The revolutionary—and highly literary—filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard died today at the age of 91. Thinking about him, and about all the books in his films (sometimes held sexily by Jean-Paul Belmondo), I was reminded of an anecdote reported by Richard Brody, in which Godard, in 2000, imagined and dismissed the e-book in one breath. “The subject came up when he explained that he preferred to edit video with analog rather than digital technology, because, he told me, with digital technology, ‘time no longer exists,'” writes Brody.
And the example he gave me came not from the cinema but from literature and what he called “the electronic book.” He got up from his chair, brought a book from his bookshelf, and brought it back to his desk.
“What I call time is this,” he said, as he opened the book and flipped its pages back and forth. “For the electronic book, there’s this”—he pretended to press a button on the table. “If you want to go backwards, you do this”—he flipped pages. “With the electronic book if you go backwards you do this”—he tapped the table.
“And even this will be a problem,” he said, “because you’ll be on this page, O.K., and then you’re reading, I don’t know, ‘War and Peace,’ by Tolstoy, then you’re there at the battle of Borodino, or at the battle of something-or-other, you’re at the death of Prince Andrei, and then he remembers when he was at Austerlitz. You’re there, and then you want to take another look at the page where he was at Austerlitz. O.K. With an electronic book, how do you do it?”
I said, “You type it in.”
“You type ‘Austerlitz’ and you see it immediately. But first you have to remember ‘Austerlitz,’ right? Because if you remember a thought or an emotion that is a little vague—right? If you do this”—he flipped pages—“it’s something else altogether. Because when you do this”—flip—“you’re here; you want to go to Austerlitz, which is there, so you do this”—he flipped pages again. “Then suddenly you stop, you see something else, then you forget Austerlitz and you start to read that other thing, but with this”—he tapped the table—“you won’t do that. Thus the entire past disappears—something disappears. O.K., is it good, is it bad, I don’t know. But in practice, it’s not good.”
A very fond farewell to a great artist and visionary thinker.