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“If you want to see the world,

close your eyes, Rosemonde.”

—Jean-Luc Godard, Le Gai savoir (1969)

Let’s keep watching Le Gai savoir for a few more moments. Something interesting is about to happen, and watching it closely will help us to take the next few steps.

Here is a three shot sequence:

1. Patricia finishes reciting Foucault to Emile: “…what we see is never lodged in what we say;”

2. a title card with the word “or,” written six times;

3. Patricia recites the line “If you want to see the world, close your eyes, Rosemonde.” (It’s a quotation from Jean Giraudoux.)

At its bare bones, the sequence could be understood as a proposition:

[the quote from Foucault] OR [the quote from Giraudoux]

that is to say:

[the lesson about seeing and saying] OR [the lesson about closing your eyes]

How should we understand this word “or”? Cinema has a hard time presenting conjunctions like this. Cinema is much more comfortable with “and”—in fact, Deleuze has said that Godard’s technique always builds its series that way: “and…and…and.” By contrast, “or” implies an alternative, perhaps a correction (the rhetorical term is metanoia).

So: if you don’t grasp the Foucault, then Giraudoux will help you.

Or: you can choose between them.

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There’s more. The word “or” appears six times on its title card, each time written on a small square excerpt from an atlas of world history. Looking carefully, you will see that each map depicts an invasion or colonization. What can we do with all of this information? Suffice to say that the word “or” is not meant to be a mere syntactic device, but rather flashes up like an interruption from history.

The Giraudoux quote begins another small sequence. Continuing the list:

3. Patricia recites the line from Giraudoux;

4. a brief shot of a sidewalk, with a black man framed in the foreground and several white people walking by;

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5. Patricia repeats the phrase: “close your eyes, Rosemonde;”

6. a brief shot of heavy trucks driving down a road;

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7. Patricia repeats the phrase: “close your eyes, Rosemonde;”

8. an even briefer shot of two men and a row of parked cars: a black man with a broom looking at the camera, and a white man walking in the background

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Patricia is demonstrating what happens when you close your eyes: “the world” appears. Typically this kind of sequence would “assign” these three glimpses to Patricia, as if to say: this is the “world” that she “sees” when she closes her eyes. But it is not so simple. At first, these glimpses seem “worldly” because of their ordinariness, their fleeting singularity. That is one trope: the world is just whatever you can see, essentially accidental. At the same time, however, one might notice the fact that two out of three shots are centered on black men standing in the Parisian landscape. That is another trope of worldliness: the visible traces of power relations. To see the images that way, we could not see the black men as simply “there;” they would necessarily represent something. (Within the limits of this sequence, it is hard to say what they might represent.) So this sequence offers an undecidable alternative: should we see these three shots as scattered images, or should we see them together as a set or unit? Do these three images mean something, or not?

Either way, closing your eyes does not make you blind. On the contrary, it allows you to notice what you might have neglected.

As we will see next, there is more to say about not seeing.

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