Pierre and Balthazar

I wanted to draw comparisons between what Deleuze writes concerning disjunctions of image and text (or rather between what is visible and what is articulated), in Allois’ film on Pierre Rivière (particularly the opening scene of the tree image/courtroom sound which is mentioned in an endnote in his book on Foucault. Deleuze also mentions Straubs, Syberberg and Duras – filmmakers I’m going to seek out – as being exemplary in their treatment of this disjunction), and similar concerns raised by Jacques Rancière in the opening essay in The Future of the Image. Like Deleuze, Rancière focuses on the opening sequence of a film – in this case the first sequences of Robert Bresson’s Au hazard Balthazar (1966). Rancière describes how this sequence exposes the play of image operations – what he sees as “relations between a whole and parts, between a visibility and a power of signification and affect associated with it; between expectations and what happens to meet them” (The Future of the Image, 3) – firstly through the juxtaposition of a Schubert sonata with a run of black leader before the titles, then its replacement with the braying of a donkey playing against a n image of a plain exterior wall; or mouths not being visible against words spoken from them – all image functions that subvert and contradict what has been uttered or written through them.

Picture 4 

All these elements, for Rancière, are where Bresson stages oppositions and between the various elements and functions of the image, setting up tensions and interruptions, contrasts and separations. The materials in play are not images of a donkey and a groups of characters, nor any deployments of technical modalities, fading and cutting in, dissolve and exchanging between POVs, etc, but the operations that couple and uncouple what is seen and what is spoken, constantly working with and against expectation. This is not a specifically cinematic technique for Rancière – in fact he traces it to developments in the 19th Century novel (especially Flaubert) and a retrained focus on heretofore ‘insignificant’ details or on material that would previously have been considered unsuitable for artistic attention. They both forge and undo meaning in action – the ability to anticipate and frustrate expectation, engaging the components of a composite like a series of differential gears. It is artistic images that produce discrepancy and dissemblance as well as analogy, that “produce forms of alteration in relation to the normal – or consensual – forms of sensible presentation, modes of linkages of events, modes of relations between a sensory given and a meaning.”

Rancière goes on to specify that the image is not exclusive to the visible – “there is visibility that doesn’t amount to an image; there are images which consist wholly in words.” (The Future of the Image, 7) Deleuze and Foucault talk about the webs of relations that stream between what is visible and what is articulated – and the perpetual cracks/hinges between them. Between the visible and the articulable there is no common form, yet at the same time the two spill over into each other, each being insinuated in whatever gaps occur in the battle between them. This is possibly where I can refer to the discourse that features so heavily in Rene Allois’ film I, Pierre Rivière, having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister and My Brother – that written by Pierre following his capture. Although I’m not so sure about any comparisons to be drawn between the two films – nor between the ‘lead’ figures of Pierre and Balthazar – it’s interesting to have come across these two examples of opening sequences that, for their respective authors, constitute such prime examples of a parade of disjunction between what is seen and what is articulated. Nonetheless, it is worth considering how the production of writing by Pierre – assigned such power by Foucault, might be considered as functioning, through its proximity to image (and what is this? The vivid nature of the young man’s writing, his style, his desperation, the strangeness of the imagery, its clouded relation to the recorded events or the testimony of others?), to reconfigure the frameworks of the visible and the thinkable. Is it possible to think of a writing that can so scramble the formations of thought that it can begin to dismiss even the admissions of guilt and wrongdoing it specifically addresses and admits to. This is a writing that can get you out of anything – not the gift of gab, but something far more potent. As always, I am reminded of Burroughs suggesting that there existed a writing that kill, but what about a writing that redraws the coordinates of meaning, responsibility and societal practice – a writing that is in some way contaminated by image, rendered diagrammatic as a demonic combination of saying and showing.


I just found this – which ties in to something about reenactment I was already thinking about in relation to Allois’ film and Lanzmann’s Shoah (but don’t have time to concentrate on) – one of the directorial assistants on the original film is going back.