05. 1968 – France and its Aftermath

The film and writing by Jean-Luc Godard, and others, concerning the events occurring in Paris (and around the world) during and after 1968 provide an example of a Marxist inspired revolution in a first world context. “The spirit of the May days was utopian, expressive and festive,” writes Sherry Terkle. “The ideology of the celebrants was to avoid traditional ideology. The fresh outlook of May downplayed traditional forms of structured political action and stressed an existential revolution of the person.”

This intellectual rebellion was founded upon structuralist and post-structuralist ideas about the self in society. “May 1968 entailed a revaluation of the linguistic signifier,” writes Kaja Silverman. Here is a truly cultural revolution—inspired by theories of language and self, as much as base and superstructure. Cineastes sought to create film from this new body of theory’s unique conjoining with older ideas and practices.  Critical theory meets soviet cinema as well as the New American Cinema; montage meets personal expression; cinema worker meets expressive existentialism; creating “a bridge between a politics of social activism and a politics of the person” (Terkle, 10).

Thus, here, the rejection of authority and tradition had new ends: a deconstruction rather than a construction; a social and personal undoing or unmaking. “To immolate the enemy is thus simultaneously to immolate the self. This is not surprising, since the primary weapon which Gay Knowledge invites us to turn against the enemy is language.” (Silverman). Cineastes attempted to use film to interrogate the signifying systems of cinema, and its relations to the construction of ideology rather than truth, to understand and undo our received ways of knowing. “The cinema cannot show the truth, or reveal it, because it is not out there in the real world waiting to be photographed. What the cinema can produce is meanings, and meanings can only be plotted, not in relation to some abstract yardstick or criterion of truth, but in relation to other meanings,” explains Peter Wollen.

The “bad objects” created from this “counter-cinema” are theoretically correct, and in this way inspiring, but formally and politically they proved less viable. The denial of pleasure, for instance, does not seem to be productive for inspiring anything but more ideas or knowledge. However, if we understand that such media praxis evidenced a new representational regime starting from degree zero, then we might understand much of the political media that follows to build upon was learned from these radical, intellectual experiments.

Was this existential revolution of the person and the text, theoretically bent upon undoing our received ways of knowing, and the signification systems that sustain knowledge, utilitarian, or was the process of transformation the end in itself? Although this “revolution” failed, for reasons largely “political,” what have been its lasting effects?

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