“Elpenor, Unburied”: Ezra Pound, Jean-Luc Godard and the Descent of Dwelling

By Corin Depper

histoires-du-cinema-jean-luc-godard-2.jpgHistoire(s) du Cinéma, 1988-99

what i love
in general about the cinema
a saturation of magnificent signs
bathed in the light
of the absence of explanation[1]
Jean-Luc Godard, Histoire(s) du cinéma 4B, Les Signes parmi nous

Early in his career, Jean-Luc Godard left Odysseus staring out to sea at the culmination of Le Mépris (1963), standing on the roof of that white wedge of modernist architecture, the Casa Malaparte, as the cameras whirred behind him and the sky and water unfurled towards the final cut. To rediscover Odysseus, one must move forward through thirty-five years of Godard’s work to the final part of his Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-1998), 4b: Les Signes Parmi Nous (The Signs Amongst Us)[2] where Odysseus forms a link between Godard and the great American poet Ezra Pound: indeed, the penultimate voice we hear at the culmination of Godard’s decade-long investigation into the interrelations between film and twentieth century history[3] belongs to Pound, and we hear him reading from the first of his Cantos[4]:

But first Elpenor came, our Friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,
Limbs that we left in the house of Circe,
Unwept, unwrapped in sepulchre, since toils urged other.
Pitiful spirit. (…)[5]
(Pound, 1993: 4)

This final section of Godard’s eight-part project takes as its subject the very sense of what cinema has been, and may become, for it stands in relation to the earlier sections, which deal more directly with specific elements of film history (such as 4A Le Contrôle de l’Univers, which has at its heart an exploration of the influence of Hitchcock), as a coda to the work, and perhaps to the cinema itself; in its slow fade between Chaplin and Hitler one has both a visualization of Bazin’s famous comment that Hitler stole Chaplin’s moustache, and the sense that the twentieth century and film are so intertwined that the passing of one leads to the passing of the other.

Despite Godard stressing in his narration to the chapter that, "in the cinema we don’t have books/we only have music and painting" (Godard 1999 iv: 88), it seems of considerable importance, in the light of the Histoire(s)’s central project(ion), that Pound should appear in the work at its close. Pound adapted the lines quoted by Godard from a passage in book 11 of the Odyssey, the Nekyia (or Nekuia as Pound sometimes spelled it), which recounts the descent of Odysseus into the underworld to speak with the ghost of the soothsayer Tiresias, so that he may discover whether he will ever complete his wanderings and return to his homeland of Ithaca. Yet, before he can speak with the blind Theban seer, he is accosted by other shades – the first of whom is the aforementioned Elpenor. But who is this figure, and what significance does he have in the Odyssey – and what significance, if any, do these lines, and the figure of Elpenor, have for Pound, and thus for Godard? On a closer inspection of the Odyssey – I am using Robert Fagles’ recent verse translation here – it transpires that Elpenor seems to have been created solely to fulfil this purpose of dying, for he is only mentioned for the first time in book 10, line 552:

There was a man, Elpenor, the youngest in our ranks,
none too brave in battle, none too sound in mind.
He’d strayed from his mates in Circe’s magic halls
and keen in the cool night air,
sodden with wine he’d bedded down on her roofs.
But roused by the shouts and tread of marching men,
he leapt up with a start at dawn but still so dazed
he forgot to climb back down again by the long ladder –
headfirst from the roof he plunged, his neck snapped
from the backbone, his soul flew down to Death.
(Fagles, 1997: 247)

In these few brief lines we are both introduced to Elpenor, and hear of the ignominy of his drunken death, a death as far from the traditional heroic deaths of Homer as can be imagined. We know no more about him; youth and foolishness are his only traits. How he came to be part of Odysseus’s crew is not mentioned, nor is he given any live voice – in these lines he is merely established for his later meeting with Odysseus in the underworld. Indeed, his death goes unnoticed by Odysseus and the rest of his crew, so eager are they to continue their journey, and leave Circe’s island. Thus, when we encounter Elpenor again in the passage of Pound’s translation, his ghost is distraught that his body has not been given the proper funeral rites, rites that punctuate both the Iliad and the Odyssey with such regularity that they become almost like an Homeric epithet. At first sight Odysseus merely believes Elpenor to have made the journey to Hades more quickly than the rest, and it is with shock that he comes to understand the true reason why his companion’s journey has been so swift. Elpenor remains cast adrift in Hades because he has yet to be buried, and is trapped in a state of limbo, a shade pulled between the worlds of life and death. It might appear that in this discussion of the importance of Elpenor any connection with Godard has been forgotten – yet I would suggest that it is crucial to our understanding of Elpenor’s significance in the Histoire(s) to first see how he fits into Pound’s conception of the Cantos.

Furthermore, it is important to note that the source of Pound’s translation is somewhat circuitous, for it comes not directly from the Homeric original, but via a Renaissance intermediary. In writing the Canto, Pound referred to a 16th century Latin translation of the Odyssey by Andreas Divus of Justinopolis (partly because his reading of Latin was better than his Greek, and he was able to grasp the rhythm more easily), which he discovered on a Parisian bookstall, "in the year of grace 1906, 1908, or 1910" (Pound, 1954: 259) Thus, as nearly all commentators on this Canto mention, already, at the very opening of the poem (which begins, "And then went down to the ship/Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and/We set up mast and sail on that swart ship" (Pound, 1993: 3)), one sees the gradual layering of references and sources, in a prefiguring of the sort of technique that will dominate the poem. Although, as William Cookson has pointed out, this Canto does not contain anywhere near the same degree of textual fragmentation as dominates Pound’s later, fully "ideogrammic" style, which allows him to, "leap thousands of years between lines and half-lines with swiftness of thought and without incongruity." (Cookson, 2001: 4) Yet, even here, there are numerous echoes and allusions that problematize a simple linear reading of Pound’s lines, and transform what appears at first glance to be a comparatively straightforward piece of verse into something closer to the ideogrammic method so central to Pound’s poetics. Furthermore, Guy Davenport has suggested that the Canto invites comparison with Pound’s earlier translation of The Seafarer, written in 1910-11, an effect enhanced when one hears the recorded version of the Canto, as used by Godard, where Pound adopts what he claims was described by Ford Madox Ford as his "Northumbrian" accent. (Davenport, 1983: 106; Alexander tx. 2002) One could almost claim that The Seafarer is a "dry run" for this Canto, with Pound adopting a similar rhythm and deploying many similar devices, for, as Davenport explains, Pound’s layered technique demonstrates from the outset that his work takes as its subject the very ways in which one may conceive the processes of writing and translation, not as a simple transformation from one language to another, but as an active process of metamorphosis, with potentially many interstitial stages, and hence no definite end-point:

…To recreate Homer in English needs words with which Bronze Age action can be encompassed; a dictionary’s equivalents will not do; hence the recourse to the sea-poetry of Anglo-Saxondom. Sustained translation requires a diction, words that cohere in tone and decorum. (Davenport, 1983: 109)

From the outset then, the first Canto of the poem creates this layering of voices through the filter of a single voice; the Canto is not heteroglossic in a sense immediately detectable by the reader, and only an acquaintance with Pound’s method allows us to understand the various competing voices within it. Although now firmly established as the poem’s opening salvo, it was not always so: the translation was originally the third canto of the poem, and was published alongside the first two over three consecutive months in the summer of 1917 in Harriet Monroe’s Poetry magazine. (Carpenter, 1988: 289-291) The Canto only assumed its place at the prow of the great poem after the publication of A Draft of XVI Cantos in 1925. (Ibid.: 423) This status suggests the manifold importance of the Nekyia for Pound, as it serves to introduce a number of the concerns that were to dominate the composition of the remainder of the Cantos over the next half-century. In the first instance, Pound was of the opinion that it is the oldest book of the Odyssey: twenty years after writing the Canto, in a letter to R.H.D Rouse (who was undertaking his own prose translation of the Odyssey at the time, and corresponding with Pound for advice), he writes: 

The Nekuia shouts aloud that it is older than the rest, all that island, Cretan, etc., hinter-time, that is not Praxiteles, not Athens of Pericles, but Odysseus. (Pound, 1971: 274)

Thus, it would seem appropriate that Pound begins his own epic both in medias res, as is traditional for the epic form, and with what is considered chronologically to be the first part of the Odyssey. Furthermore, if Pound is right (and philology, for once, seems to be on his side) and the Nekyia is older than the rest of the Odyssey, then one encounters the paradoxical situation of Elpenor’s "birth" in Book X, post-dating his "death" in the Nekyia. Indeed, Davenport claims that the choice of the Nekyia to begin the poem provides a filter through which the rest of the Cantos may be read:

Here the journey is specifically that of Odysseus to Hades. Metaphorically it is the plot of the poem: the ghosts will speak for one hundred and sixteen Cantos. The poet’s labour to give them voice is the blood Odysseus puts in the little ditch so that they have strength to talk. Hades is the past to be heard. The blood supplied to "the impetuous impotent dead" is also a metaphor for the translator’s task, or for bringing to life the voices of the past. (Davenport, 1983: 105-106) 

Therefore, it is of crucial importance that towards the end of the Canto Pound addresses the shade of his source directly:

Lie quiet Divus. I means, that is Andreas Divus,
In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer.
And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outward and away
And unto Circe.
(Pound, 1993: 5)

ezra-pound-vortograph-alvin-langdon-coburn-FROM-TATE.jpgAlvin Coburn Vortograph of Ezra Pound, 1917. Courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film. As featured in The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World exhibition at the Tate Britain (http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/thevorticists/)

In these lines, one finds Pound reaching back across history to Divus, and connecting his own act of translation with Odysseus’s descent into Hades, as if the two processes are somehow connected. Of course, the affinity between Pound and Odysseus has become a commonplace in criticism on the Cantos, as the connections between Pound’s own poetic work, the events of his life, and his sense of being part of a wider poetic tradition, coalesce around the figure of Odysseus, the archetypal wanderer, lending the poet, and his work, the grandeur of the epic tradition: like Elpenor, Divus must "lie quiet" and accept the funeral rites offered by Pound if only to be recovered nearly four centuries later as part of Pound’s poetic inheritance. Of course, Pound’s connecting with the poetry of the past is as much a process of making it contemporary, for as he says in another letter to Rouse: "The chief impression in reading Homer is freshness. Whether illusion or not, this is the classic quality. 3000 years old and still fresh. A trans. that misses that is bad. Must get new combinations of words." (Pound, 1971: 275) Past and present become conflated in this process of translation, effectively creating new forms out of a dead language.

A similar effect, of the uniting of seeming opposing elements, can be seen in the fact that the Nekyia effectively inverts the trajectory of Odysseus’s voyage, transforming his travel from seafaring to a descent into the earth. Pound conceived of the Periplum, or how the outline of a coast appears from the sea, as a defining image for the Cantos. It is an idea that recurs throughout the poem, and is linked explicitly with Odysseus’s travels around the Mediterranean on his voyage of return to Ithaca. Its importance to Pound’s poetics lies in its stress on the shape something assumes as one assesses its perimeter, and speculates on its interior: for Pound, the Periplum is the desire to explore and discover both land and knowledge; it is the spirit of curiosity that runs through the poem. In one of his broadcast interviews during his time incarcerated at St. Elizabeths, Pound repeatedly claimed that, "There can be no literature without curiosity" (Alexander, tx. 2002) (even in reporting his speech, one sometimes finds the need to capitalize) suggesting that to discover an intellectual Periplum is of central importance to his poetics; that we must sail round a subject prior to our gaining an understanding of it. As Davenport has claimed, there are two other such controlling elements beside the Periplum in the poem: the Vortex and the Sacred Mountain. (Davenport, 1983: 89) Thus two figures are of movement, contrasted with one of absolute stasis. Each one embodies a different element of the historical structure of the Cantos: the Periplum is classical; the Vortex – that figure of controlled and concentrated energy that Pound used to describe his early avant-garde experiments in London in the 1910s – an emblem of modernity; and the Sacred Mountain, connected with the Confucian elements of Pound’s thinking, provides a still counterpoint to his restless energy. Yet the Periplum and the Vortex would seem to represent opposed forms of movement, one across, and one down, for while the Vortex is a figure of intensification, the Periplum is a lateral conception. Therefore, in the dialectic between these two movements the energy of the poem is both created and released.

In the Nekyia, there is what amounts to a dramatization of this tension, for one encounters a situation where Odysseus, the exemplary voyager across the seas, descends downwards into the earth: the two movements evoke the system by which the Cantos as a whole function, as one sees the combination of both movements in a single figure. But can this account of the descent of Odysseus be related to the significance of Elpenor? Jean-Michel Rabaté has claimed that a clue to his significance in the poem lies in the very ambiguities of his name:

Elpenor’s name embodies the same dialectic of opposites (between Elpenor’s drunken death, and the need for solemn rites to mark his passing), for he is the "man of hope" (elpis-aner) and is thus "unfortunate" but still hopes for a posthumous fortune or "fame". (Rabaté, 1986: 69)

Rabaté adds that Elpenor is associated with a motif of haste and repetition that runs throughout the Cantos, and that this association with his demise is part of the poem’s tendency to find echoes of these classical figures in later historical moments. Furthermore, I would suggest that if Odysseus is associated with the Periplum, then it may be possible to claim that Elpenor has a similar relation with the Vortex; at their meeting in Hades one sees the embodiment of this connection.

However, Daniel Tiffany highlights a further significance of the Elpenor figure to Pound by equating him directly with the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, a close friend of Pound during his first years in London, who had been killed in trenches at Verdun in 1915 at the age of 23, and traces this "tragic" function of Elpenor in the poem:

In order to appreciate fully the crypt effects[6] of Gaudier-Brzeska (Pound’s memoir of the sculptor) and the poet’s recurrent desire to mourn but also to revive the figure of the youthful sculptor or painter, we must take a closer look at the character of Elpenor in the Odyssey, and his curious relationship to Odysseus. (…) Obviously, not all the figures, real or fictional, resemble one another closely, nor is the correspondence to Elpenor’s character ever precise. (…) Gaudier’s forceful personality contrasts sharply with the feminine qualities of the dreamer, the hedonist, the aesthete. Yet he fulfils the Elpenor type for Pound in certain essential ways; most important, Gaudier’s sudden, premature death at the age of twenty-three – his transformation into a restless phantom – nominates him as a double of the Elpenor figure. (Tiffany, 1995: 102-104)

Tiffany provides ample evidence of the centrality of an idea of the "Elpenor figure" to Pound’s poetics, but for my purposes it is sufficient to suggest that, for Pound, Elpenor transcends his Homeric role, and becomes a figure that stands in for all those who are destroyed before they can prove themselves. In this way, Pound recasts Elpenor against his Homeric persona, where he seems somewhat feckless, and instead views him as the embodiment of youthful promise cut short by death. Of course, the connection between Elpenor, the Vortex and Gaudier-Brzeska is quite clear from the sculptor’s own writings, perhaps a further indication that it is the meeting with Elpenor rather than with Tiresias that becomes the true goal of Pound’s Nekyia.[7] In addition, Tiffany is able to connect the descent of the Nekyia directly to Pound’s poetic practice as well his biography:

The backwardness of Pound’s own journey to the underworld (through translation and memory) is clearly essential to his conception of poetry. To embark on the writing of the Cantos, Pound must make a journey in reverse: he must return to a place he has never been. This is why Tiresias greets Odysseus/Pound on the latter’s arrival in Hades with the question, "A second time?" (This phrase does not occur in the original Greek.) (Ibid.: 103)

Therefore, the Nekyia becomes an inverted Periplum, and the Periplum inverts the Vortex. This paradoxical situation suggests the cyclical nature of the Cantos, as if the Periplum becomes a wheel; one is constantly circum-navigating the same island, and perhaps this island is the Sacred Mountain at the poem’s heart. Therefore, in each new beginning one returns once more to the Origin of the poem, and Tiresias’s greeting is as much to the reader returning to the Canto as it is to the character of Odysseus.

It is this interstitial status of Elpenor then, trapped between life and death, that seems his most marked characteristic; in Pound’s re-writing of the Homeric voyage, one sees the wandering of Odysseus transformed into a looping structure, part Periplum, part Vortex,[8] that permits him to revisit each "land" on the course of his "voyages"; the ideogrammic nature of Pound’s conception of the Cantos reconnects these fragments in ways that bring back to life that which was once dead. Thus, the descent of the Nekyia and the meeting with Elpenor becomes part of Pound’s conception of history, allowing us to see the interconnections between different epochs through the workings of the various ideograms that structure the work. And I would suggest that it is this capacity that seems to lie behind Godard’s decision to use Pound’s lines at this point in his own attempt to create multiple and fluid histories, "avec un ‘s’" as he says repeatedly throughout the Histoire(s).

In the books published to accompany the Histoire(s) – though is it possible to claim that the books and CDs are as much "the work" as the video version? – Godard alters Pound’s printed line-breaks in the Cantos, and presents them on the page in a way that seems to more closely follow the patterns of Pound’s speech in the recording:[9]

but first Elpenor came
our friend Elpenor
unburied, cast on the wide earth
limbs that we left in the house of Circe
unwept, unwrapped in sepulchre
since toils urged other pitiful spirit
(Godard, 1999 iv: 97)

Thus, Pound’s already altered lines go through another process of transformation in order to enter into one form of Godard’s work. Of course, the Histoire(s) is itself largely composed of visual and verbal "quotations" from the films Godard uses as his sources for the work, creating a dense weave of images, captions and sounds from across the history of the medium, from grainy newsreels to the glossiest of Hollywood musicals. However, that this work on the history of film should be made as a series of videos, implies that the history of cinema is recuperable only through another medium, as if in its "raw" state, film is still too unstable to be grasped by the processes of history. One could perhaps, in the manner of Godard, say that "film plus history equals video".

As with Pound, one could also suggest that Godard’s fracturing and fragmenting of his sources is effectively a form of transformation/translation. Obviously, a connection exists between Pound’s use of the Ideogram, and Godard’s expanded conception of montage as it has developed over the past two decades. Godard has, in his recent work, attempted to place himself in a direct line of descent from Eisenstein (through the intermediary of Hitchcock), although he has claimed that, "Eisenstein naturally thought he had found montage… But by montage I mean something much more vast" (Temple, Williams, 2000: 17) as if expanding the conception to go beyond the limits of cinema – much as Pound’s conception of the ideogram eventually far outstripped the pioneering work of his initial inspiration, the Sinologist Ernest Fenollosa, whose essay "The Chinese Written Character as Medium for Poetry" he edited and published during his time in London in the 1910s. Indeed, nearly all discussion of the Histoire(s) acknowledges the central role played by montage in the work’s formulation and construction; amongst these Michael Witt’s "Montage, my Beautiful Care, or Histories of the Cinematograph" (its title an allusion to one of Godard’s key early writings, "Montage, mon beau souci") and Alan Wright’s Elizabeth Taylor at Auschwitz: JLG and the Real Object of Montage (both in Temple, Williams, 2000) provide some of the most far-reaching analyses of the rediscovery Godard makes of montage as both a formal system, and as a model of historical thinking in his late work. As Witt comments, "…for Eisenstein, the terms ‘montage’, ‘image’, and ‘metaphor’ are fundamentally interchangeable. Eisenstein and Godard therefore both leave us with a series of elliptical quotations: cinema=image=montage=metaphor=art." (Witt, 2000: 50)

Wright’s essay takes as its centre one of the most daring example of montage in the entire Histoire(s) where, at the end of Chapter 1a, Toutes les Histoires, Godard dissolves slowly from images of the Nazi death camps to an image of the smiling Elizabeth Taylor as she embraces Montgomery Clift in George Stevens’s A Place in the Sun (1951). (Wright, 2000: 51-2) The images are linked by Godard’s commentary when he points out that Stevens was one of the first directors to be permitted to film in Auschwitz and Ravensbrück at the end of the war, and was given some of the first 16mm colour stock produced by Kodak to record what he saw. Unlike Eisenstein’s conception of montage, the images are linked through their very disparity; it is no longer a montage of attractions, but of disjuncture. Similarly, there is no unified "product" to the montage, either predefined, or created by the viewer (as Wright suggests, the primary value of the montage lies between the two images, in the cut or the interstice (Ibid.: 53)); it is almost a montage about the failure of the dialectic to function, as if dialectical montage of the sort pioneered by Eisenstein cannot exist after Auschwitz (cf. Adorno); as if the coexistence of the two elements, the horror of the camps, and the beauty of the star, are irresolvable, and must simply exists as two elements, opposed and unified at once, but never joined. That the same History can contain both Auschwitz and Elizabeth Taylor seems somehow to demonstrate the very limits of what Godard’s notion of montage wishes to encompass; to bring them together is also to show how far they are apart; the parenthetical ‘(s)’ of Godard’s title would seem to speak of the irreconcilability of these conflicting yet overlapping histories.

Godard’s expanded conception of montage can be seen to bear a close analogy with Pound’s attempt to fuse all elements of his poetic practice in the concept of the Ideogram as it develops through the course of the Cantos: they almost become theoretical hold-alls that are capable of containing a vast quantity of heterogeneous material. Indeed, William Cookson has gone so far as to say of the Cantos that, "As well as being musical, the technique is cinematic – the juxtaposition of "luminous details" that "build light" and mirror the speed of the poet’s thought" (Cookson, 2001: xxii), which presents a conception of cinema that seems entirely indebted to an Eisensteinian (and perhaps Godardian) form of montage. Furthermore, Temple and Williams comment, in the introduction to their volume of essays on Godard’s recent work, that one could attempt to disentangle the vast number of quotations, fragments and titles that make up the Histoire(s), in an attempt to provide a comprehensive analysis of the work’s sources and references, and claim that, "this quasi-exegetical method would tend towards situating Histoire(s) du cinéma in the predominantly literary canon of great modernist hyper-texts like Joyce’s Finnegans Wake or Pound’s Cantos."[10] (Temple, Williams, 2000: 23) Thus, it would seem that whilst one can view the Cantos as displaying cinematic properties, one could make an equal attempt to situate the Histoire(s) within a literary discourse.

However, the context of Temple and Williams’s remark comes in the expression of a certain scepticism about the nature of such an enterprise, wary of consecrating Godard’s work as either "modernist" or placing it in too close a contact with literary works, as if heeding Godard’s claim about not having books in the cinema, but only music and painting. They suggest that to do so would risk losing from the work what Godard has termed its entendement, its capacity to hear and understand, equating it more with music than with literature, but also suggesting that work is engaged in an active dialogue with its spectators, rather than simply requiring of them to locate the relevant sources. (Ibid.: 20) However, one could view Godard’s reluctance to see the work in this way as an attempt to defuse the exegetical impulses from those who would wish to explore it in such an in-depth way, perhaps concerned that the work will not stand up to sustained scrutiny of the sort that has become so central to literary studies. Behind this sentiment, of course, lies one of Godard’s most famous aphoristic comments, made during an interview on the occasion of Hitchcock’s death in 1980: "For me, texts are death, images are life." (Ibid.: 12) One could suggest that the "life" of images lies in their resistance to the sort of textual analysis that deadens texts into a series of glosses and footnotes.

histoires-du-cinema-jean-luc-godard.jpgHistoire(s) du Cinéma (1988-98)

Nevertheless, at the core of the Histoire(s) seems to be an active struggle between the word and the image, with the figure of Godard himself acting as a mediator. To cite Williams again, he suggests that Godard’s use of typewritten titles throughout the Histoire(s) become ideograms, and although he does not make an explicit connection with Pound here it is difficult to use the term now without his influence being felt, and comments that this transformation, "serves to highlight the act of enunciation rather than the statement itself, and encourages slippage from the semantic level to the phonetic" (Williams, 2000: 312). I would argue that this process even goes beyond the phonetic, for in his use of titles, Godard frequently fragments words and creates a visual puns with letters, in effect creating a play between the visual manifestation of the letters on screen and their status as language; an effect not at all dissimilar to Pound’s early Imagist poetics when he first began his ideogrammic experiments. Of course, Godard’s assertion of the visual potential of language could seem to be an attempt at a rapprochement between text and image, as if breaking down the boundaries between the two terms, and overcoming his previous equation of texts with death: to turn a text into an image, is to give it life. The ideogram, as Pound develops its use in the Cantos, acts in precisely this way, moving towards a sense that the verbal and the visual can be united in a single figure: it is capable of transforming into the visible previously invisible connections. There is no longer a simple equation between elements to generate the concept of "red"[11], but to connect various figures and historical epochs together, which span individual Cantos, and even exist in the juxtaposition between different groups of Cantos.[12]

It also seems of significance that Godard establishes his titles as typewritten, frequently accompanying their appearance with the sound of an electric typewriter, as if reinforcing the mechanically produced nature of his writing, suggesting that the creation of words, like images, is now governed by technology. There is not really the space to do more than note that Pound’s use of the typewriter also became a central element of his composition (of both the letters and the poetry), and to suggest that for both Pound and Godard writing is a process intimately bound up with the physical tools used to create marks on paper; writing is a form of inscription. Nevertheless, it is possible to suggest that through his use of titles one can see a further instance of the way Godard seems to be exploring the boundaries of the relationship between the image and the text. Rather than attempting to close off the idea of what different forms should be, Godard seems to be exploring the very usefulness of the categories "text" or "film", and to push against the boundaries that separate the image from the text: the Histoire(s) are, therefore, essentially marginal.

Despite Godard’s attempt to blur these boundaries between forms, it must be said that in their view of Pound and Joyce, Temple and Williams create a very monolithic conception of the two figures and their work, as if Modernism has now become utterly entrenched in literary history, with the weight of scholarship ossifying texts previously marked by precisely the sort of textual fluidity Godard desires for the Histoire(s). By contrast, Jonathan Rosenbaum, who has produced perhaps the most sustained commentaries on the work in its various stages of development, is quite happy to place Godard and Joyce side by side, going so far as to equate the Histoire(s) with Finnegans Wake: "Finnegans Wake considers both the English language and the 20th century as something that’s over, and in the same way Histoire(s) du cinéma treats both the 20th century and the cinema as something that’s liquidated, finished."(Godard, 1999 iv: 166) By contrast, in his own article on the work in Screen’s 1999 "Godard Dossier", Williams suggests that Godard achieves in the Histoire(s), "what he has been attempting for a long time: to dissolve the solidified word and so arrive (to use the terms of Prénom Carmen (1983)) at a stage avant le nom (before the name) – pure sound – and at l’image vierge (before the image) to return, that is, to a moment before the order of linguistic and cinematic syntax has taken over and words and images have lost their immediacy, freedom and innocence." (Williams, 1999: 312). But the end of language and its origin are in effect the same thing, something Joyce is well aware of in the Wake, with its re-circulating opening/concluding sentence; and so too perhaps the end of cinema becomes merely another place to begin.

Of course, Rosenbaum’s connecting of Godard and Joyce might, on some level, be seen as an attempt to establish Godard’s work as "modernist", and as such bound to a school of academic practice that Temple and Williams seem to be reacting against, who seem to wish the work to either stand or fall on its own terms without the support of such a central pillar of twentieth-century art. However, they fail to take into account that the two works they cite as being embodiments of Modernism are themselves capable of slewing off the skein of academia, for as Rosenbaum suggests, his equation with the Wake does not necessarily imply the sort of exegesis Temple and Williams seem to assume it would:

As "unwatchable", and as "unlistenable" in many respects as Finnegans Wake is "unreadable", Histoire(s) du cinéma remains difficult if one insists on reading it as a linear argument rather than as densely textured poetry; in my experience, it is most rewarding when approached in a spirit of play and innocence. It reminds me of a time when I once played a record of Cyril Cusack reading aloud from Finnegans Wake at a friend’s apartment in New York, when it provoked sustained giggles of delight from her two grammar-school children, neither of whom has the same sort of problems with Joyce’s prose encountered by most university professors. (Ibid.)

Unsurprisingly, I would suggest that a very similar point could be made in comparing the Histoire(s) with the Cantos, for, like Finnegans Wake, it too has a similar capacity to be "unreadable" and yet quite comprehensible to the reader or listener who is prepared to see the work as transcending the conventions of what one understands by "meaning" or "sense". Of course, the history of the criticism of the Cantos is many decades longer than that of the Histoire(s) (a work where the features and points of interest are only now being mapped) and the exegesis of the majority of Pound’s sources can now be found in a single volume, Carroll F. Terrell’s Companion (Terrell, 1993), which compiles a tremendous quantity of information collected by numerous Poundian scholars into a readily accessible form, that almost fuses with the poem itself into a single meta-work. But does such an enterprise entirely remove from the Cantos the possibility of it also possessing a sense of entendement? Surely, Pound’s central interest in melopoeia, the musicality of verse, would seem to suggest that this musical dimension of his poetry is crucial to any understanding of the Cantos – and Pound suggested, after over two decades of work on the poem, that the best way to gain a foothold is to read it aloud: "All typographic disposition, placing of words on the page is intended to facilitate the reader’s intonation, whether he be reading silently or aloud to friends. Given time and technique I might even put down the musical notation of passages or 'breaks into song.'" (Pound, 1971: 322). Thus, one encounters a curious tension between the two ways the work can be said to exist; as a text to be unpicked and explicated, or as something to be read and understood for its musicality. Effectively, the Cantos requires us to hold these two opposed readings in our minds at once, never really being resolved into a "total" conception of the work, but always be competing with one another. The two conceptions, in their tense intermeshing, effectively form a single ideogram. One could also equate this relationship with the tension in the poem between the Periplum, which would be the oral conception of the work, as something to be spoken, and the work as a Vortex, as something into which one burrows to discover its hidden meanings and correspondences. To impose upon a work like the Cantos, a totally inflexible conception of the "literary" is to do it a disservice, and to radically misread Pound’s intentions. Modernism may have acquired over time the status of having created texts written purely for the exegetical factory of research students and academics, but that is to ignore the movement’s fundamental concern with exploring the very boundaries of literature, and in Pound’s case with reconnecting his work to a live tradition of oral poetry, and to Homer. Furthermore, is it not also possible to suggest that a similar process of textual scholarship is likely to take place with the Histoire(s), and that, in future, it too will have these two dimensions: the videos to be experienced, and the work from which one may draw out a range of references and associations? Therefore, who is to say that Godard’s late works, works that seem to have been created from a speculative future after the end of cinema, cannot equally exist in these multiple conceptions? One can even see in the decision to issue the Histoire(s) in three quite separate forms (as videos, as books, and as compact discs), the beginnings of this process; entendement thus enhanced not destroyed by this transformation of transcription. At present, however, the history of the Histoire(s) has yet to be written – or perhaps to be filmed…

Thus, when Godard quotes Pound quoting Homer, the effect is multiple. But why, from all of Pound’s oeuvre should Godard use this fragment at all, and particularly in a place of such prominence? Why should this seemingly insignificant fragment from the Odyssey be placed in such a commanding position? Even if one can demonstrate its centrality to Pound through the association of Elpenor with Gaudier-Brzeska, this does not really explain its significance to Godard. Perhaps a clue can be found in the construction "Elpenor, unburied", for here one finds what I would suggest is its central theme. That Elpenor has not been given his funeral rites is the cause for his seeking of Odysseus – is it not possible to equate Elpenor here with Godard’s conception of both cinema and history at the end of the twentieth century, and to claim that both are, effectively, unburied?

To understand the full implications of this, one must turn once more to that central figure in Godard’s pantheon, Jean Cocteau, for whom the figure of Orpheus was of such central importance. If Odysseus has come to represent the archetypal voyager, than Orpheus’s descent into the underworld in pursuit of Eurydice is equally exemplary. Cocteau’s idea of the Orphic finds its cinematographic expression in his "Orpheus trilogy", Le Sang d’un poète (1930), Orphée (1950) and Le Testament d’Orphée (1960). Each film, in its own way, recounts this myth, and suggests that the myth finds fullest expression only through the medium of the cinema: for Cocteau, the cinema is essentially an Orphic medium. Godard (like many of his contemporaries at Cahiers du Cinéma in the 1950s) saw Cocteau, in his attempt to create an artisanal mode of film production and advocacy of a cinema of formal play and invention, as one of the key precursors of the nouvelle vague. Indeed, one could suggest that as Godard’s career has progressed, Cocteau has remained a guiding influence on his work, to a far greater extent than the other two members of his early triumvirate of central influences, Rossellini and Renoir: although Godard devotes segments of the Histoire(s) to both these figures, and reaffirms his sense of the importance of Rossellini’s Rome Open City (1945) in part 3A as the first film after Fascism to allow Italy to rebuild itself, the guiding spirit behind the project as a whole seems to be Cocteau, for its desire to recapture what has been lost in cinema’s history is essentially an Orphic conception of what film alone is capable of doing: of transforming the dead into the living, as the living become the dead.[13] Of course, Cocteau also serves as a biographical link between Godard and Pound, for Pound and Cocteau developed a rather unlikely friendship, with Pound finding Cocteau, when they finally met in the early 1920s, "‘the best poet and prose writer’ in Paris" (Carpenter, 1988: 384). But a more extraordinary connection can be found in Cocteau’s description of Pound as, "a rower on the river of the dead"[14] (Heymann, 1976: 312), a description which might seem equally applicable to the Godard of the Histoire(s) as he rows against the tide of film history.

In discussing parts 2A (Seul le cinéma, in which Godard discusses the nature of cinema with the critic Serge Daney) and 2B (Fatale beauté, Godard’s meditation on the cinema’s relationship with eros and thanatos) of the Histoire(s), Jonathan Rosenbaum makes the following observation, linking Godard’s place in the history of (French) cinema, with his wider ontological concerns for the history of the medium:

And because "The cinema authorizes Orpheus to turn round without making Eurydice die" (the final title in this chapter (2A), aside from a Latin motto), the implication of many things being almost over – above all, the century and the cinema – establishes the basis for Godard’s extraordinary monologue at the end of 2B, "Fatale beauté", about cinema itself as an act of mourning. (Godard, 1999 iv: 176)

These comments seem to have significance for the current discussion, for they suggest again this Orphic dimension to Godard’s conception of cinema, effectively inverting Cocteau’s famous dictum about cinema capturing "death at work". But is it cinema, that projection of light in a darkened auditorium, which permits this backwards glance, or Godard’s rediscovery of cinema through the medium of video? Film is effectively "unburied", for although it is "dead" it continues to be "at work" (to combine the term in Cocteau’s sense with the Heideggerian) when transformed by the joint processes of video and montage; an effect which is equivalent to when we, as spectators and theorists, act to recreate these processes mentally. Therefore, the medium of cinema becomes a form of Hades: to enter into it is a form of descent; to watch a film is to participate in a modern Nekyia; and the film becomes Elpenor commanding us to give it the proper funeral rites… And to remember the film, to keep it working beyond the limits of our experience, is to keep meeting Tiresias for the first time.

To transform the film, to fragment it, and to discover within it a dwelling place also becomes a means of laying it to rest. And in this process we discover a means of preserving the film, for one could equate the cinematographic capacity for the "backwards glance" with the sort of preservation that Heidegger argued for in order that we might rediscover the Origin of the work of art. An active preservation is essential to our ability to maintain the world of the artwork, to prevent it from becoming deracinated through the ever-encroaching processes of world withdrawal. Godard’s act of transformation, through the double transformation of video and montage, is also then an act of preservation, not in a purely material sense, for there is an obvious degradation of the image that takes place when one converts it from the glossy perfection of film to the grainy video, but through the ability of these processes to preserve the capacity of the images to work, to continue to "project" their open space, when pulled out of their status as projected images.

It is this element of Godard’s use of montage that provides another link with Pound’s ideogrammic effects in the Cantos, and takes the comparison beyond a mere equation of like practice. It is possible to suggest that the ideogram and montage, far from being tools of découpage, are in fact means of "preserving" the quotations they fragment, taking elements from one world and placing them into contact with other fragments from other, quite different worlds – and through this very process creating a new world in which we as readers or viewers may find a dwelling-place of our own with these fused fragments. It is through these processes that they make their quotations work, in the Heideggerian sense. No longer are these fragments the mere ruins of previous texts, but part of a live tradition, and we, as readers, as spectators, are able to enter into the joins between these fragments, and find a dwelling of our own once more: we "unbury" our Elpenors in the very act of our preserving. One could suggest that one way of describing both the Cantos and the Histoire(s) is as forms of Bildungsroman, but it is not a character whose education and development we observe as we read and watch, but our own.

Yet it is not just the viewer/reader who may create a space out of these juxtapositions, for as Rosenbaum also suggests, this sense of the cinema is crucial for the dwelling of Godard himself:

…this (placelessness) ceases to be a problem in his videos (in Histoire(s), for instance the only ongoing "place" that counts is cinema, not Switzerland (Godard’s birthplace and current home)), and perhaps for this reason, it has been in video, not film, that he functions most comfortably as a historian. (Godard, 1999 iv: 179)

Perhaps one could claim that the medium of video functions for Godard as it does for anyone engaged in the study of film, as something that one starts out as seeing as a mere tool to gain access to the film in another way, but which one sees over time gradually transforming the work of film into another, quite distinct, form: rather than ignoring this process, and pretending he is only talking about film as film, or expressing this in a purely theoretical manner, Godard seeks to embrace the physical dimension of video as creating a new space in which creator, viewer and work are united: it is implied that one can create a dwelling out of a film only once it has been transformed, metamorphosed, in this way.

One may, therefore, make a connection between this attempt in the late work of Godard to discover a place where both the filmmaker and the viewer may dwell with the work, outside of the national boundaries that have scarred the Europe of the past century, and his resistance to finding a geographical home. The Histoire(s) takes as its historical centre the Second World War, occurring at roughly the mid-point of the century and the history of film (assuming Godard’s enmeshing of the twentieth century and film proves correct): for Godard, the repercussions from this cataclysmic event has cast a shadow over the rest of the century and demonstrated the medium’s inability to come to terms with its effects[15] – and one could suggest that Godard’s desire to live in the world of film is almost an attempt to shirk off the responsibilities of dwelling in a country. Of course, there is also a strange irony in the affinity between Godard’s sense of the "place" of the cinema and Heidegger’s conception of dwelling, which has become so mired in accusations that it is little more than an espousal of Nazi expansionist policies couched in the language of philosophy. That this sense of dwelling may be transformed by Godard, a citizen of that most (notoriously?) neutral of countries, into a place where he may dwell outside of these constraints, would seem to further complicate this nexus of interconnections: is to dwell in the work, or in cinema, a denial of one’s responsibilities as a citizen of a country, or a radical reformulation of what this may be?[16]

The links between Godard and Heidegger go further, for as Vicki Callahan has noted, Godard creates what she terms a "poetic history" through his use of multiple histories that force the viewer to create relations and correspondences between the fragments, and (crucially) the gaps between the fragments: a process signalled, she suggests, by his quoting (in a fragmented and slightly altered form) part of Heidegger’s essay "Why Poets?"[17] at the end of chapter 1B Une Histoire seule. (Callahan, 2000: 148) The complete passage from Heidegger’s essay runs as follows: 

Poets are the mortals who gravely sing the wine-god and sense the track of the fugitive gods; they stay on the gods’ track, and so they blaze a path for their mortal relations, a path toward the turning point. (…) Yet who is capable of tracing such tracks? Tracks are often inconspicuous, and are always the legacy of instruction scarcely divined. To be a poet in a desolate time means: singing, to attend the track of the fugitive gods. This is the reason that the world’s night, in Hölderlin’s language, is the sacred night. (Heidegger, 2002 ii: 202)[18]

Callahan equates Godard’s use of this passage with his desire to create new forms of thought, a form signalled by his use of the Steenbeck editing table, with its endlessly spooling reels, as a metaphor for the recovery of cinematic memory,[19] and equates this process of Godard’s with Heidegger’s desire to discover the Open, the unconcealed space projected by the working of the artwork. (Ibid.) However, the connections between Godard and Heidegger are not developed beyond the suggestion that Godard’s use of the most horrific moments of twentieth century history is related to Heidegger’s notion of the "desolate time" of modernity, and that Godard, as one who gazes into the abyss of history, is equated with Heidegger’s characterization of Rilke and Hölderlin as poets of "desolate time". However, in an earlier passage of the essay, Callahan quotes an interview with Godard where he claims that the cinema "does" metaphysics, for it is, "something extremely physical on account of the fact it is a mechanical invention. It is there for escape, and to escape is the order of metaphysics."(Ibid.: 146) Would it be possible, therefore, to suggest that Godard is able, to use Heidegger’s term, to "overcome metaphysics" through the medium of video? Video is, effectively, his means of working against the aesthetic of film; it is only video that allows film to be thought rather than merely perceived. It is only through this overcoming of the metaphysics of film that Godard is able to achieve his dwelling within the world of film.

Indeed, as Temple and Williams claim, the essence of cinema lies, for Godard, in its capacity to transcend its technological basis:

Whilst rationally there is plenty of evidence to suggest that video was technically and aesthetically a very different entity from its sibling rival, for Godard, what matters most is that ever since the invention of the magic lantern, something called "cinema" has continued to exist, metempsychotically speaking, in a whole succession of different hardwares and mortal coils. And Godard knows that what comes next may well not correspond to his own "certain idea of cinema", but, as day follows night, cinema will certainly invent a new image of its own for a world as yet unseen and unknown. (Temple, Williams, 2000: 21)

In this account, the cinema is not absolutely tied to its basis in technology, but is an essence that can be "reincarnated" in any number of technological apparatuses: there is "nothing technological" about the technology of cinema, as Heidegger might say.[20] Perhaps, one may suggest that the essence of the "cinema" lies in its capacity to transcend the limits of its technology through the process of montage, an activity carried out either through technology, or remaining as a mental activity in the mind of the viewer. The significance of video in this respect is that it is the next technological apparatus in which cinema is embodied. Of course, the advent of the digital age seems to suggest where this essence may move after video, though for Godard, it is as if the digital represents a further step away from his own cinematic history, and, tied as he is to a certain mid-century conception of the medium, is resistant to it: the writing of the digital history of cinema will be for other filmmakers.[21]

Godard’s sense of the history of cinema is transformed from the teleology of his work in Le Mépris (a film from the period that culminates with the final "Fin du Cinéma" at the end of Weekend (1967)), towards a sense of the essentially cyclical (and hence, perhaps, recuperable) nature of history by the time one reaches the beginning of the Histoire(s) in the late 1980s. One could suggest that this can be viewed as a shift in Godard’s thinking from what amounts to an Hegelian conception of history, where each epoch is utterly irrecoverable once it has passed – and film, as the art of the last epoch, should be mourned but not brought back to life – to an Heideggerian notion of a more cyclical sense of time, and a sense that a recovery of film, though a distant wish, is nevertheless one that should be striven for. The place of Godard within film history means that he is attached to a certain conception of what cinema was, but a work like the Histoire(s) seeks, in many ways, to suggest that although this notion of cinema is coming to a close, there is always the potential for a rebirth in another form: the position of the Histoire(s), as Rosenbaum has claimed, after the "end" of cinema, effectively loops history around, so that one must return to that starting point of the cinema, the cinematograph. As Michael Witt suggests, the cinematograph has a central role in Godard’s history of the medium:

Despite initial appearances, Godard’s histories are less "histoire(s) du cinéma" than "histoire(s) du cinématographe", a fact signified by the shift in intertitles in Toutes les histoires. Forays into the sound era are primarily driven by a quest to follow the residual trail – flashes of resistance on the part of a handful of figures, films and movements in the face of widespread homogenisation – of the cinematograph and "what it became in the age of the talkies". (Witt, 2000: 41)

For Godard, this idea of the "cinematograph" encapsulates all that has been lost in cinema since its birth in 1895: the betrayal that Godard identifies as lying at the very core of film history is a betrayal of the cinematographic for the merely filmic: the aim of the filmmaker after the age of cinema is, then, to rediscover this lost cinematographic ideal. Yet the cinematograph is not just the device developed by the Lumières, nor is it simply a conception of a European cinema to be placed in opposition to the homogenization caused by the hegemony of Hollywood; it is rather both the technological basis of cinema, and its overcoming. In this respect, Godard’s conception of the cinematograph seems increasingly Heideggerian, for it seeks to hold the technological with its opposite in the creation of a form where the two states are not resolved into a single entity, but generate a form created out of the tensions between them. In this respect, Godard effectively achieves an identity between his conceptions of cinematography and montage, creating not a synthesis of the two, but another of these systems of opposites in tension.

One could even go so far as to equate Godard’s complex conception of the cinematograph with Heidegger’s sense of the pre-Socratic, as a time before the domination of Platonic metaphysics overtook our understanding, and transformed art into a mere facilitator of aesthetic experiences. If the cinematograph is pre-Socratic, then, the cinema as it has developed under the aegis of Hollywood now operates in this essentially Platonic mode, creating a tyrannically mimetic conception of cinema, a cinema where the aesthetic conception becomes all consuming. The rare acts of resistance to this stranglehold, in the flashes of cinematographic montage, are for Godard, acts of defiance, attempts to rediscover what was so quickly lost from cinema’s original potential. In the Histoire(s), Godard seems to be both tracing his history of cinematography in its various incarnations, but also through the techniques he uses, demonstrating his own attempt at its revival.

However, if this "renaissance" of film-as-cinematography does not necessarily have to take place through the technologies of film as they have been passed down to us, is it not possible to suggest that writing itself may also become part of this process of rebirth; that writing may become another technology in which cinematography can persist? Perhaps, this thesis itself may in fact become part of this movement, for its focus is not only about how one may change one’s conception of the experience of film through writing, but is as much about how film and writing may come together. Could such a process contribute to the rediscovery of the lost potential of cinema mourned by Godard throughout the Histoire(s)? From the outset, my aim has been to attempt a reformulation of what it is to write about film, to explore how this activity stands in relationship to the film itself: to make thinking and writing about a film something distinct from watching a film, and to explore what happens when writing and images come together. Indeed, the very shifts that have marked my writing, from something aspiring to conventional academic discourse, to the more lyrical and fragmented passages that have become ever-more frequent, seem to illustrate this tension between the varying modes of talking about something as elusive as film. Is it more appropriate to capture this quality through fixing it with a clear prose style, or is that some form of betrayal of what is so ungraspable; should one rather try to emulate this fluidity of film in language, however ultimately impossible this may be?

What I have been attempting is to find something of the nature of this elusive thing called "cinematography" in the very act of writing; to use writing as a means of seeing, and to develop and expand our ideas of what it is to write about a film; ultimately to discover a new way of writing not just about film, but what might be termed "writing film". That is to say, we must attempt to discover how the processes of writing and filmmaking may be connected, to break the Hegelian dialectic of subject and object, to return to a fluid play between the states, to reach a situation where, as Godard desires, "writing is like filming", and that we who wish to do so, "must find (our) own language." (Godard, 1986: 229) This was Godard’s advice for those wishing to make films; it is perhaps equally applicable to those wanting to write; that one transforms the very process of one’s writing into something more closely allied to filming; that all films become "mind-films"; that all texts become "word-films"; in order for texts to equal life, writing itself must become cinematographic.

Is it not possible, in the form of the Histoire(s), and its connections with the Cantos, that one sees the Epic and the Lyric become One? As Godard has commented in one of his most recent interviews, lyricism in film is something that has been lost for a very long time, but which now may be rediscovered:

Lyricism was something that existed in silent cinema and which disappeared, as if we were ashamed of it. (…) I regret not knowing how to sing, otherwise I’d sing a lot. Being lyrical means singing, too. The cinema is a lyrical art form; some moments in editing are like musical phrases. It doesn’t take much. It comes fairly naturally to me. (Godard, 2002: 6)

In this call, however resigned the tone may be, one sees Godard’s desire to return to this lost lyricism of cinematography; but to recreate lyricism requires a belief from the viewer in the capacity to dwell in the film. In the combination of Odysseus and Orpheus into a single figure, one sees the cinema afresh as a place where one may always return, always awaiting the call of Elpenor. And Elpenor, of course, is the cinematograph, the unfortunate one, dead before its time: it is the "unburied cinema", something to which we may return again and again, and each time it makes the same plea. In the cinematograph of the underworld the Nekyia and the Periplum become one, and so we may discover that its truth lies in its unburied eternal present, and in this discovery the cinematograph becomes an island around which the Periplum of our experience will be transformed into a place where we may dwell; and when this metamorphosis takes place, we too, through our watching, through our remembrance, through our writing, may become poets of our desolate time.


[1] Unpunctuated and uncapitalised in its original printing. (Godard, 1999 iv: 92)
[2] The work is composes of 8 parts in total: 1A Toutes les Histoires; 1B Une Histoire Seule; 2A Seul le Cinéma; 2B Fatale Beauté; 3A Le Monnaie de l'Absolu; 3B Le Contrôle de l’Univers; and 4B Les Signes Parmi Nous
[3] As Jonathan Rosenbaum has commented, in Godard’s view the two terms are almost interchangeable. (Godard, 1999 iv: 175)
[4] This recording was made in 1956, when Pound, in the last year of his incarceration at St. Elizabeths, when Pound was visited by D.G. Bridson who had been commissioned by the B.B.C. to record Pound reading from his work. (Carpenter, 1988: 824)
[5] Godard breaks Pound off mid-line: it concludes, "And I cried in hurried speech," before recounting Odysseus’s words to Elpenor.
[6] The subtitle of Tiffany’s book, Radio Corpse, is Imagism and the Cryptaesthetic of Ezra Pound and it pursues metaphors of necrophilia, phantasmagoria and radioactivity throughout.
[7] The significance of Elpenor may be gauged by the fact that Pound goes so far as to give him a "live voice", for he narrates the opening of the highly important Canto XXXIX, which begins:

When I lay in the ingle of Circe
I heard a song of that kind.
Fat panther lay by me
Girls talked there of fucking, beasts talked there of eating,
All heavy with sleep, fucked girls and fat leopards,
Lions loggy with Circe’s tisane,
Girls leery with Circe’s tisane
(Pound, 1993: 193) 

The importance of this Canto cannot really be dealt with in any great detail here, save to say that it represents the centre of the poem’s concern with the relationship between the erotic and the sacred; unlike Odysseus who is able to resist Circe’s magic, Elpenor seems to be fully under its influence.
[8] How should one describe this composite figure? Perhaps the Yeatsean notion of the Gyre, given its fullest explication in A Vision (Yeats, 1962), would seem to be closest to what I have described. Therefore, one may produce the following equation:
One may, in acknowledgement of the influence of Eisenstein’s diagram representing his conception of the montage of attractions, suggest that, rather than a simple addition, it is the Vortex multiplied by the Periplum that creates the figure of the Gyre. However, Yeats’s gyre describes the spiralling structure created by the intersection of two cones:

The double cone or vortex, as used by my instructors [the spirits who communicated the substance of A Vision through the medium of Yeats’s wife], is more complicated than that of Flaubert [who intended to write a story called "La Spirale" shortly before his death]. A line is a movement without extension, and symbolical of time – subjectivity – Berkeley’s stream of ideas – in Plotinus it is apparently "sensation" – and a plane cutting it at right angles is symbolical of space or objectivity. Line and plane are combined in a gyre which must expand or contract according to whether mind grows in objectivity or subjectivity. (Yeats, 1962: 70)

This is not the place to explore Yeats’s gyres in any detail, but it is important to note that he prefaces A Vision with "A Packet for Ezra Pound", and describes spending time with Pound in Rapallo when Pound was developing the structural ideas for the Cantos. Pound’s interest in the occult practices of Yeats was rather limited, though he did review, in one of his first published articles in 1906, Le Secret des troubadours by Sar Péladan (founder of the Ordre de la Rose Croix du Temple et du Sanct Graal, a French Rosicrucian order associated with Yeats’s Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), which attempted to explore the connections between the Albigensian crusades and the continuation of the tradition of the Eleusinian Mysteries during the Medieval period. The fullest investigation of the significance of the Eleusinian Mysteries and their afterglow in later epochs on Pound’s writing (both the poetry and the prose) is to be found in Leon Surette’s A Light From Eleusis (Surette, 1979): I can provide but the briefest sketches of this work here. Despite his initial scepticism towards Péladan’s work, the lost tradition of Eleusis became crucial to Pound’s thinking, which Surette traces through the Cantos in a movement from its Greek source, through neo-Platonc light metaphysics and the work of Scotus Erigena (an Irish theologian of the ninth century), whose dictum, omnia quae sunt, lumina sunt ("all things which are, are lights") becomes an almost talismanic quotation for the Cantos, and on to the work of Guido Cavalcanti, whose Canzone Pound translated early in his career, and to which he returned many times. Surette even suggests that Pound’s view of the Nekyia transforms it into an Eleusinian rite of rebirth. (Surette, 1979: 42) Nevertheless, for my purposes one could even suggest that the potential for (mis)reading Scotus Erigena’s conception of light cinematographically is particularly inviting, possibly developing something approaching an Eleusinian conception of cinema (the "Eleucinema"?). Of course, in Kenneth Anger’s "Lucieferian" films, such as Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954-1966) and Lucifer Rising (1974), one sees perhaps the closest cinema has yet come to a manifestation of this potential; in this respect it is of particular importance that Anger’s chief influence was Aleister Crowley, who knew both Péladan and once famously fought with Yeats over possession of the secret texts of the Golden Dawn. (See Rowe, 1978: 110-119)
[9] As James S. Williams has written, "In [an interview with] Le Monde, Godard presented the book as series of "archives" lifted directly from the video’s 'archaeological enquiry', or 'ultrasound scan', of history (…) might not the 'book' be regarded as a further stage in the continuing metamorphosis of forms, one that actually 'sacrifices' the video of Histoire(s) just as the latter ‘sacrificed’ cinema in order to recuperate it as an instrument of thought?" (Williams, 1999 i: 315) He also notes that Godard took full responsibility for overseeing the production of the books; the books can thus be seen as a truly independent work that has a purposefully dialectical relationship with the video edition.
[10] The Histoire(s) has also been equated to that third great modernist work, Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu: in an article titled Cinema Regained: Godard Between Proust and Benjamin, Alessia Ricciardi comments that the work is best understood as an "involuntary" adaptation of Proust, and compares it favourably with Raul Ruiz’s more straightforward version of Le Temps retrouvé (2000). (Ricciardi, 2001: 643-645)
[11] Taking an example from Fenollosa, Pound illustrates how a speaker of Chinese derives the concept of "red":

He puts … together the abbreviated pictures of
ROSE                      CHERRY
That, you see, is very much the kind of thing a biologist does…when he gets together a few hundred thousand slides, and picks out what is necessary for his general statement. Something that fits the case, that applies in all of the cases. (Pound, 1934: 21-22)

Though the exactitude of this example has been challenged, the conceptual programme that Pound is suggesting remains valid – namely that the abstract concept of "red", the idea of "red", can be created out of the combination of concrete forms that all possess this quality. Therefore, unlike phonetic alphabets, ideogrammic ones have a compositional fluidity, able to incorporate and evolve new figures – precisely a "language of exploration".
[12] In this capacity, Pound seems comparable to one of Godard’s heroes in the history of (French) cinema, Henri Langlois, the founder of the Cinémathèque Française, for as Michael Witt explains, "For Godard… Langlois was not just a programmer, but an auteur who assembled great experimental macro-films, "shot" through projectors rather than cameras." (Witt, 2000: 34) In effect, Langlois created vast montages through his activities as a programmer, pulling disparate films together and establishing cross-cultural and historical connections between them: the act of creation lying in the processes of selection and juxtaposition.
[13] One is reminded once again of Cocteau’s aphorism: "A cinema studio is a factory for making ghosts." (Cocteau, 1992: 131)
[14] Heymann adopted this description for the title of his biography of Pound: The Last Rower.
[15] In an interview from 1995, Godard claimed that cinema’s response to the war, and specifically the Holocaust, illustrated its failure: "The final blow had come when the concentration camps were not filmed. At that moment, cinema totally failed in its duty. Six million people, principally Jews, were killed or gassed and the cinema wasn’t there. And yet from The Great Dictator or The Rules of the Game, it had announced the major events. By not filming the concentration camps, cinema threw in the towel completely." (quoted in Temple, Williams, 2000: 19) These comments seemingly place Godard on the side of the realists, which would seem to oppose the formalist movement of the Histoire(s), with its engagement with Eisenstein and Hitchcock: perhaps one may suggest that once Godard was aware that cinema had failed in its duty as realist medium, of capturing the most horrific events of the century, its only way forward was in to formalism; by the dialectical processes of montage to show what was not shown.
[16] This trans-national cinema, created out of fragments, is itself in direct opposition to the hegemony of Hollywood, which Godard identifies as being concomitant with what he sees as the multiple failures and betrayals throughout cinema’s history.
[17] She uses the Albert Hofstadter translation "What are Poets for?" (Heidegger, 1971 ii: 89-144); in line with the previous section, I have updated this to take account of the new translation, now titled simply "Why Poets?" (Heidegger, 2002 ii: 200-241)
[18] However, Godard transforms this passage into the following:

are those mortals who
singing gravely
find the trace of the departed gods
follow the trace
and thus trace for mortals
their brothers
the way back
but who among mortals
is able to discern such a trace
it’s characteristic of traces
often to be unnoticeable
and they are always
the legacy of an
hardly foreseen
to be a poet
in times of distress
is while singing
to be attentive to the trace
of the departed gods
(Godard, 1999 i: 79-80)

Again, this fragmenting mirrors the one I suggested in exploring Heidegger’s van Gogh reverie in the previous chapter; again the process seems to make us more conscious of the very movement of thought through the passage when it is presented in this typography than when it is presented as conventional prose without line-breaks.
[19] Hunched over the editing machine, Godard resembles nothing other than a cinematographic version of Beckett’s eponymous "hero" of Krapp’s Last Tape.
[20] Cf. Sobchak, 1992: 171
[21] Temple and Williams contrast Godard (who has claimed that the devices used in the Histoire(s) are no more advanced than those used by Méliès) in this respect with his contemporary, Chris Marker, who has enthusiastically embraced the possibilities of digital filmmaking. (Temple, Williams, 2000: 20-21) Indeed, Marker has even released an interactive CD-ROM, Immemory (1998), and Godard’s fellow Cahiers critic Eric Rohmer has made The Lady and the Duke (2001), which combines digital video and matte-painting to slightly disorientating effect. Indeed, such is Godard’s resistance to digital tools that when he came to edit Eloge de l’Amour (2001) he transferred the DV images (which make up the final third of the film) to 35mm film in order to edit them in the traditional way: "In the so-called virtual, you never rewind, you’re there immediately. The time to rewind, which is vital in relation to the film’s subject, must be lived out. It is precious. You have more time to reflect. I prefer to think while arranging the film cans or oiling the Steenbeck." (Godard, 2002: 6) Similarly, Godard uses an electric typewriter to "create" his titles, like analogue video, an interstitial device between the purely mechanical typewriter, and the purely digital word-processor.


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Corin Depper teaches in the School of Performance and Screen Studies at Kingston University. His research encompasses film, poetry, and the visual arts. He has published essays on JG Ballard, Matthew Barney, and Jean-Luc Godard.