Jean-Luc Godard Gives a Dramatic Reading of Hannah Arendt’s “On the Nature of Totalitarianism”

If you have watched any movie by Jean-Luc Godard you know that he’s never been one to hide behind the façade of film narrative. His movies are personal. Sure they are also intellectually demanding, unabashedly political, and occasionally impenetrable but they are definitely personal. This is a guy, after all, who made Pierrot le Fou, a film that is, among other things, a painfully honest investigation of the breakdown of his marriage with Anna Karina starring Anna Karina.

But you wouldn’t think of Godard as a filmmaker who would readily step in front of the camera like Orson Welles or (regrettably) Quentin Tarantino. But if you’ve been itching to see Godard perform an extended monologue then check out the video above.

The piece is from the 1997 movie We’re Still Here (Nous sommes tous encore ici), directed Anne-Marie Miéville who is Godard’s longtime creative and romantic partner, and it shows the rumpled, unshaven director quoting from Hannah Arendt‘s essay “On the Nature of Totalitarianism.” The soliloquy, presented on a bare stage to an empty theater, is about tyranny, isolation and free will and is delivered with a surprising amount of skill and emotion. You can read along below:

If it were true that eternal laws existed, ruling everything, human in an absolute way and which only required of each human being complete obedience, the freedom would only be a farce. One man’s wisdom would be enough. Human contacts would no longer have any importance, preserved perfect activity alone would matter, operating within the context set up by this wisdom which recognizes the Law. This is not the content of ideologies, but the same logic which totalitarian leaders use which produces this familiar ground and the certainty of the Law without exception.

Logic, that’s to say pure reason without regard for facts and experience, is the real vice of solitude. But the vices of solitude are caused uniquely by the despair associated with isolation. And the isolation which exists in our world, where human contacts have been broken by the collapse of our common home, again following the disastrous consequences of revolutions, themselves a result of previous collapse.

This isolation has stopped being a psychological question to which we can do justice with the help of nice expressions devoid of meaning, like ‘introverted’ and ‘extraverted’. Isolation as a result of absence of friends and of alienation is, from the point of view of man, the sickness which our world is suffering from, even if it is true, we can notice fewer and fewer people than before who cling on to each other without the slightest support. Those people do not benefit from communication methods offered by a world with common interests. These help us escape together, from the curse of inhumanity, in a society where everyone seems superfluous and considered as such by others.

Isolation is not solitude. In solitude, we are never alone with ourselves. In solitude we are always two in one, and we become one, a complete individual with richness and the limits of its exact features, only in relation to the others and in their company. The big metaphysical questions, the search for God, liberty and immortality, relations between man and the world, being and nothingness or again between life and death, are always posed in solitude, when man is alone with himself, therefore, in the virtual company of all. The fact of being, even for a moment, diverted from one’s own individuality allows it to formulate mankind’s eternal questions, which go beyond the questions posed in different ways by each individual.

The risk in solitude is always of losing oneself. It could be said that this is a professional risk for the philosopher. Since he seeks out truth and preoccupies himself with questions, which we describe as metaphysical but which are indeed the only questions to preoccupy everyone. The philosopher’s solution has been to notice that there is apparently in the human mind itself one element capable of compelling the other and thus creating power. Usually we call this faculty Logic, and it intervenes each time that we declare that a principle or an utterance possesses in itself a convincing force, that is to say a quality which really compels the person to subscribe to it.

Recently we realized that the tyranny, not of reason but argumentation, like an immense compulsive force exercised on the mind of men can serve specifically political tyranny. But this truth also remains that every end in history necessarily contains a new beginning. This beginning is the only promise, the only message which the end can ever give. St Augustine said that man was created so that there could be a beginning. This beginning is guaranteed by each new birth, it is, in truth, each man.

Related Content:

Hannah Arendt Discusses Philosophy, Politics & Eichmann in Rare 1964 TV Interview

Hannah Arendt’s Original Articles on “the Banality of Evil” in the New Yorker Archive

A Young Jean-Luc Godard Picks the 10 Best American Films Ever Made (1963)

Jean-Luc Godard’s After-Shave Commercial for Schick (1971)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.



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