Potential Space

by Jane Reingold, MFT
Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language unfolds as if in a dream, a visual free association, an avant-garde emotional experience to apprehend. The struggle is to view the film without memory or desire, to let go of prior expectations of the medium, of narrative, and to not grasp at quick meaning: to achieve a state of surrender, an evenly hovering attention that allows a "being with" the experience that is taking form. The moment something coheres, it is gone, wiped away, like windshield wipers whisking away the swath of multicolored rain painting the canvas of the windshield. Like a dream, the film is a stream of associative thoughts represented through images--disturbing, raw, beautiful, bizarre, fragmented--that have a rhythm and a sequence, constructing and deconstructing simultaneously and yet giving shape to that which the dreamer is expressing, dreaming, experiencing.
"Those lacking in imagination take refuge in reality if no thought contaminates thought."
This quote opens the film along with a pastiche of images--a ferry moving through water, old battle footage, a black-and-white Hollywood clip, a close-up of thick, black paint strokes on a canvas, overly saturated orange flowers lilting in the wind, a wet dog. This philosophical musing sets the tone for the film. The referenced reality speaks to a defensive, manufactured state of illusory knowing that prevents dreaming, meaningful contact with oneself, and the necessary internal environment to birth a thought. Godard's film is a challenge to this insistence on knowing, this certainty.
"Paint not what we see, for we see nothing, nor what we cannot see, for we must paint only what we see. But paint so that we don't see."
Roxy, Godard's dog, wanders through much of the film across neon red, orange, and blue leaves, along the shore of a river where the camera lingers on a reflection of a beautiful amber-imbued tree undulating on the deep blue of the river. The grandeur of the woods, the audible rustling of leaves in the wind, and the expansive sense of time provide a sensorial experience, a feeling of being transported to a place of being-with, where dreaming is possible, where contact with an internal experience of the film is possible.
And then the season changes. "A fog that stops us from seeing further" descends. An experience has taken form and then more beta emerges. What can be known is still on the edge of what can be understood. Perhaps Godard is speaking to the unconscious, to what lies beyond our comprehension, beyond our reach.
"They enter a murky realm. As soon as gazes lock, there are no longer exactly two of us."
The discernable narrative centers around a couple having an affair and a murder that occurs. The couple engages in many discourses around art, literature, and life. In one scene, bright yellow shower water pours down deafeningly on the screen. We see this couple naked, struggling in the shower, captured within the frame of a mirror, a window, a canvas, a screen, a screen memory, perhaps? The reflection is of raw relational struggle, violence, a desperation to make real contact, to be known. The woman says, "Ever since birth we are mistaken for another." This ennui hangs over the film.
"Soon everyone will need an interpreter. To understand words coming out of their own mouths."
Godard's title, Goodbye to Language, perhaps speaks to the inadequacy of language to capture experience and may also serve as social commentary on an eschewing of internal experience in favor of a Googled certainty of knowing, a technological death of intellectual, philosophical inquiry. As Bion states, "The fundamental reality is 'infinity,' the unknown, the situation for which there is no language--not even that borrowed from the artist or the religious--which gets anywhere near to describing it."