Forgive me, my mountains!
Forgive me, my rivers!
Forgive me, my fields!
Forgive me, my grass!
Mother was putting a cross on a solder,
Mother was bidding farewell to her son…
And again from the crooked shack –
Forgive me, forgive me, my rivers…
May 14, 1918
(Transl. by V. Enyutin)
Christianity can create in the very sensitivity of country people the possibility of a marriage between pantheism and moral imperative, the chance for moral projection into nature, not only pragmatic, aesthetic and mystical ties with it. Of course, Christianity as any other organized religion produced in believers a lot of hateful feelings because it made them usurp the super-human (godly) truth as a justification for their very human pride/hubris/superbia, and also innocent and cruel competition with other religious systems for the place of being the best and “closest to god”. But in some souls gifted with existentially spiritual sensitivity, like protagonist of Tsvetaeva’s poem, a peasant woman and a mother, it creates a unique combination of humanism and love for the world.
The intensity of her suffering connected with her son’s probable future death in one of meaningless wars solemnly proclaimed by the leaders with monarchic power, made her feel sinful for not being able to protect her son from militaristic grinder. Tsvetaeva here is not talking about Christian faith or even belief – the mother, obviously, doesn’t believe in the protective power of the cross, but about Christian sensitivity. This mother should be a role model for the conformist Christian anti-Christian parents (even when they are the church’s regulars and with the best intentions transform Christ into a ten-star general with the icon/banner of militant ideology of conquests) who are proud to have their children sent to other countries to die on the battlefields for the sake of their monarchs’ glory, nationalistic megalomania or corporate profiteers’ profit.
We remember bitter lamentations of doctor Astrov in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vania” about the abusive exploitation and destruction of nature in Russian countryside that Chehov continues in his “Cherry Orchard” by depiction of mutilation of nature’s body by human compulsive greed (during the Soviet period predatory destruction of nature reached even more massive proportions). Of course, Astrov was an educated man, but this living in poverty peasant mother asking forgiveness from nature for her sin of surrendering her son to the army, is a genius of genuine Christian sensibility.
*The topic of Tsvetaeva’s “Forgive Me, My Mountains” is close to the meaning of Kathe Kollwitz’print “The Parents”. The essay on this Kollwitz’ work – “Not just Tormenting Grief but Deadly Shame” was posted on 07 Jul. 2012. Also Akira Kurosawa’s film “Dersu Uzala” where scholarly director examines the possibility of collaborative unity between man and nature and reverential respect for it (instead of exploitative domination over it) semantically echoes with Tsvetaeva’s poem. The essay on Kurosawa’s film – “A monument to An Alternative Civilization” was posted on 26 Apr. 2011.
Posted by victor as Discussion and Mind-Probing, From Fake Prosperity To Fake Reasons For Austerity, Sociological essays
Today, when it’s too clear how costly, in terms of human lives, suffering and wasted resources the ideas of Communism and German racial superiority have been for humankind, to ask the rhetorical question “Did it make sense to go through the Russian revolution and Civil war or through WW2”, seems even more necessary than ever. We, Europeans and Americans are, today, trapped in a period when politico-economic convulsions (created by the reckless – the obsessive behavior of the financial elites) put the citizens of democracies in front of economic disaster. With disbelief, we find ourselves before the necessity to compensate the wealthiest 2% of the population with our growing pauperization, with losing our medical care, decent education for our children and grandchildren, and our social security retirement fund.
This situation makes us more conscious about the social costs of human compulsive dreams (rooted in megalomaniacal narcissism) personified by our financial leaders. It is impressive with what an ease the conservative politicians are trying to reduce to poverty the 98% of the population, and this makes us start to feel doubts about genuineness of the American prosperity itself in hay days of “democratic boom” between 1960 – 1980 and democratic retreat after, until Bush Jr. thrown us into the abyss of fake wars crowned with the 2008 financial collapse as a result of incompetent financial practices of profit-hunters who don’t want to be responsible for what they have done.
The neo-cons (conservatives oriented not only on direct power but more on financial power) thought for a while that superficial prosperity for the majority of Americans is good for the rich minority because it pacifies and distracts people from political criticism of the financial elite. But today, neo-cons are switching from the idea of mass prosperity back to the traditional idea of mass austerity. Why these miraculous cultural shifts? After WWII the American neo-con financial elite feverishly tried to prevent the growth of interest among American population towards Soviet Russia. Victory over Nazi Germany, alliance with the Soviet Union, memories of the Great Depression and deprivations connected with it, and Franklin Roosevelt’s humanistic stance during those hard times became in the perception of many fused and mixed with humanistic phraseology of the Soviet propaganda. Some Americans developed sentimental attraction towards Soviet Russia (SRussia), based on unconscious dream about utopian happiness, and others gave themselves to frivolous socio-political curiosity. This situation created a real challenge for the calculating minds of the neo-con decision makers. And they took this challenge with a virtuoso strategic maneuver – they tried to put on their harsh faces of hard-liners the cosmetic make-up of “compassionate conservatives“ (teary-tearers) – not leaders-greeders, but leaders-greeters who are, as if, not at all against the democratic progressivism with its orientation on improving the material conditions of life for most and care about issues of civil rights.
Everybody can dream about an alternative way of life. People for centuries dream of paradise and Shangri-La, pristine lands and noble savages. But SRussia as a country of people was a purely idealistically purified projection of dreams of many Americans in the 50s – 60s who looked at SRussia but saw US without unemployment, economic depressions, McCarthyism, Witch Hunts and selective poverty. The funny part of it is that the American financial elites believed in the same ideological illusion about SRussia as did those among the masses who psychologically were not tied to extreme conservative ideological beliefs (psychologically rooted in the complimentarity between individual’s megalomaniacal self-image and scapegoating posture towards people and groups symbolizing for him otherness/dissimilarity). Of course, for neo-cons this fairy-talishly benign image of SRussia was rather a phobic projection, but operationally it corresponded to the version many Americans upheld. American financial elite (AFE) and the masses had the same illusion about the Soviet Union but by opposite reasons – mass Americans wanted human happiness of a Hollywood cuisine, but the AFE was/is afraid of, exactly human happiness for masses. The both groups – the demos and the elites were victims of not only the Soviet propaganda but of archaic human dreams as a part of a collective unconscious, masses positively and the elites negatively. Neo-cons didn’t want the realization of human dreams – equality, justice and brotherhood in their country and for this reason they accepted democratization in US as the only, as they thought then, way to distract the mass Americans from their sympathy for Soviet alternative to American way of life, although Soviet Union was just another variant of hierarchical society where the decision-making in the name of all was the prerogative of the 2%.
The result of this double illusion was a partial “liberalization” and “democratization” of the American system – allowing the widening the structure of a democratic care about the people based on a systemic, rooted in flesh and blood of the politico-economic organization, public care for the needy (including youth in need of education and women in need of careers). Rich and their politicians tried to show the American people that “democracy” is much more generous to its 98% of the population than “Soviet socialism” with its low level of material prosperity – that there is no need to dream about “socialism” because “democracy” cares about its people much better. The 2% of the population agreed for mass democratization of the financial, medical and educational needs of the population – with a tragic split in their hearts and minds. They hated what they believed they had to do – to give American democrats the political leadership and to the 98% – benefits, medical care, prosperity, education, property and consumerism. And simultaneously they feverishly searched for solutions how to undermine what they were supporting. Their chance to undo what was achieved came just in a couple of decades – the “collapse of Soviet Union”. The success of a globally deployed mass culture was already providing the masses with much more intense and extensive pleasures than the dreamy archetype of paradisiacal life. Drugs, pop-music, fast food, idolization of celebrities, idolization of success, fun with electronic gadgets, catharsis through sports and athletic events, gay sub-culture, opportunity to make quick bucks with quickly developing quick profit-making strategies, etc.
It is not just a coincidence that the “American conservative revolution” with Cute Gingerrich as its standard-bearer, started after the “collapse” of the “socialist alternative” to the American values. Today, this revolution is reaching its victorious phase: factual austerity for the 98% is in the process of being realized. In 21st century the rich solemnly return to their real position that becoming richer by the price of pauperization of the rest of the population is right and moral thing to do. The American prosperity of democratic years had the same reason for its existence as now does the neo-cons’ program of American austerity. As mass prosperity’s task was to perpetuate stability of the financial elites’ dominance over population, the austerity of 21st century is designed to directly serve the pocket interests of the 2%. It is the same thing again – when they put on us austerity and shock therapy it is to their benefit, but the same is true even when they feed us.
That’s why when they allowed post-WWII democratization they simultaneously spoiled it – the cheap food was/is silently destroying our physical health, like pop-entertainment – our aesthetic sensitivity and our potential for semantic competence. Massive de-financing of humanistic education makes us less capable of imagining the future of our country, and transformation of writers into journalists is a warning sign of wearing down the heart-and-soul of Western culture, when technicality becomes goal in itself and only our psychological fragments are plugged in while our psychological wholeness (human intelligence which includes human Being and human destiny into any specific problem) becomes silent and mute. And this puts us in danger of all kinds of fundamentalism and extremism, making us sandwiched between terrorism from below and terrorism from above.
The ultimate fertilizer for all this is the conservative hate towards life, towards everything what is life and dedicated to life and not to making profit by any price.
By eliminating the historical and even the social setting of the event when “taken to the custody” Christ appeared in the hands of the soldiers, Nolde forces us to see what is happening between them as a fundamental truth about human life today not less than it was more than twenty centuries ago – mocking, humiliating and tormenting a person who dares to think that he is god’s child while not belonging to the hierarchical world of power and wealth. Christ defines a human being as a value outside social hierarchy, a value that transcends the frame of reference which makes possession of social power a definition of human worth!
Christ’s giant lips are, it seems Nolde’s comment on the universal authoritarian concept of a “big mouth” – a man who dares to have his own ideas, not framed by his “responsible position in society” – a “respectable place in the social hierarchy”. Christ’s lips, which have been praying, preaching, blessing, and healing the sick, are now tightly closed – Christ for the soldiers is a blasphemous impostor defiantly preaching without license and criticizing the authorities without legitimate stance.
Animated faces of the soldiers made emotionally expressive by their contempt for the captured, are represented as a reality more defining the human historical destiny than ideologies or religious dogmas and the level of technology available for human use in any historical epoch. Their facial expressions point to the archetypal legacy of human psychology motivating people’s actions and decisions today not less than it did eons ago. It is these faces with which Nolde has filled the canvass are his main focus in “Verspottung” – people’s proclivity to abuse the defenseless one. Christ is the only protagonist of the painting who has a human body – soldiers are painted, mainly, as faces, more exactly, as facial expressions representing social positions toward the human flesh that is without any protection of power and glory. Nolde is not interested in armed bodies, he is reverential only of the body of Christ: without power, without power’s protection, a real human body, a sacred one. Soldiers laugh at Christ’s nudity as the sign of helplessness of human condition without power, wealth and weapon – when human body is the victim.
Christ and soldiers are painted as though in a cave full of fire. Soldiers’ shining helmets and red/orange faces are the flames itself encircling, seizing and destroying life. Taking pleasure from mocking the helpless is the emotion which corresponds to the soul of flames incinerating the flesh. But then why are the colors of the painting so faded? It cannot be due to the fact that the Event of Christ took place long ago. Betraying, mocking, torturing and murdering of Christ/human body happen every day in Christian societies of high-tech weapons, destruction of the environment, austerity measures and profit-idolatry. But this truth is so radically separated from our perception, as if it belonged to some other parallel universe. We are doomed to feel this truth, as if, through the fog. Creating this painterly effect of waning of intense/inflamed colors is Nolde‘s incredible achievement in “Verspottung”.
Christ’s face/body is of a prevailing greenish color – as soon as people around are flames, Christ is verdure. The face and fingers of the soldier to the left of Christ [from our point of view], as if, reflect Christ’s liveliness. All other faces are the faces of flames (of the very position of power toward the human flesh). Christ‘s hair is, as if, caught on fire. For soldiers as children of hierarchy and authoritarianism Christ’s claim that helpless human flesh is of a godly nature, means that Christ claims for himself a super-human status. They don’t understand that by saying that he is god’s child, Christ means that everybody is, even people on the bottom of the social hierarchy. Soldiers mocking Christ are vampires – they are, as if, psychologically overfilled with his blood.
The soldier in the right low corner of the painting mockingly pretends he is looking at Christ as at God, from down up. The next soldier, the second on the right low corner of the painting desecrates Christ’s human dignity by putting his left hand on Christ’s naked chest as if it‘s a woman’s breast, and holding the stick, as if, to measure Christ’s distance from the sky. The soldier on the left margin of the painting is just enjoying himself – he is glad to feel himself secure and powerful contrary to their “delusional” detainee. The soldier to the right from Christ [from our perspective], mockingly pretends that he is proud to be near Christ, while the soldier to the right of him, laughs, rather in a subdued way – may be, he is a little bit frightened of God’s revenge, should Christ, indeed (“who knows?”), be the son of God. Soldiers put an ordinary stick to Christ’s body, as if, a scepter, mocking him as a king. Soldiers’ teeth are represented as organs of laughter – for Nolde mocking is a prototype of cannibalistic excitement, a predatory prelude to cannibalistic act.
But the main point of the painting is the psychological position of Christ. While soldiers have fun and feel themselves great, Christ is silently… smiling. He is smiling, as if, in unison with their laughter! His lips are closed – time for talks has passed (soldiers are beyond persuasion – they are the ultimate henchmen). But he is… compassionate toward them! He empathizes with those who torture him because to torture is all they have in life, because it is their identity – to triumph over the helpless/vulnerable human body. How else will they assert themselves in life? How else they will feel living? The only thing Christ can do for them at this point is to give them his compassionate smile. He knows how doll-like or robot-like deprived they’re.
Christ acknowledges that he cannot do anything else for his murderers than not to feel hate, anger or indignation towards them (not to use these psychological defenses in order to help himself in the moments of his final ordeals). Why does Nolde make Christ stare straight ahead in front of himself? He knows how it will end soon and at this point he is ready – his eyes are blueness itself – eternity. But this blue eternity is not above life – Christ looks directly at us, he looks at the humankind. The blueness of His eyes is that of human existence. His compassion toward soldiers as political murderers and torturers is not only dedicated to them, but also to us. May be, he wants us today to understand that human torturers are deprived of life because of their orientation on power over human, life’s, nature’s flesh. May be, Nolde’s Christ tries to awaken us to the fact that today’s soldiers and policemen (who are put against the unarmed and peaceful demonstrators) are spiritually deprived in the same way as the soldiers who mocked and killed Him, and nobody ever explained to them their educational and spiritual deprivation.
Are we able, today, in the beginning of 21st century, hearing this appeal of Christ through Nolde’s painting?
If Christ in Nolde’s “Verspottung” symbolizes the sacredness of the unprotected human body as the baby of God, then the soldiers who killed him, today blast and bomb civilians, torture prisoners and insult and mock their political opponents, people dissimilar from them, the needy, sick, elderly. In the world of fire (high-tech weapons) flesh is filth and rot – something of negative value, object of mockery, humiliation and murder. But those who abuse and destroy others are in a much worse situation than their victims. And it is them who need therapeutic and educational help in the first place.
*Other essays about works of art dedicated to various aspects of the phenomenon of Christ, posted in this blog –
Emil Nolde’s “Christ and Children (Reversal of Iconic Tradition)”, 20 Feb. 2010;
Max Beckmann’s “Christ and Woman Taken in Adultery”, 01 June 2011;
Paul Gauguin’s “Yellow Christ”, 01 Jan 2013,
Jacob Epstein’s “Bronze Figure of the Madonna and Child”, “Madonna and Child”, “Virgin and Child”, 01 Jan 2013.
… In 1928 U.S. Customs made a decision to classify Konstantin Brancusi’s abstract bronze “Bird on Space” as a kitchen utensil. “I was sick to receive the news that a bastard in New-York made you pay duty on your sculpture,” Ezra Pound wrote to Brancusi. “I could spit in the eye of the skinflint in charge of these matters.” Brancusi fought back, and in Brancusi v. United States, two now obscure sculptors, Robert Ingersoll Aitken and Thomas Jones, were called by the government to testify that the bird was not art. Marcel Duchamp and others rushed to defend Brancusi, who eventually won the case…
Harper’s Magazine, Feb. 2013, p. 43
Brancusi’s bird is not only a bird, but a fish. It is a fish in the ocean of the air, and it is a bird in the sky of the ocean.
“Bird in Space” is not only body of the bird, but bird’s body that is at the same time a trajectory of the body’s movement in space. It’s a body-trajectory, trajectory incarnated into a body.
Bird’s body itself, a bodily bird is as sentimental as animation cartoon, but bodily-trajectorial bird is not only poetic but scientific.
It is a creature and at the same time – a space. It is a body-trajectory-space-time. Here, we are witnessing the very birth of sculpture as a completely different art from painting or installation, art which shows a figure amidst its unseen context. In sculpture the figure is called to personify not only itself but its implied surrounding. It is its own environment that it carries inside.
Brancusi’s soaring bird is a body-trajectory-environment in one. And as such, it is matter and energy simultaneously. It is application of energy to the direction. It is matter and energy awakened not only by vitality but by grace. It is a bird curving the space by its very movement, bird-co-creator of the world by its very presence inside it.
This flying bird is angelic but not in the traditional sense when angels moved by empathy fly down to humans – to witness, to help, to suffer along with us and for us, but in secularly humanistic sense of spirituality, when angels are the very energy of human sublimation of our animalistic fears and greedy obsessions. This bird is the nobility of our humanistic idealism when it is beautified by humility and asceticism – it is our dream of overcoming ourselves, of becoming better, lighter than we are.
But observing the brutality and nastiness of those among us who are overwhelmed by the superstitions of money-idolatry and righteous hate, whose souls have been corroded into assault weapons and chauvinistic megalomania, we see that Brancusi’s flying bird with its gentle non-imposition is leaving our age as a poetic dream, which is further and further from the greasy rot of our civilization. Don’t believe for a moment that the feather-bird is static – that it’s assembled with its stand. It takes this stand, the hall where it is exhibited and us, the viewers, with itself, we don’t know where.
Too many of us cannot afford grace, modesty, sensitivity to beauty. They need fights, weapons, profits and hate. If Brancusi’s flying bird could condemn us, we would deserve it, but she won’t – she is too transcendent and translucent to the belligerently vigilant prosaic-ness of our age.
Creatively exuberant trailer of “Contempt”
Style is a matter of meaning.
… to try to film a thought in action
“Contempt” is a simple film about complicated ideas.
Style and content are one. Technique has to do with morals, because when style and content are one you cannot say artificial things.
JLG, “Interviews”, Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1998, p. 46
Morning. Camille and Paul are still in the bed.
Camille – See my feet in the mirror?
Paul – Yes.
Camille – Think, they are pretty?
Paul – Yes, very much.
Camille – You like my ankles?
Paul – Yes.
Camille – And my knees, too?
Paul – Yes, I really like your knees.
Camille – And my thighs?
Paul – Your thighs too.
Camille – See my behind in the mirror?
Paul – Yes.
Camille – Do you think I have a cute ass?
Paul – Yes, really.
Camille – And my breasts. You like them?
Paul – Yes, tremendously (kissing her).
Camille – Which do you like better, my breasts or my nipples?
Paul – I don’t know. I like them the same.
Camille – You like my shoulders?
Paul – Yes.
Camille – I don’t think they’re round enough.
Paul silently protests.
Camille – And my arms? – And my face?
Paul – Your face, too.
Camille – All of this, my mouth, my eyes, my nose, my years? Paul – Yes, everything.
Camille – Then you love me totally.
Paul – Yes, I love you totally, tenderly, tragically.
Camille – Me too, Paul.
‘Contempt’, Chapter 2. The bedroom (Godard’s redeeming parody on sexual scenes)
The director has to show people not human beings, but what’s happening between them. JLG
Godard inserts into film the director’s presence as a central structural element of cinematic narration.
The central topic of Godard’s films is an encounter between the human consciousness and the world, the exceptionally important role of the mind-screen that represents world not “how it is” but how it is perceived by the off-screen mind, from outside the narrative.
Bruce F. Kawin, Mindscreen (Bergman, Godard and First Person Film)”, Princeton Univ. Pr., 1978, p. 183
Mind-screen gives the audience chance to feel doubts in what it sees on the screen, to perceive each events and every image as a hypothesis, not reality, and by this awakens viewers’ self-consciousness…To achieve this Godard in his films uses “semiotic disorientation of the viewers.”
Bruce F. Kawin, Ibid, p. 152, 171
The mind-screen or mentality is usually used in movies to show, what the character remembers or imagines, but Godard introduces the complication – he started to think with visual and audial images.
Bruce F. Kawin, Ibid, p. 170
The examples of Godard’s semiotic intervention into the narration are “intentional continuity errors” (intentionally not exact cuts), and “reshuffling of the shots (when already seen shots are repeated in another order, and some time even mixed with new shots). The transition from shot to shot, according to Godard, can be very smooth. American directors during more than forty years perfected this principle of uninterrupted action to the smallest gesture and the grimace of the characters not to break the rhythmic unity of the scene. But this semantically elementary principle of smooth montage is a stylistic trick, a fabrication of the objective reality.
Godard on Godard, Viking Press, 1972, p. 198 – 199
Reshuffling of the shots in “Contempt” creates inside the film the space free from narration, where the viewer can think about what’s really happening on the screen. Sometimes the moments of this reshuffling are combined with the voice over that indirectly helps to clear the situation between the characters.
Bruce F. Kawin, Ibid, p. 145
In “Contempt” Godard is laughing at modern epigonic emulation/exaggeration of epic monumentality of Ancient Greek worldview.
Those who have an unconscious fixation on gods (god-complex) are prone to play gods with other people.
In today’s life gods come in two guises – one being that of wealth/power and the other – beauty/glamour. The first is represented in “Contempt” by Jeremiah Prokosch, the Hollywood producer, and the second – by Camille Javal, Paul’s irresistible wife. Both expect not just obedience, but admiration (their political personifications in 21st century are the Wall Street financial schemers, global corporate elites, superstars of mass culture and neoconservative politicians who are infuriated when they meet with disagreements or criticisms).
… the film-projector – as Cyclops, while the characters, as if, fill in the identities of Ancient Greek universe – Paul feels and acts as Odyssey, his wife – as the Cyrene, Prokosch – as Poseidon/Neptune, Prokosch’ secretary Francesca – as a Muse mediating between Gods’ creative and despotic energy and the human inspiration.
American film producer Jeremiah Prokosch in this scene semi-jokingly follows his eccentricity to express himself as an actor of Ancient Greek theater. In his bombastic imitation of what he thinks is ancient Gods’ style of perceiving the reality he represents the first – conservative, position of how human beings relate to the past (according to Godard’s classification of the human perception of the past in the film).
Prokosch (who feels like a typical CEO of a global corporation, to use today’s language) is sure that for a good remuneration Paul-the screen-writer will do “whatever the success-oriented producer wants”. Of course, Prokosch would be right in the 21st century US, but Paul has Odyssey’s cultural genes – he is not obedient to Gods.
When Paul, in order to dissolve the tense situation suggests Camille to go ahead with Prokosch, she started to feel that Paul “doesn’t love her”. In this moment she expresses her “Goddess”-essence – she feels existing only when she is the object of admiring attention
Godly archetypes are activated in human psyche when humans don’t feel appreciated by one another, then they feel the need to, unconsciously, compensate by defining themselves in an aggrandized, pseudo-godly terms. It is our inferiority complex what activates our megalomaniacal pretensions. The effect of enlargement of Posidon’s figure between the previous and this shot is achieved by change of proportion between the figure and the surrounding space. In the first shot we perceive Posidon as a super-human giant by his physical size, but in the second one he seems even bigger because he dominates not only the viewers but the intra-shot space. So, the meaning of the first picture is – god is bigger and stronger than we, humans, but the meaning of the second is – god is mightier than the whole world including the skies.
Camille sees her husband, as if, for the first time – indifferent towards her and “cowardly and servile” with Prokosch as a man of a higher social standing. She feels that Paul is ready to give her to the producer for the sake of his career.
Camille starts to feel that their separation is inevitable – Paul has fallen in her eyes, he didn’t pass a crucial exam. He wasn’t tormented by agonizing jealousy – he didn’t fight for her love, he didn’t fight for her as a believer should for the attention of his Goddess.
Paul tries to re-establish human rapport between them, based on rational understanding, but Camille is not reachable through human language (based on equality and mutuality) – she is above the clouds, in the abode of aggrandized monadic emotions. She feels as a precious object – and rivaling men are expected to fight to death for her love with the intensity of religious war.
Paul is thinking what to do with Camille and without her, just alone in the world. His dilemma is that of a modern human being facing liberation from the irresistible power of gods and at the same time resisting this project of liberation and only too happy to return to the womb of the super-human values – power, wealth, glamour – to feel warmed by their coldness.
That’s how a window becomes for humans a window into a heaven that instantly is transformed into human hell. But even gods can make mistakes when, as Camille who is angry at Paul, they forget that they exist for the sake of being seen by humans and start to think that they are able to love each other – then, according to Godard, they “lose their faces”.
By the power of psychological alchemy of human-god relationships Paul and Camille already look only as acquaintances. God rejects a believer out of disappointment in his under-dedication and under-loyalty.
Without human audience with its over-zealous dedication to them, Gods don’t know what to do with one another. Paul has lost his wife but will he be able to live without gods – without their power, wealth and glamour? Will we be able? The answer is definitely a negative one, up to now.
The marital bed can be the region for emotional and bodily equality in love. But it can be, as it is described in the beginning of the film, the place of worship on part of the one participant and of self-aggrandizement on the part of the other, when one party is, as if, the altar in flesh while the other, by his sexual emotions – a pilgrim and the parish of the adored/worshiped one. This first, “marital” scene of the film provides the first contour of its main topic: the relationship between gods and human beings (people who unconsciously play gods, and people who adore and admire them). According to Godard, people in specific configurations of intimacy between themselves reproduce the “godly archetypes” of the relationships between humans and gods (between human humans and human gods). People who are prone to be involved in dramatic relations with their unconscious images of gods (human humans) tend to project these images on other people in personal and social relationships, making others, as if, really god-like. The point is not – which one inside the relationship loves more and which less. What is important is how they love. Human gods need not only to be admired – they are dependent on those who admire them. Human humans, symmetrically, need to be closer to the emanation of human gods (emotionally worship them), while human gods ontologically feed on ambrosia of this worship.
In today’s world and culture human gods exist with two types of masks – power/wealth/ authoritarianism/charisma, and seductive glamour of beauty and charm. The first type is represented by the Hollywood producer (of East European ethnic origin) Jeremiah Prokosch, the second – by Camille Javal, Paul’s irresistible wife (both depicted by Godard with gentle and subtle caricaturishness). It would be a mistake to think that Prokosch is the embodiment of the social aspect of relations between human humans and human gods, while Camille – private aspect. In real life everything is interwoven, mixed and complicated – wife of a billionaire swoons not less before her husband’s billions than his employees or admirers among the poor, while the political and militaristic propaganda ads are not less seductive than ads of cosmetic industry or Hollywood‘s beautification of reality. Paul Javal (the very incarnation of a human human) is eventually capable of refusing both – Camille and Prokosch, the two ontological parasites on the sweat, blood, passion and meaning of human life. Today’s personifications of a combined masculine (Prokosch) and feminine (Camille) aspects of human godliness is the Wall Street financial schemers, the global corporate elites and a new militarism (with an overwhelming – “godly” technological might at their disposal). While the traditional image of “masculine godliness” is to command unconditional obedience (“who is not with us is against us“ a classically totalitarian credo”), the main feature of “feminine godliness” is to demand alert dedication – human human is expected to be tormented by irrational fear of being abandoned as a punishment for being too disappointing to the idol, who, in turn, is also afraid that the human worshiper will flee and turn to another human god. Human goddess, like Camille, is expecting jealousy from her worshiper – Paul, and at the same time also afflicted by her own suspicious jealousy for not being worshiped passionately enough. The ability to love another human being not idolatrously and not as an idol becomes in Godard’s hands inseparable from the problem of human civilization’s separation from the religious psychology of Western tradition, of overcoming almost instinctual human need to create aggrandizing association with gods.
The first – marital bed scene of the film is “filtered” through the three colors – day-light, signifying sun-light of gods’ closeness, the dense blue, signifying separation as a result of gods’ intervention, and the languorous deep red, signifying eroticism. The scene in which we are privileged to see Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli in bed, is not only an introduction to the whole film but a veiled parody on a widespread cinematic nudity, where sarcastic element fights for priority with Godardian sophistication of representation, and the viewers are stuck and even emotionally frozen between the sardonic and beautiful.
The point of the film is Paul’s (human being as such) ability or inability to overcome his (our) morbid fixation on association with superhuman perfection (existing in forms of super-power, super-wealth, super-glamour or super-intelligence) and find just human ways of feeling, living, thinking and creating. In this sense, the very yearning for association with godly perfection is a miserable human way to cover-up our primitive/primary fixations, obsessions and superstitions by dressing them in glamorous clothing. Envy becomes rivalry and competition, jealousy – various obsessions, fears become wealth as a psychological armor, greed – cruelty, dependence – murderous hate or sulking despair. Internal emptiness and triviality – becomes globalist entrepreneurship and wars. In a way, Paul is not only still typical but already an exceptional human being – he already overcame power- and wealth-obsession. But he is stuck on glamour in the form of beauty. He is obsessed with a possession, ownership of beauty – he is ontologically (not only symbiotically) gluing to his wife’s presence as to supreme value. For Paul as a person with impeccable ontological taste (with painful sensitivity for the smallest psychological vulgarity – for the smallest connotation of ontological superiority of a person he is in love with as the reason for his love, all these semantic overtones are for him rather shameful to bear). To become a really free man worthy of democracy he must renounce his (irrational) dependence on beautiful object – on his wife who, as we see in the film, is a typical carrier of psychology of a beautiful object that has to be possessed with pride and guarded from the “suitors” – rivals for the right to possess the ontological value personified by the wife.
From the beginning, during the first meeting with the American film producer, Paul, although unconsciously, already tried, quite awkwardly, without really understanding what he is doing, to get rid of Camille – by inventing car accident to give her and Prokosch time to find a common language. But it was the first – passive and cowardly move: a kind of foggy, “experimental” maneuver of letting Camille to find a person of her type – with godly aspirations. But to break a super-symbiosis between a human being and god or goddess, is not easy neither for humans nor for gods. What Paul didn’t understand then is that gods are not a real company for gods, that all actions and postures from the Olympus are just a theatre for humans in order to stimulate their admiration. Camille and Prokosch don’t know what to do with one another – they both need Paul just to exist, to get the ambrosia of human worship.
The problems between human humans and human gods (as completely inter-human ones) became for Godard the magnificent artistic-scholarly project to deconstruct the religious mythology, to make humans the anti-metaphors of gods. The realistic story of Paul, Camille and Prokosch becomes a story about relations between human beings and gods set amidst European democracy with allusions to Ancient Greek culture. Godard examines the relationships between people and their religious feelings by explaining the very psychological mechanism of connectedness of mortals and immortality.
Because the cult of ancestors as a basic conservative feature of human psyche is the strongest example of human need for religious belief (omnipresence of a conservative socio-cultural orientation is an ideological sign that we are psychologically submerged into our collective past), Godard in “Contempt” describes the three human positions towards the past – one represented by Prokosch (the absolutization of the past, taking it as a model for the present and taking the present as a deteriorated version of the past), another represented by Lang (the “objective” knowledge of the past taken as separated from the present, and the one represented by Paul (existential identification with the human problems in the past which can make humans today enriched by the experiences of humans in the past). This last approach (identification with human attempts in the past to resolve their relations with their gods) that makes Paul identify with Homer and through him with Odyssey, is also Godard’s position, and we, the viewers, are offered to follow the path of our liberation from traditional masters of human life, theologized by us into gods or dominating us as human gods through wealth, power or glamour.
On the level of the plot the film depicts creative disagreement between film-producer (Prokosch), director (Fritz Lang playing himself), and the author of the screenplay (Paul, hired by Prokosch disappointed with Lang’s approach to the topic) about how exactly to transform Homer’s “Odyssey” into a modern film. For the producer, Ancient Greece in general is a grandiose reality, heroic in its proportions, which outweighs modernity in profundity, authenticity and power of emotions and actions. Prokosch perceives Ancient Greece as Olympus itself. He unconsciously projects there his own megalomania, desire to feel himself higher, more important and heroic than the surrounding reality “allows him” to be.
Lang’s concept, on the other hand, is a position of the scholar who tries to understand the ancient world without any projections, neither admiration nor envy, but as an objective reality, specific, comparable but in many ways incompatible with Western modernity or any other period in history. “Objective” position towards the past is possible only by artificial muffling the existential problems and worries of our own times, by cutting our life from our existentially spiritual needs.
The third position towards the past is personified by Paul. It is the ability to recognize ourselves in our brothers from other epochs and them in us in our situations. This creative juxtaposition of past and the present gives us the chance to feel the transformative potential of our lives, awakens in us the very ability for existential awakening. While the first position towards the past can be called projection of self-aggrandizement (narcissistic projective identification with the past in the name of the authoritarian position in the present), and the second – the museum kind of expertise about the past (its alienated perception), the third position can be called existentially creative, when people of the past are perceived as basically equal to us today. Paul’s position allows us to read ancient text as a human document. It is identification with people of the past, with their existential situations, with their problems. By identifying with Homer’s Odyssey who as a human being lived with both humans and gods, Paul finds inspiration and power to look at his relations with his wife in a new way. He got the chance to change his life in a way that is relevant for a democratic period of Western history.
These three ways of perception of Homer’s “Odyssey” (aggrandizement, “objective” study and existential analogy with the present condition of humanity) became the trigger point for Godard’s classification of our relations not only with the past, but also our relations with any work of art (its idolization [or the opposite – its dismissal], “I love it/I hate it” widespread approach, its “formal study”, in a case of cinema, for example – its study as a medium, and, thirdly, its interpretation as a human document [its semantic analysis in content and form]). In this sense the first position (towards the past and works of art) is based on primordial psychological mechanisms of acting out (projective identification) and not intelligent enough, the second position is mental but alienated and has compassion deficit, and the third is fully humanistic and democratic.
Liberation from the monarchy of the gods (in theological garments or human armor of power, wealth and glamour) becomes the central topic of “Le mepris”, Godard’s crib-note for us in the 21st century, and his warning that this liberation is one of the most fundamental and the most difficult tasks we face hidden behind all our challenges and predicaments. Godard’s film is not in any way a manifesto of atheism. The problem of liberation from the power of the gods is not a matter of political parties, organizations and actions. Atheism as a (militant) ideology is as much based on a psychologically religious instincts and reflexes as belief in heavenly monarchs. Religious liberation is a matter of spiritual transformation, of the ability of stopping to alienate spirituality itself into the phantoms of our worship. Ultimately, it is a question of social inequality. The gods of the Olympus or the Heavens are just the shining frames for the human gods presiding over us from the heights of the social hierarchy, just metaphoric odes to the earthly “deciders” in our name.
Godard inserts into the film the historically relevant reference to Goebbels’ revolver and Prokosch’s check book. The revolver and check book become equally efficient instruments of the very destruction of rational civility of serious art and serious culture in general. “When I hear the word ‘culture’ my hand stretches for the revolver” – Goebbels said in 1933. “When I hear the word ‘culture’ [or it can be ‘artsy’ or ‘intellectual’ work of art] my hand stretches for check book” – Prokosch says, and in another occasion he tells Paul “…but today is not 1933, it is 1963, and you’ll write whatever I tell you, because you need money.”
Like gods as such are metaphoric elaboration of human gods, the human gods on the Olympus of the social hierarchy are just the embodiment of our human godly complexes, internal objects inside our psyches. “Contempt” is dedicated to the very analysis of this human psychology of god-worship. Because gods didn’t come to exist from above earth, it is impossible to throw them down. And likewise because they didn’t come to exist from the heights of the social hierarchy it’s impossible to overthrow them from there. They came into existence because they conceived – in the very human soul, in the very mind of human sociality. They are born from the very womb of human soul. The carrier of gods’ genetic substance is the very heart of the human mind. It’s this matter of humanity’s spirit – what has to transubstantiate. Godard’s “Contempt”, it seems, is meant to be a tool of this future transformation, together with his other two films as parts of his religious trilogy (“Hail Mary” – 1985) and “Oh, Woe is me” (1994).