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.
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
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.
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.
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.