“We have to learn to think with images again;

movies will then become more real.”

—Jean-Luc Godard  (interview, 1980)

This disarmingly simple remark, spoken in English to Rolling Stone magazine, actually turns out to be quite demanding. Godard is not asking filmmakers to make more “intelligent” and more “realistic” movies. What a paltry request that would be! Instead, he calls for a change in the way we think that would alter the way everybody uses movies—filmmakers and spectators alike. Indeed, if movies have any “usefulness” at all, it consists in the way they make it possible for us to see together, and thereby to think together, what is real.

The fact that the vast majority of movies do not help us to think anything, let alone anything real, indicates the scale of the problem Godard has posed.

So far, we have treated thinking as the product of a phenomenological process. By learning how to perceive attentively whatever is unfolding around us, thinking traces a new line through what we see. Seeing and making images thus becomes a matter of sharing that line with others.

But there is always a danger (inscribed in phenomenology itself) that thinking will try to break away from the images that made it possible, and withdraw to some individualist, idealist perspective. To the degree that we withdraw from our encounter with images in order to think, we run the risk of lapsing into precisely the attitude of reading that we wanted to avoid. Thinking would then be confined to the more or less “critical” spectator stubbornly positioned before the image. And, depending on the interpretive style, that critical spectator may attempt (in vain) to reproduce the thinking of an otherwise inaccessible creator forever stuck behind it. In either case, thinking no longer happens where the image is, thereby losing touch with the material that makes it real.

The problem with reading, in Godard’s account, always concerns the way it divides and separates our encounter with the world (and each other) into these discrete tasks and zones.  No matter how subtle or bold the discourse of reading may be, it only knows how to think about images, never with them. Of course, we will continue to think about cinema: that’s the path of interpretation, which aims to have something to say about all cinema. But cinematic thinking is something much more rare, as Deleuze showed in his pair of books. We could say the same thing about literary thinking. It, too, is rare. Most literary critics—strange to say—prefer to think about words, rather than to think with them.

We haven’t yet tried to say more exactly what kind of thinking Godard offers. That will be our main topic from now on, requiring a long series of lessons in the composition and construction of cinematic images. It is enough to say here: this thinking will have little to do with what usually passes for “cinema,” whether in the multiplex or in the academy.

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