The Ethics of Uncovering Something Else in Histoire(s) du cinema


  • Jiewon Baek University of Minnesota



cinema, Godard, history, ethics


In lieu of an abstract, here is the essay's opening paragraph:

Marguerite Duras prefaces the second edition of Le navire night, from which an excerpt is cited above, by explaining that after writing the story of a man named J.M., everything came too late, including the realization of the film version of Le navire night. Once the event has been written and the common night of history been closed up, did she have the right to flash a light into the darkness to go back and see? The only seeing through cinema that was possible, she continues, was to film the failure, the disaster of the film. But how does one film the failure of realizing a film adaptation of a written text, which itself was transcribed from an oral re-telling of a story, which itself was adapted from memory? The event already took place – writing, “this history here” –, leaving cinema to film what never took place, namely, the film itself. As Jean-Luc Godard confirms in a chapter titled Seul le cinéma in Histoire(s) du cinéma, not only in the form of his project as a whole but also more explicitly in one shot that positions two close-up photographs of his face with the sound of Paul Hindemith’s “Funeral Music” and this text: “Faire une description précise de ce qui n’a jamais eu lieu est le travail de l’historien.” Describing the rise of the film Le navire night from its disastrous death, Duras writes: “On a mis la caméra à l’envers et on a filmé ce qui entrait dedans, de la nuit, de l’air, des projecteurs, des routes, des visages aussi.” The camera turned upside-down, or in the other sense, inside-out, Duras films the entrance of the exterior, a sort of a Levinasian visage. The question no longer is one of having the right but of the duty to re-write history, as is insinuated by the reference to “The Critic as Artist” written across one of the photographs mentioned above, which is again a gesture of Godard’s positioning himself as the critic whose role Oscar Wilde defined: “The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.”