Oct 5th 2022

Understanding Jean-Luc Godard

by David W. Galenson

Dr. David W. Galenson is Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago; Academic Director of the Center for Creativity Economics at Universidad del CEMA, Buenos Aires; and a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. His publications include Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity (Princeton University Press, 2006) and Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art (Cambridge University Press and NBER, 2009). David W. Galenson, picture aboce. Derek Walcott, picture in the text.

 

In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw eulogized Jean-Luc Godard as "a genius who tore up the rule book without troubling to read it."  This is a fundamental misunderstanding.  Decades ago, the critic Peter Wollen made the much more perceptive observation that Godard's films showed "a contradictory reverence for the art of the past and a delinquent refusal to obey any of its rules."

Godard stands in a distinguished line of radical conceptual innovators who have pillaged the art of the past even as they deliberately violated the rules that art had followed.  Pablo Picasso, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, David Bowie, and Damien Hirst are just a few of the more prominent members of this group.  Generations of critics have expressed their outrage at both these artists' unprincipled theft of the work of their predecessors and their blatant trampling of the conventions and forms that had generated this work.

These artists did not break the rules because they didn't know them; just the opposite.  All of these innovators were brilliant and meticulous students of the canons of their disciplines, and often many others, even when they sometimes pretended not to be.  The critic Richard Poirier recognized this, comparing the songs of the Beatles to the poems of T.S. Eliot in their aim for "a kaleidoscopic effect, for fragmented patterns of sound that can bring historic masses into juxtaposition only to let them be fractured by other emerging and equally evocative fragments."

Francois Truffaut remembered being struck by the distinctive way Godard absorbed art when the two were fledgling critics: "He liked cinema as well as any of us, but he was capable of going to see 15 minutes each of five different films in the same afternoon."  Godard's cinema always drew heavily on earlier art, and he noted that in his masterpieces of the '60s this was inevitable, because "I knew nothing of life except through the cinema."  He considered the history of art his natural habitat: "We're born in the museum, it's our homeland."

Susan Sontag compared Godard's violation of such established film rules as the unobtrusive cut, consistency of point of view, and clarity of story line to the challenge of the Cubist painters to realistic figuration and three-dimensional pictorial space, and Godard stressed that the magnitude of the challenge was deliberate, explaining that his intent in Breathless was "to take a conventional story and remake, but differently, everything the cinema had done.  I wanted to give the feeling that the techniques of filmmaking had just been discovered for the first time."  As had been true for Picasso - and Eliot, Joyce, Dylan, and Lennon - it was Godard's mastery of the rules of his discipline that made his violation of those rules so exciting to young artists, and his work so influential.  But perhaps these innovators' mastery of the rules can only be seen by those who themselves understand the rules.

 

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Nov 24th 2022
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Oct 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "The prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, was quick to congratulate Sunak, referring to him as “the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians”. In the difficult waters of British and indeed international politics, all eyes will be watching to see how well the bridge stands."
Oct 5th 2022
EXTRACTS: "In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw eulogized Jean-Luc Godard as 'a genius who tore up the rule book without troubling to read it.' This is a fundamental misunderstanding." ----- " As had been true for Picasso - and Eliot, Joyce, Dylan, and Lennon - it was Godard's mastery of the rules of his discipline that made his violation of those rules so exciting to young artists, and his work so influential.  But perhaps these innovators' mastery of the rules can only be seen by those who themselves understand the rules."
Sep 29th 2022
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Sep 21st 2022
EXTRACTS: "It might seem like an obscure footnote among the history-making events of 2022, but the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s death coincides with the 300th anniversary of Adam Smith’s birth." ----- "As a committed Stoic, Smith had little patience for greed. The whole point of Roman Stoic philosophy was to use personal moral discipline to support the rule of law and constitutions, and to make society a better place." ----- "When we read Smith, we are better served to think of the example of Elizabeth II than of those driven by personal greed. It might sound archaic, but, as Britons’ response to her death suggests, these values still appeal to a great many people today."
Sep 14th 2022
EXTRACT: "On the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the former Prince of Wales was proclaimed King Charles III. Although it’s been known for decades that Charles would succeed his mother, there were rumours that he might, once king, choose the name George due to the contentious legacies of Kings Charles I and Charles II."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "An over-emphasis on looking for the chemical equation of depression may have distracted us from its social causes and solutions. We suggest that looking for depression in the brain may be similar to opening up the back of our computer when a piece of software crashes: we are making a category error and mistaking problems of the mind for problems in the brain. It would be wise to observe caution with drugs whose effectiveness is not certain, whose mode of action is unknown, and which have many side-effects, especially for use in the long term."
Jul 29th 2022
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Jul 29th 2022
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Jul 13th 2022
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Jun 25th 2022
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Jun 8th 2022
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May 19th 2022
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EXTRACT: "Every year, around 12,000 men in the UK die from prostate cancer, but many more die with prostate cancer than from it. So knowing whether the disease is going to advance rapidly or not is important for knowing who to treat." ...... "For some years, we have known that pathogens (bacteria and viruses) can cause cancer. We know, for example, that Helicobacter pylori is associated with stomach cancer and that the human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical cancer." ....... "....we have identified five types (genera) of bacteria linked to aggressive prostate cancer." ...... "We examined prostate tissue and urine samples from over 600 men with and without prostate cancer," ..... "....men who had one or more of the bacteria were nearly three times more likely to see their early stage cancer progress to advanced disease, compared with men who had none of the bacteria in their urine or prostate."
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