Forget Godard: The Cinematic Abductions of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Guy Debord

[Title: In which the concepts of the “di...
Furthermore, their works, both visual and written, have a concrete, historical precedence. Modern
cinema is post-war cinem...
observed facts can be fulfilled with favorable and notable results. Abduction works in reverse, facts are
not known, and o...
Here, an ephemeral and transient gesture is recorded as a mark of respect in an ongoing
          process of dislocation a...
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  1. 1. i Forget Godard: The Cinematic Abductions of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Guy Debord [Title: In which the concepts of the “différend” and “abduction” relate to the cinematic works of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Guy Debord.] In writing on the cinematic practices of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Guy Debord, a pattern of sorts began to unravel as questions began to surface, and through that pattern and questioning the contentious debate over modern cinema emerged. At first, I had no conceptual framework to sustain the relationship between the cinematic works of Pasolini and Debord, except for their uncanny similarities in arguing that the modern “spectacle” was a social technology of “false progress.” As I delved further into their theoretical and cinematic works, however, a tension of disputes ensued, a tension that held the cinema as a discursive entity. It is through their disputes, their acts of practicing and writing on (and against) the cinema, that Jean-Luc Godard materialized as another protagonist in their critique of modern cinema. For it was through their discourses against Godard’s cinematic work that a critical conflict emerged on the nature of cinema’s role as a medium: What was it for? How was it used? Why was it used? In the disputes of Pasolini and Debord against Godard, a mutual exclusivity occurred, a conflict of interests that could not be resolved: the cinema became a contentious and discursive site of inquiry and practice. The cinema became, in Jean-François Lyotard’s term, the différend. A différend is a conflict that cannot be resolved because of a “lack of a rule of judgment applicable to both arguments.” 1 Modern cinema, then, was the site of unresolved conflicts because it lacks a “rule of judgment”—it is an entity that is unstable because of its discursive nature through the disputes it elicits. Modern cinema is talked about, written on, and argued over, but the cinema, as a medium, is the différend—an “unstable state and instant of language wherein something which must be able to be put into phrases cannot yet be.”2 I quote Lyotard at length, for it is through his own phrases where the nature of the différend is able to sustain itself. In the différend, something “asks” to be put into phrases, and suffers from the wrong of not being able to be put into phrases right away. This is when the human beings who thought they could use language as an instrument of communication learn through the feeling of pain which accompanies silence (and of pleasure which accompanies the invention of a new idiom), that they are summoned by language, not to augment to their profit the quantity of information communicable through existing idioms, but to recognize that what remains to be phrased exceeds what they can presently phrase, and that they must be allowed to institute new idioms which do not yet exist.3 The following two essays place the contentious entity that is modern cinema as the différend. Inquiring into the nature of such a concept breaches the boundary of cinematic practice. Both essays understand modern cinema as a discursive entity, and in order to explore how it is constructed as such, the textual is given as much weight as the visual. Pasolini and Debord’s works are therefore not confined to their actual practice of the cinema, but also their writings on the cinema.
  2. 2. Furthermore, their works, both visual and written, have a concrete, historical precedence. Modern cinema is post-war cinema, an epilogue to that trauma and a prologue to what would come after: the other discursive concept of the post-modern. Gilles Deleuze, in this respect, also enters into the dispute. For it is in his Cinema 1: The Movement-Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image where Deleuze complicates the discursive formation of modern cinema by positing Godard as the arbiter of cinema’s modernity. Using Pasolini’s theoretical and critical work on the cinema as a background, Deleuze renders the modernity of the cinematic as exemplified in the practices of Godard. Indeed, this is another conflict, a site of contention that raises many issues on the state, and stakes, of cinema. Underlying Deleuze’s postulation that Godard’s cinematic oeuvre furnished, if not furnishes, new relations of thought towards modern cinema as time-image, other discourses that opposed such a reading are deceived in Deleuze’s texts. Namely, the arguments sustained by Pasolini and Debord in resistance to the works of Godard. Godard’s practice is really what is at stake in terms of the différend that spirals out of Pasolini, Debord and Deleuze’s discussion of modern cinema. It is in this respect that the différend is based on the textual as well as the visual. For better or worse, I believe Godard attains the position of a witness of the différend through the very cinematic writings of Pasolini, Debord and Deleuze. Godard is, for all intents and purposes, discursively pushed into being the witness of the différend. He is the mutually exclusive entity, for it is through his cinematic works that the différend of modern cinema comes into light in Pasolini and Debord’s cinematic output. In Pasolini and Debord’s rhetoric, two different approaches to the différend that is modern cinema manifest itself. Both of their cinematic works exemplify extreme and opposed trajectories of that différend as witnessed by Godard’s practice. As I argue in the first chapter, in Pasolini’s oeuvre, the camera, itself as an apparatus, is rendered as its own subjectivity through the cinema’s non- communicative and fictive milieu. Debord, on the other hand, takes the other extreme and places the cinema as communicative, as somatic, as a somaticization, as I try to argue in the second chapter. In doing so, Debord sought to extend the relation of a film from its static representation as an image to one that literalizes film as movement. In this multiplex resonance of cinematic discourses, I believe the identity of modern cinema, and its stakes on that which is contemporary cinema, surfaces. As they surface, however, they will not be defined in either essay. Both of these essays retrace the formation of cinema as a discursive practice. In this respect, modern cinema itself remains a contentious site that will always be in the making, as a site that is not determined or explained, but a différend—a silenced entity emerging out of Pasolini, Debord and Deleuze’s arguments. The writings by Pasolini and Debord exemplify the unstable discursive entity of modern cinema through the mutual exclusivity of Godard; hence, as the title suggests, they try to “Forget Godard” either directly or indirectly. What is at stake is, therefore, the puzzle of modern cinema as something that cannot be defined, but which is nonetheless captured through cinematic discourses themselves. By not being able to forget Godard, both Pasolini and Debord mitigate a position that deviates from modernity but remains entrenched in its practice—what I like to term an “abduction” as Charles Sanders Peirce defines it. In both essays, I argue that the practices of Pasolini and Debord are abductions that spiral out of the différend that is modern cinema as witnessed by Godard. The abductive concept is taken from Pierce. As articulated by the American pragmatist, abduction is the first stage of investigation that begins an interpretive process. An abductive practice is opposed to induction, which is another form of hypothesis formulation that is carried out on the premise that
  3. 3. observed facts can be fulfilled with favorable and notable results. Abduction works in reverse, facts are not known, and one must intuit a reason for why a fact most simply is. While all induction “may be regarded as the inference that throughout a whole class ratio will have about the same value that it has in a random sample of that class,” such inferences can be specified “in advance of the examination.”4 Induction gathers its logic from an antecedent to a consequent. Abduction, on the other hand, must work from a consequent to an antecedent. In effect, a fact most simply is, and one must at best infer, without the privilege of certainty, how that fact came to be. In Peirce’s words, although abduction is “very little hampered by logical rules, nevertheless is logical inference, asserting its conclusion only problematically or conjecturally it is true, but nevertheless having a perfectly definite logical form.”5 For Peirce, abduction is a suggestion that “comes to us like a flash.” “It is an act of insight, although of extremely fallible insight. It is true that the different elements of the hypothesis were in our minds before; but it is the idea of putting together what we had never before dreamed of putting together which flashes the new suggestion before our contemplation.”6 Progress as false progress, as Pasolini would say it, or the integrated society of the spectacle, as Debord would have it, are both abductive inferences that have garnered much criticism or adulation. But perhaps because both of their respective ideas are still in the process of formation, even some forty years after their initial thoughts, neither of their cinematic or written works can be considered “logical,” “practical,” or “definite” as some would like. The hard wave of technology, and the sea change within the socio-cultural and political climate within and against which both writers were working, is akin to the abductive process Peirce highlights. A mass of facts is before us. We go through them. We examine them. We find them a confused snarl, an impenetrable jungle. We are unable to hold them in our minds. We endeavor to set them down upon paper, but they seem to be so multiplex intricate that we can neither satisfy ourselves that what we have set down represents the facts, nor can we get any clear idea of what it is that we have set down. But suddenly, while we are poring over our digest of the facts and are endeavoring to set them into order, it occurs to us that we were to assume something to be true that we do not know to be true, these facts would arrange themselves luminously. That is abduction…7 Pasolini and Debord cannot be willed away. Their thoughts on matters such as culture, politics, film, or art seem to be as polemical as they are—still forty years later—controversial. Their criticisms are seen as either reactionary or visionary, ill founded or misconceived. Regardless of one’s political, cultural, or philosophical persuasions, both writers elicit fervent reactions—again, for better or worse. No middle ground it seems, precisely because if one were to mediate such a place for either of them, their resonance would extinguish. Indeed, theirs was not a quiet fire, but one that tried to engulf the then (and still) burgeoning world of technification or spectacularization. Artist Cerith Wyn-Evans most poignantly illustrated such fire, albeit as a thunderous trace and as an evanescent mark. Using fireworks as veritable calligraphy, Wyn-Evans procures phrases from Pasolini and Debord, creates fireworks out of them, and explodes them into the cacophonous void of the sky. Not to be extinguished, but rather fermented—much like the explosive ether of technology from which Pasolini and Debord abducted the cinematic spectacle in order to variegate its very inflection. Parallel narratives are evoked, mapping one history over another as the material presence of the text literally goes up in smoke.
  4. 4. Here, an ephemeral and transient gesture is recorded as a mark of respect in an ongoing process of dislocation and relocation, “Just another elapsure of time, designated.”8 1 Jean-François Lyotard, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, trans. Georges Van Den Abbeele (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988) xi. 2 Ibid., 13. 3 Ibid. 4 Charles Sanders Peirce, “Abduction and Induction,” in The Philosophy of Peirce: Selected Writings, ed. Justus Buchler (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1940) 152. 5 Peirce, “Pragmatism as the Logic of Abduction,” in The Essential Peirce: Volume 2 (1893-1913), ed. Peirce Edition Project (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998) 231. 6 Ibid., 227. 7 Ibid, 531-532. 8 Cerith Wyn-Evans In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni (Kitakyushu: Korinsha Press & Co., Ltd., 1999) n.p.