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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