café, when the woman has pulled the revolver out of her purse, & is going out the door to shoot her estranged husband (I guess he’s her husband), & Leaud calls out to her, as he has called out to everyone coming in or out of the café, and despite being able to see her gun, “The door!” He’s just that out of it.

The really funny movie, for me, is Week End, with the random car crashes regularly punctuating the whole film. Each time, it’s a “you’re not going to do that again, are you?” kind of joke. Like Ignatz Mouse and his brick-throwing.

I’m inspired here by something I thought I read over at Ray Davis’s place, but I’m not finding it just now, so maybe I’m misremembering. But the utter regularity of Krazy Kat is itself an amazing feature. There’s always that beaning. It is of course predictable, but also surprising, for those who laugh. It’s surprising to catch yourself laughing at the joke you knew was coming.

In the comic, the bricks feel like punctuation, and not always a period. They work out the rise and fall of narrative rhythm, the way a pop-melody has a narrative rhythm. & I think Godard. Is doing something similar, punctuating his narrative with moments of cinema verité slapstick.

Or maybe I’m a bad person for laughing. We were listening to the commentary soundtrack to Science of Sleep, and when it got to the scene where the protagonist runs himself headfirst into his neighbor’s door, the director notes how audiences like to laugh when someone gets hit on the head, and how he finds it offensive. At this point, my wife turns to me. I always laugh when someone gets hit in the head. I’d laughed at that scene, the first time we saw it. It was about the only time I laughed in the movie.

But then the director went on to say that he’d wanted the protagonist to write “putain” on the door in his own blood. Now that I find offensive, calling a woman a whore because she’s had enough of your crazy-assed act.


One of the producers talks about how a film about the banality of day-to-day living, such as Masculin/Feminin, still has to work as a film. Hence the interludes of violence, says the producer.

Naked women work too.

Film strikes me as a very distorted medium, partly for these reasons. The same goes for novels—a high proportion of novels seem to be written about violent, fucked up people or people in extreme situations.

In film or fiction you can also reduce the boredom, or try to, with beautiful photography or a beautiful prose style. That seems to be what Updike tried to do, but I’d say he was entirely unsuccessful.

People who actually lead dangerous, violent lives probably mostly read fantasies about buying a house and living happily ever after. A topic for future research.

The success of rationalization—producing bored people yearning for irrationality. Hmph.

By John Emerson on 09/08/07 at 10:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Lawrence, I should mention that I’m glad that you’ve been posting more, especially about poetry.

I’m about to lose any independent comics cred I ever had by saying so, but I was bored by Krazy Kat.  I just couldn’t see the brilliance in that repetitive brick.  I mean, I can see the innovations in technique influencing later artists and so on, so I can appreciate the work as influential in some abstract fashion, but to me it’s still a yawner.  One of the stories that you hear about it is how it had such a long run because William Randolph Hearst repeatedly saved it, and this is presented as a sort of “aristocratic patron saves high art that the proles can’t appreciate” kind of thing, but I suspect that he had the tastes of a magnate and that Krazy Kat could be made to fit those tastes (though not embodying them in any essential way).

By on 09/08/07 at 06:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

For the record, Kenneth Rexroth also thought that Krazy Kat was overrated. I don’t really agree, but anyway.

By John Emerson on 09/08/07 at 11:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

In his scenarios, Godard indeed described such jarring moments as “gags”. His taste in movies (and in movie-going—he used to wander into the theater in the middle of a screening and then wander back out again) disposed him to think of movie-making as a matter of sequencing gags until you’ve achieved feature length. So it’s astute to connect his ‘60s work with the daily comic strip rather than the more narrative comic book form.

Krazy Kat in particular, though, I don’t see. Maybe it’s because I worship Herriman but no longer worship Godard? Anyway, the violence in Godard movies seems absurd and arbitrary; the violence in Krazy Kat is integral. Centrifugal (or turbulent) vs. centripetal. Or (as I wrote about Lethem’s take), entropic vs. generative.

By Ray Davis on 09/09/07 at 05:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

OT: Franz Josef Haydn also slipped gags into his music. He’s a very classical classicist, but being serene all the time is pretty boring. He also had a “Sturm und Drang” middle period which seems like romanticism. There’s a lot of trouble sequencing romanticism, classicism, and sturm und drang, since many sturm and drang people turned into classicists but many classicists became romanticists.

By John Emerson on 09/10/07 at 07:43 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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