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Neither God nor Master

Neither God nor Master: Robert Bresson and Radical Politics

Brian Price
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Neither God nor Master
    Book Description:

    The French auteur Robert Bresson has long been thought of as a transcendental filmmaker preoccupied with questions of grace and predestination and little interested in the problems of the social world. This book is the first to view Bresson’s work in an altogether different context. Rather than a religious filmmaker, Bresson is revealed as an artist steeped in radical, revolutionary politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7660-6
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In the summer of 1977, Robert Bresson appeared in a wide array of French newspapers for inciting youths to suicide. Early in June, Giscard’s minister of culture and environment, Michel d’Ornano, announced thatThe Devil Probablywould be banned to those under eighteen. The administration assumed that Bresson’s film promoted suicide as a logical response to consumer society whose effects it details so thoroughly. The response in the French press was divided. The headline inLe Quotidien de Pariscelebrated Bresson’s defeat, as if he were involved in a failed electoral campaign: “Giscard oui, Bresson non!”¹ Other headlines were more...

  4. 1 Crime as a Form of Liberation: Modeling Revolt in Pickpocket and A Man Escaped
    (pp. 15-39)

    Despite the religious orientation of Bresson criticism, the films themselves are more concerned with crime than they are religion. Much of Bresson’s reputation, however, has been staked on the religious potential of tropes of the cell. Bresson’s criminals, it is often said, allegorize the precepts of divine law. The space of the prison cell is understood less as a social space than as a metaphorical rendering of religious conceptions of the soul, grace, and ultimately transcendence. Paul Schrader’s influential account of Bresson’s transcendental style hinges on just such a reading: “[In] Bresson’s films, as in Christian theology, transcendence is an...

  5. 2 Word and Image, World and Nothingness: Logocentrism and Ironic Reversal in Procès de Jeanne d’Arc, Diary of a Country Priest, and Les Anges du péché
    (pp. 40-68)

    If Surrealism provided Bresson the means for thinking of criminality as a series of operations for the appropriation of the terms of punishment for the sake of both pleasure and autonomy, it was certainly not recognized as such, or at least widely, in his own time. The dryness of Bresson’s religious allusions—the way religious quotations hover over the most antisocial of all gestures—have appeared to many as simply a matter of choice. One either listens to the word of God, or one does not. An enforced choice between seemingly incommensurate signs is precisely what the context of Surrealism...

  6. 3 Man and Animal, Master and Servant: Au hasard Balthazar and Mouchette
    (pp. 69-93)

    The question of interpretation that concerned us in chapter 2 is intensified in Bresson’s two films about animals,Au hasard BalthazarandMouchette.It is in these two films—made back-to-back in 1966 and 1967—that Bresson’s concern with language and domination is redirected toward a consideration of the relation between man and animal.

    The distinction between man and animal has long been a central preoccupation of philosophers and is most often made in an effort to describe the degrees of consciousness that render man worthy of the name. The distinction, of course, is predicated on language. As Martin Heidegger,...

  7. 4 The Aftermath of Revolt: Une femme douce and the Turn to Color
    (pp. 94-122)

    Léger’s observation about Dostoevsky and Balzac could just as easily stand as a description of Bresson’s montage style, their progeny in the age of film. Moreover, Léger’s comments suggest why it may not be altogether surprising to see Bresson, whose laconic characters seem wholly antithetical to Dostoevsky’s, turn directly to his work in 1969 withUne femme douceand then again with his adaptation of “White Nights” inFour Nights of a Dreamerin 1972. What Léger admires in Dostoevsky is his ability to create characters that resist overdetermined identities, ones that need to be constantly turned to in order...

  8. 5 Disintegration: Lancelot du Lac; or, The Failure of Identification and Totality
    (pp. 123-147)

    If color inUne femme doucebecomes a way to depict and understand the reconstitution of patriarchy in the aftermath of May ’68, inLancelot du Laccolor traces a process of social disintegration. Bresson remains concerned inLancelot du Lacwith the problem of revolution in the aftermath of its perceived failure. But whereUne femme douceimagines the despair of a young woman reinscribed in a system of patriarchy,Lancelot du Lacdescribes the impediments to collectivity at a moment in French life where every effort at unification is monitored and disrupted by a newly fortified state of...

  9. 6 The Agony of Ideas: The Devil Probably and Revolutionary Discourse
    (pp. 148-182)

    Fassbinder offered this response toThe Devil Probably(1977) at the 1977 Berlin Film Festival, where he sat on the jury. Fassbinder threatened to leave the jury unless his support for the film, which was entirely unappreciated by his colleagues, was made public. The cool reception of Bresson’s film in Berlin, and Fassbinder’s subsequent support for it, is not so surprising.The Devil Probablyis a fierce indictment of the repressive tactics of the state, of its destruction of the environment and its close monitoring of youth culture—which was not lost on the French press, where worries over the...

  10. 7 The Last Gasp: L’Argent and the End of Socialism
    (pp. 183-206)

    This passage comes from a sustained discussion about politics and writing between Wiesel and his friend Mitterrand, president of France at the end of his final term, onetime member of the Resistance, and lover of literature. Noting Mitterrand’s adoration of Tolstoy in a previous remark, Wiesel rehearses a major assumption of Russian literature, that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are complete opposites, and that an interest in one cancels out an interest in the other. It is an assumption George Steiner investigated forty years earlier inTolstoy or Dostoevsky.

    The choice between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky foreshadows what existentialists would callun engagement;...

  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 207-208)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 209-220)
  13. Index
    (pp. 221-224)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-225)