The Poverty of Language in 3D: Lucretius, Atomism and Jean-Luc Godard’s Adieu au langage

Here in Madrid, although it is possible to watch the Jean-Luc Godard’s new film Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language) at a cinema (the same cannot be said for many countries!), sadly it is not being shown in 3D, as the director intended (see this article Godard en 3D sin 3D). So, in the end, I chose to bypass the 2D cinema completely and embrace reduction of the effect completely by watching the French release of the film on DVD via the tiny screen of my laptop. To aid with my limited abilities with the French language, I chose the option SOUS-TITRES SOURDS & MALENTENDANTS, which, to my surprise, utilized a complex colour-coded system of subtitles as follows:

White: A character on the screen 
Yellow: A person out of shot 
Green: A foreign languaged (translated) 
Green Italics: A foreign language (untranslated) 
Red: Noises (e.g. sirens, gunshots) 
Magenta: Music in general (with titles of the pieces)
Magenta Italics: Music with singing
Cyan: A person reciting, commentary
Cyan Italics: Inner thoughts

According to reports, my experience with the multicoloured, multidimensional subtitles on the DVD, differs considerably from the experience of watching the film – subtitled – in 3D, where ‘the title’s bold red letters and white English subtitles jump out at you’. 

With my experience, however, I was reminded of Lucretius’ famous description of the ‘poverty’ of language (egestatem linguae, 1. 139; patrii sermonis egestas, 1. 832, 3. 260), not least because such poverty was directly referenced in the film.

Still from trailer for Jean-Luc Godard Adieu au langage, 2014

Although Godard is actually reworking a passage from Maurice Blanchot’s  L’attente l’oubli (Awaiting Oblivion) – see Ted Fendt’s list of texts and films quoted or alluded to in Goodbye to Languagethe Lucretian echo still resonated for me, especially as mediated by a scene in the 1994 film: JLG/JLG – autoportrait de décembre (JLG/JLG – Self-Portrait in December). 

Still from Jean-Luc Godard JLG/JLG – autoportrait de décembre,1994

In this wonderful film-essay, Godard is reading the following passage from The World of Null-A, by Science Fiction writer A. E. van Vogt (a shot of a French translation of his book La Fin du A (Null A Three) appears towards the end of Goodbye to Language)  while the camera moves to focus on a chair in his office. 

What you say a thing is, it is not…It is much more. It is a compound in the largest sense. A chair is not just a chair. It is a structure of inconceivable complexity, chemically, atomically, electronically, etc. 

At this moment I missed the colour-coded subtitles of the recent film as the audio changes from Godard speaking to an inner voice (so from Cyan to Cyan Italics), as he continues the quotation. I found the complexity of the chair in JLG/JLG – Self-Portrait in December and the poverty of language in Goodby to Language coming together in Lucretius’ use of a range of terms for atoms in DRN. The same ‘things’ are denoted as rerum primordia, as materies, as corpa prima, as corpuscula as as elementa. (See James Warrren in The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius, p, 22)

Understood with this Lucretian reference, I guess Godard’s ‘farewell’ to language, when experienced with the multiplicity of the DVD’s subtitles could be seen as engaging language in an equally compelling way to the materialized theatrics of 3D subtitles. 

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