Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Importance in a Name

I'm going to make this relatively brief, but I just wanted to raise a few perhaps disconnected points about this scene from Eloge De L'Amour:

During the discussion of America’s name, or more rightly put the United State’s name, Godard is drawing on a real grievance voiced by many Latinos and Canadians. My own mother, who is from Puerto Rico, often insisted that I use U.S. to refer to this country as opposed to America for precisely this reason. I always ran into the same dilemma that is raised here: What do we call the people who inhabit this United States of America? United Statesians? U.S. citizens? It was all hopelessly clumsy. The fact that Godard was able to extract such interesting meanings from this childhood problem made the scene fascinatingly poignant to me. Concern with naming and names is not limited to this specific argument. In the United States it had a particular resonance with the black power movement, who sought to remove names that were tied to a history of slavery and rename themselves. One can find similarities between Elle’s deconstruction of America with Malcolm X’s deconstruction of his own name here:

There is also that strain of semiotics present in religions, such as Christianity and, perhaps especially, in Judaism (to name a few) in which the word, or name has the power of its referent. There is a certain reversing of this logic, where some of the substance of the thing named enters its name, in this film where it is a lack or contradiction instead of a power which moves from the named to the name.

For me, this fluid back and forth between a discussion of semiotics and substance is one of the things that set artists such as Chris Marker and Godard apart from other political filmmakers. In their work names and named are constantly leading back into each other, each reflecting insights about the other. The lifting of this argument about a country’s and a continent’s name and placing it in the context of Eloge De L'Amour opens up its possible meanings beyond the binary opposition of politics in general. It is easy when making a film dealing with politics (as well as aesthetic theory) to fall into the trap of lecturing the audience, of being too didactic, and ending up with a movie that would be better written as a theses paragraph at the beginning of a class paper than shown on the screen. Politics in the films of Marker and Godard are not the endpoint but rather a form of movement in and out of the everyday and the unknown, a movement that serves to expand the films’ scopes rather than limit them.

Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa

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