Jean Cocteau Delivers a Speech to the Year 2000 in 1962: “I Hope You Have Not Become Robots”

Jean Cocteau was a great many things to a great many people—writer, film­mak­er, painter, friend, and lover. In the lat­ter two cat­e­gories he could count among his acquain­tances such mod­ernist giants as Pablo Picas­so, Ken­neth Anger, Erik Satie, Mar­lene Diet­rich, Edith Piaf, Jean Marais, Mar­cel Proust, André Gide, and a num­ber of oth­er famous names. But Cocteau him­self had lit­tle use for fame and its blan­d­ish­ments. As you’ll see in the short film above, “Cocteau Address­es the Year 2000,” the great 20th cen­tu­ry artist con­sid­ered the many awards bestowed upon him naught but “tran­scen­dent pun­ish­ment.” What Cocteau cared for most was poet­ry; for him it was the “basis of all art, a ‘reli­gion with­out hope.’ ”

Cocteau began his career as a poet, pub­lish­ing his first col­lec­tion, Aladdin’s Lamp, at the age of 19. By 1963, at the age of 73, he had lived one of the rich­est artis­tic lives imag­in­able, trans­form­ing every genre he touched.

Decid­ing to leave one last arti­fact to pos­ter­i­ty, Cocteau sat down and record­ed the film above, a mes­sage to the year 2000, intend­ing it as a time cap­sule only to be opened in that year (though it was dis­cov­ered, and viewed a few years ear­li­er). Biog­ra­ph­er James S. Williams describes the doc­u­men­tary tes­ta­ment as “Cocteau’s final gift to his fel­low human beings.”

He reit­er­ates some of his long-stand­ing artis­tic themes and prin­ci­ples: death is a form of life; poet­ry is beyond time and a kind of supe­ri­or math­e­mat­ics; we are all a pro­ces­sion of oth­ers who inhab­it us; errors are the true expres­sion of an indi­vid­ual, and so on. The tone is at once spec­u­la­tive and uncom­pro­mis­ing…

Por­tray­ing him­self as “a liv­ing anachro­nism” in a “phan­tom-like state,” Cocteau, seat­ed before his own art­work, quotes St. Augus­tine, makes para­bles of events in his life, and address­es, pri­mar­i­ly, the youth of the future. The uses and mis­us­es of tech­nol­o­gy com­prise a cen­tral theme of his dis­course: “I cer­tain­ly hope that you have not become robots,” Cocteau says, “but on the con­trary that you have become very human­ized: that’s my hope.” The peo­ple of his time, he claims, “remain appren­tice robots.”

Among Cocteau’s con­cerns is the dom­i­nance of an “archi­tec­tur­al Esperan­to, which remains our time’s great mis­take.” By this phrase he means that “the same house is being built every­where and no atten­tion is paid to cli­mate, atmos­pher­i­cal con­di­tions or land­scape.” Whether we take this as a lit­er­al state­ment or a metaphor for social engi­neer­ing, or both, Cocteau sees the con­di­tion as one in which these monot­o­nous repeat­ing hous­es are “pris­ons which lock you up or bar­racks which fence you in.” The mod­ern con­di­tion, as he frames it, is one “strad­dling con­tra­dic­tions” between human­i­ty and machin­ery. Nonethe­less, he is impressed with sci­en­tif­ic advance­ment, a realm of “men who do extra­or­di­nary things.”

And yet, “the real man of genius,” for Cocteau, is the poet, and he hopes for us that the genius of poet­ry “hasn’t become some­thing like a shame­ful and con­ta­gious sick­ness against which you wish to be immu­nized.” He has very much more of inter­est to com­mu­ni­cate, about his own time, and his hopes for ours. Cocteau record­ed this trans­mis­sion from the past in August of 1963. On Octo­ber 11 of that same year, he died of a heart attack, sup­pos­ed­ly shocked to death by news of his friend Edith Piaf’s death that same day in the same man­ner.

His final film, and final com­mu­ni­ca­tion to a pub­lic yet to be born, accords with one of the great themes of his life’s work—“the tug of war between the old and the new and the para­dox­i­cal dis­par­i­ties that sur­face because of that ten­sion.” Should we attend to his mes­sages to our time, we may find that he antic­i­pat­ed many of our 21st cen­tu­ry dilem­mas between tech­nol­o­gy and human­i­ty, and between his­to­ry and myth. It’s inter­est­ing to imag­ine how we might describe our own age to a lat­er gen­er­a­tion, and, like Cocteau, what we might hope for them.

via Net­work Awe­some

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jean Cocteau’s Avante-Garde Film From 1930, The Blood of a Poet

The Post­cards That Picas­so Illus­trat­ed and Sent to Jean Cocteau, Apol­li­naire & Gertrude Stein

David Lynch Presents the His­to­ry of Sur­re­al­ist Film (1987)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Mi says:

    The Pineal gland is being shut down by flu­o­ride but stop sugar/brush your teeth instead. 1963is the death of Eire.It is flu­o­ri­idat­ed. Become robots…in our case zom­bies.. we need to awak­en from the darkness…false light is dark­ness.… real­i­ty is
    Dark­ness but the light we must shine is also to and for our ances­tors as well includ­ing the mis­car­riages but what syn­chronic­i­ty is that…Holy Spir­it help…may the abort­ed, abused and derailed with their guardian angels pray for us. Amen. We are in a war zone. Gara­ban­dal.

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