Composing the Incompossible – by Katherine Waugh

I’ve just returned from Lisbon, which, with its undulating cobblestone pavements and labyrinthine moorish streets, epitomizes the baroque. I spent some of my time there revisiting the relationship between the writings of Gilles Deleuze and the films of Godard. I should say that just before I left Ireland for Lisbon I had attended the finissage event of artist John Lalor’s Stereo JLG project, in which he spoke, in truly baroque fashion as is his style, about all the creative rhizomes within the work, a literal Borgesian ‘garden of forking paths’ for those present. The actor Robert Wagner emerged ‘conjunctively’ from Lalor’s observations on the redness of tomatoes and led into his thoughts on Baudrillard before an aside on the creative possibilities of red curtains in David Lynch… You had to be there…

John’s work, and way of speaking about it, seemed to me such an intense textual and verbal expression of Godard’s highly idiosyncratic use of montage it set me thinking in Lisbon about why I felt his Stereo JLG project, presented in this latest stage within the pages of The Irish Times, seemed so timely and significant. I even became convinced that the Volcanic ash cloud which had threatened to prevent me from flying, and which had delayed my return, had a part to play in this conceptual matrix.

Re-reading Deleuze on Leibniz (discussing his book The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque) I encountered the lines:

‘The logic of someone’s thought is the whole set of crises through which it passes; it’s more like a volcanic chain than a stable system…a thought’s logic isn’t a stable rational system, it’s like a “wind blowing us on, a series of gusts and jolts. You think you’ve got to port, and then you find yourself thrown back out to sea” as Leibniz put it.’

Deleuze’s writing on the ‘Fold’ in Leibniz in which he describes how thoughts grow from the middle, where everything ‘unfolds’, works so well with his understanding of Godard’s force as a director; Godard’s use of the conjunction ‘and’, an ‘and’ which allows diversity, the destabilization of subjectivity and a radical state of ‘in betweenness’….AND…Lalor’s work aims to capture something of both.

Montage (often described as cinema’s secret weapon) is for Godard essentially rhythmic; film for him being “closer to music”, and yet he also describes montage as being architectural and sculptural. His use of speech, repetition and stillness, whilst drawing on an astonishing variety of sources: painting, music, photography, literary and philosophical texts, give rhythm and movement an extraordinarily complex central role in his films. Godard incorporates language in a unique way into his system of montage, inserting texts and corrections freely within the work contributing towards that Bergsonian sense of past, present and future folding back on each other in a kind of continuous flux and allowing for a profound exploration of memory, both historical and personal. Although Godard said “Texts are death, Images are Life”, his passion for text is relentless and romantic.

Even as I find myself stranded outside Lisbon waiting for my Leibnizian cloud to shift again, Godard’s latest opus Film Socialisme premiered at Cannes, filled with extracts from Heidegger, Beckett, Benjamin, Derrida, and even a woman at a petrol station who refuses to talk to anyone who uses the verb ‘to be’ (echoing explicitly Deleuze’s writing on his work).

Lalor’s response to Godard (specifically his exhibition Voyages en Utopie at the Pompidou centre in 2006) in his text-based art works, takes up this challenge of rhythm mediated through language, pulsing along, breaking off, refusing to contain itself rationally or through punctuation. Deleuze once said in an interview about Godard that he had developed the art of “stammering in language itself”. He went on to say it was easy to be a foreigner in another language, but to be a foreigner in one’s own language is a ‘creative stammering’ which gives Godard his power. I can’t help feeling that there is a resonance here with Lalor–the Irish artist living in Paris for 20 years, caught between two languages and seemingly having developed his own system of conjunctions with which to express himself, and this Godardian ‘stammer’ (or rhizomatic mode of speech in his case), led to Lalor’s fascination with Godard’s work. The context of Lalor’s Stereo JLG project–artistically produced blocks of text, black on red, in a daily newspaper is also important in that the temporality of the newspaper remains unique against the tyranny of digital ‘real time’. ‘Today’s news today’—the print medium’s claim for up-to-dateness appears positively sloth-like in our age of second-by-second twitter updates. The rhythm of Lalor’s text draws us in and creates a frisson against the highly codified temporality of the newspaper, making us think about how the newspaper ‘fixes’ time within a tradition now being dematerialized. Lalor’s interest in Baudrillard and Virilio provide a framework for this strategy; how those theorists highlight the transformation in our experience of time brought about through ‘real time’ news media, especially after the Gulf war (a dematerialization which notoriously led to the misinterpretation of Baudrillard’s statement ‘The Gulf war did not take place’).

‘Real Time’ rejects freedom of interpretation in that it happens too fast, and tends to lead to a passification of the viewer, and printed text  today struggles to maintain itself against its electronic rival. The ‘crisis of truth’  and battle for authorial supremacy one finds in the print media at a time when truth itself is a fractured ideal, finds a correlation in Deleuze’s writing on ‘incompossibility’ in Leibniz; worlds or narratives which diverge yet co-exist, where completely different stories unfold simultaneously, difference and similarity pushing against each other, as in a Godard film, and also within Lalor’s texts, and in the relation they have to their context. We live in a world of “co-existing incommensurables”.

Foucault wrote of aspiring towards an ‘anonymous murmur’, an anonymity of discourse which allowed de-subjectification to take place; he called it a ‘déprise de soi’ (a withdrawal from oneself), a freeing of oneself from memory and habit and identification, and Lalor seems to push his text towards this ‘fourth person singular’, away from any single, regulating, editorializing ‘self’. This again plays in an interesting way against the norms of newspaper reportage, that pull between ‘objectivity’ and the ‘Charlie Bird’ syndrome of faux heroic journalism; Lalor is commenting but we can’t pin him down–there is no central speaking subject, no identifiable place or tense. You had to make an effort to find Lalor’s pieces within the broadsheet and this too was an important part of his strategy, and resembles the cryptic approach of Godard’s montage. It also made one aware of how one peruses a newspaper, what one finds by accident scanning its pages as opposed to the highly manipulated presentation of cyber-information.

Leibniz’s fold was a “dance of particles folding back on themselves” and Lalor’s rhythmic compositions seem to fold and flow like particles, but also like the complex movement in a Godard film, striving to maintain that ‘in betweenness’ which fosters artistic creativity.

A number of years ago Hans Ulrich Obrist discussed with Paul Virilio the problem of the ‘industrialization of perception’, and how one can resist artistically this process, and Godard’s latest film is yet again his line drawn in the battleground. It seems incredibly appropriate that John Lalor’s work takes up this artistic challenge in the month preceding the general release of Film Socialisme.

Despite the frustrations felt by many, that Ash cloud gave me a secret pleasure in its ability to destabilize capitalism so effectively through its unpredictable movement—like the rhythm of great music, or artistic composition, some things remind us of the importance of the ‘incompossible’.

Katherine Waugh is a writer and filmmaker who recently co-directed the documentary ‘The Art of Time’.


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