… The love that philosophy can teach is the power to accept intimacy without taking it personally. Its opposite is vanity, which takes every attention personally and none intimately. (Naturally, these states are commonly mistaken for one another.)
This is today’s second post from The World Viewed, Enlarged Edition by Stanley Cavell (1971, 1974, 1979):
… Evidently [Jean-Luc] Godard’s admirers read his withdrawal of feeling as a combination of knowingness and objectivity toward the corruption of the world. But objectivity is a spiritual achievement, and apart from it knowingness is only a sentiment. In that case, accepting Godard’s work is simply sharing that sentiment.
… If you believe that people speak slogans to one another, or that women are turned by bourgeois society into marketable objects, or that human pleasures are now figments and products of advertising accounts and that these are directions of dehumanization — then what is the value of pouring further slogans into that world (e.g., “People speak in slogans” or “Women have become objects” or “Bourgeois society is dehumanizing” or “Love is impossible”)? And how do you distinguish the world’s dehumanizing of its inhabitants from your depersonalizing of them? How do you know whether your asserted impossibility of love is anything more than an expression of your distaste for its tasks? Without such knowledge, your disapproval of the world’s pleasures, such as they are, is not criticism (the negation of advertisement) but censoriousness (negative advertising).
I do not wish to deny Godard’s inventiveness, and no one can ignore his facility. But the forms of culture he wishes to hold in contempt are no less inventive and facile. Take two examples of his inventiveness compromised. Godard has found a way to stage an eyes-on interview with his subject (in particular with Anna Karina). But he has not done this by justifying a subject’s acceptance of the camera — that is, by establishing a character capable in a given context of accepting her own self-awareness, knowing the effect she has on others (as, say, in Manet’s Olympia) — but by taking a subject with no character, from whose person he has removed personhood, a subject incapable of accepting or rejecting anything. That is the condition of prostitution, and of advertisement. And Godard has created it, not captured it. These interviews might be read as screen tests, which is a potentially neat declaration of the medium, but success here would depend upon justifying the woman’s submission to such a test and one’s right to apply it.
… Or take Godard’s use of the sound of philosophy, in those longish dialogues his women elicit from actual philosophers. It is a good perception that recognized this sound for the cinema, that found that in an environment of nonsense and insinuation and cynicism the sound of sense still falls sweetly upon the human ear. But Godard hasn’t seen it through, because he does not care whether what the philosopher says is valid or not — that is, he listens to it the way his girls do, or the way a bourgeois audience does, somewhere within embarrassment, envy, contempt, and titillation. And while his talent and wit lead him to remark that philosophy is now stimulated by pretty girls, either he fails to recognize the humor and sadness of this, or else he sees nothing further. From Plato on, sexual attractiveness has been an open motive to philosophy, as if to acknowledge the intimacy and mutuality of one soul’s investigation of another. And if sexuality is the dialogue’s conclusion, this need not mean that its point was seduction; it can acknowledge that the only successful conclusion of such investigation is mutual satisfaction, and that what remains between the participants is not a thing left unsaid. Where philosophy is foreplay, that at least refuses intellectuality as a substitute for sexuality (a more hilarious sense of “platonic”). The love that philosophy can teach is the power to accept intimacy without taking it personally. Its opposite is vanity, which takes every attention personally and none intimately. (Naturally, these states are commonly mistaken for one another.) Godard’s girls walk away intact from these confrontations. Is this supposed to show that they are unseducible? So are prostitutes. Anyway, they are seduced — by slogans, advertisements, and illicitness.