Shot and Counter-shot: Presence, Obscurity, and the Breakdown of Discourse in Godard’s Notre Musique

Burlin Barr


"Notre Musique includes a lengthy sequence that involves a presentation by Godard on the relationship between text and image. The occasion of the lecture is a conference in Sarajevo titled European Literary Encounters, an annual event first organized in 2000. Godard gave his lecture in 2002 and the long middle-section of the film offers a "lightly fictionalized restaging" of his address and of other encounters surrounding the conference. The narrative setting of the majority of this film, then, is a space of discourse (a conference and a lecture), but I suggest that the film is conceptually sited more generally and abstractly in the "space" or “frame” of discourse itself. Because it ponders various parameters—spatial, historical, conceptual—that allow or disallow discursive connection, I regard Notre Musique as an extended meditation on the possibilities for and barriers to discourse. By siting the film in Sarajevo, Godard is clearly highlighting a frame for this meditation—a frame that includes a history of violence and reconciliation. The conference is decidedly international and takes place in a city with a rich cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic history, even as it bears the scars of violence and ethnic division.  Sarajevo, moreover, is a city with a complex relationship to the state—having been a nucleus to various formations of state and empire in the last century. In its history and in the present, Sarajevo is a site of discourse and discord; of the union and clash of influences (be they religious, political, or ethnic). Hence, Sarajevo’s relevance to the film is not merely one of documentary fidelity (because it was the host city for the conference). It is a perfect site for Godard to pursue a line of reflection on discourse and its breakdown in the frame of changing formations of power. Sarjevo as a site also calls attention to how the parties or constituencies for discourse remain in states of flux—either through processes of self-definition from within or misrecognition (or nonrecognition) from without..."

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