In the 1960s, militant cinema sought to share and disseminate strategies and tools to support political struggles across the globe. As Jean-Luc Godard put it: «A [militant] film is a flying carpet that can travel anywhere. There is no magic. It is a political work»[1]. Ici et ailleurs (1976) – one of the films Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin filmed within the frame of the Dziga Vertov Group collective, which was then edited by Godard in collaboration with Anne-Marie Miéville – is not only an example of vanguardist political filmmaking, but a self-reflexive account of the outcome of revolutions here and elsewhere and of militant cinema and its ulterior disappearance by the mid 1970s. By self-reflexive I mean that this film, aside from positing film as a politicized space, it is an interrogation on the conditions of possibility of representation – in the sense of speaking in the name of others through art or literature in relation to political struggles.


The film is furthermore centered on the figure of the committed filmmaker within the framework of tiermondisme (or internationalism). Ici et ailleurs also lays out a politics of the image based on a critique of images circulating in the mass media, a political practice that Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin inaugurated in the last film they made together in 1972, Letter to Jane: An Investigation about a Still. During the 1970s, Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville would continue this form of politics of the image in the videos they made within the frame of their production company Sonimage, naming it «journalism of the audiovisual». In what follows, I will focus on examining three aspects of the legacy of militant filmmaking that are present in Ici et ailleurs. First, I will elucidate the lessons we can learn from processes of solidarity with political movements of others, elsewhere, which imply speaking or making images on their behalf. Second, I will analyze the actual manifestations and implications of the problem Godard posited in his films after Ici et ailleurs: what I call the «mediatization of mediation», the form of activism that ensued from the fall of Marxist-Leninism, based on the presupposition that counter-information and the visibilization of urgent problems are forms of emancipation. As we will see, Godard and Miéville problematized the «mediatization of mediation» by way of their method journalism of the audiovisual. Third, I will consider the problematic transformation of Godard and Miéville’s politics of the image or audiovisual journalism into what is known as sensible politics[2]. Characteristic of the postpolitical era, sensible politics is a niche in cultural production that has taken up the task to codify unstable political acts in mediatic forms, transforming political action and discourse into matters of expression and visibility.


Ici et ailleurs was originally commissioned by Yasser Arafat – through the Information Service Bureau of Fatah (Or Palestinian Liberation Organzation) –, to the Dziga Vertov Group (DVG) in 1969. The story of the film is narrated in the voice over. In 1970, the film was called Jusqu’a la victoire (Until Victory) and was to be assembled from footage shot in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria during a three-month stay in the Spring that year[3]. As militant film-makers, Godard and Gorin aimed not at ‘making a political film,’ but at ‘making a film politically.’ ‘To make films politically’ is a famous slogan coined by Godard and Gorin which means: to let the production command the distribution and not the other way around, to use films as tools, and to emphasize the process of inquiry and study of the concrete situation – in this case, the Palestinian Revolution[4]. To make films politically also means to step aside from ‘traditional’ militant or political films, which are founded on considering a viewer defined beforehand, who either approves without reserve or disagrees with the political content of the film.


[Image 1: The Dziga Vertov Group and Mustapha Abu Ali in the Baqua Camp in Jordan, 1969. Source: Elias Sanbar, Les Palestiniens, Photographie d’une terre et de son peuple de 1839 à nos jours (Paris: Hazan, 2004).]


Before finishing the film, Godard and Gorin had planned to return to the Palestinian refugee and training camps to show the footage they had filmed and discuss it with the Fedayeen (or Palestinian freedom fighters). That was the plan before the Black September massacre in the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan. Because many of the actors of the film had been killed, Godard and Gorin could not finish the film as they had planned to and they decided to put the footage aside.


It was not until 1973-74 that Godard, in collaboration with Miéville, decided to finally edit and complete the film, and they called it Ici et ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere).


We can see in the last version of Ici et ailleurs a kind of self-reflexive degree zero of documentary, which referring Roland Barthes and his book Le Degré zéro de l’écriture[5] designates an ontological and historical exploration of documentary and propaganda film.


In a pedagogical effort, moreover, they deconstruct the varying modes of circulation of images while they reveal the diversity of manners in which they are constructed in relationship to language. This is the reason why Ici et ailleurs is composed of heterogeneous materials of expression: documentary, diegetic, didacticor pedagogic.The film includes didactic sequences and non-diegetic (or non-narrative) elements of different kinds: video-mélanges, images filmed from television monitors, in which Godard is experimenting with the simultaneity enabled by video editing done by seeing two monitors at the same time, which is different from the succession of images structured by the cinematic apparatus. There is also a slide show, intertitles and videotext. The images filmed in Palestine are mainly fixed frames with few pans; they are images «objective» in style, like in photojournalism or documentary. These images appear in conjunction with diegetic images of social types: for instance, a French working class family and three workers. The family’s diegesis is about their relationship to the media, familial problems and the father’s struggle to find work. The French family, gathered watching television in the domesticity of the living room, becomes the allegory of the mediatized social space, the site for the shared sensible. The sensible is made up of the visibilities and discursivities shared by a community in space and time, also called «Infosphere» by Franco Berardi (Bifo)[6]. Godard thus portrays the French as a public of spectators that are part of the community of viewers constituted by the televisual screen.


We should note that the living room is decorated with Palestinian tatris, tapestries and rugs. The shared sensible present in the artisanal souvenirs and in the televisual screen, are the only means available to access the Palestinian state of affairs from «here» (France). We also see in the film the frequent appearance of the word ET carved out in Styrofoam and placed like a sculpture on a pedestal. The word «AND» is the glue between the images. «AND» becomes a provisory zone in which one cannot discern the signifiers of the images, and this allows for simultaneous readings of the images in which past and present coexist. That is the movement between here and elsewhere, which is comprised by a complex montage interweaving simultaneously different temporalities and sensibilities.



1. The Elsewhere and tiermondisme 


In the 1960s, the term «Third World» designated a group of countries other than the capitalist and socialist industrialized, and some of them were fighting revolutions characterized by armed struggle and a national (de-colonizing) socialist or communist political projects. For the French Left, tiermondisme was a movement, a project, an ideology which was essential to their imaginary: it was the means to catalyze issues of slavery, past and present colonialism, socialism and revolution. Tiermondisme was inspired by Mao’s revolutionary call to unite with the Third World against the «Paper Tiger»of imperialism, his emphasis on the revolutionary potential of the Third World’s proletariat and lumpenproletariat, and by Che Guevara’s call: «Hasta la victoria! Crear dos, tres, muchos Vietnam!»


In this context, political movements involved in anti-imperialist revolutions in places such as Cuba, Vietnam or Palestine, sponsored official Western intellectuals’ visits, to their countries. Thus artists, writers, journalists and filmmakers produced accounts about revolutionary processes and socialist regimes mixing the genres of documentary, travel diary, photojournalism and reportage. Some examples are the films Chung Kuo, Cina (1972), by Michelangelo Antonioni; Black Panthers (1968), by Agnès Varda; Loin du Vietnam (1967), collectively made by Varda, Godard, Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Chris Marker y Alain Resnais; and ¡Cuba, sí! (1961), by Chris Marker, amongst many others.


Most of these works made in solidarity with Third World struggles are self-reflexive in the sense that they seek to account for foreign struggles within the frame of state-or militia-sponsored visits. Aware of the danger of blind naïve identification, objectivity becomes doubly problematic: Is it possible to go beyond the ideological veil imposed by the framework of the “official visit”? How is it possible to account for one’s position as an external observer? Can the political emotions of sympathy and enthusiasm suspend the subject from the conditions of viewing and open up an objective point of view?



Image 2: Cartoon published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in the 1970s


Sylvain Dreyer has argued that solidarity with third-world struggles was an excuse to identify with exotic revolutionary causes to evade the problems inherent to the French Marxist-Leninist movement, according to him, in a superficial and mystifying fascination with the «elsewhere» and mere empty slogans[7].


We could make a parallel, however, between Europeans sympathizing with the movement of Thirdworldism and the enthusiasm experienced by the German spectators of the French Revolution. According to Immanuel Kant, enthusiasm provokes that the external observer expresses universal and disinterested sympathy for certain protagonists against their adversaries[8]. In a way, European expressions of solidarity with foreign national-revolutionary movements took the form of real politics collapsing with aesthetic or literary practices. That is the reason why third-worldist enthusiasm was not extent of problems: it passed for being an “acceptable” form of political action tied to the role of the viewer in detriment of real political action. Contrary to Dreyer’s dismissal of this movement, however, we could consider thirdworldism as a reassessment of how the West interpreted and produced new discourses about the «other» beyond racism and in the light of Europe’s post-colonial identity crisis and the ideological scission of the world during the Cold War. We could thus define Thirdworldism as a proto-global cartography characterized by a division of the world into First and Third, and by ideological alliances with Marxism and anti-capitalism as the common code. The films, art and writings produced in this context were inspired by ideological kinship – carved by these alliances – although they also held the Marxist-Leninist belief in the revolutionary potential of Third World peasantry, coded through a global Western Marxism translated to local specificities.


Ici et ailleurs is part of the corpus of tiermondiste works. Historically, the film encompasses both the historical peak and demise of Maoism and anti-imperialism as the containers of revolutionary politics. That is to say, the film registers key political and epistemological changes that took place in the 1970s provoked by the crisis of aesthetic and political representation along with the fall of nationalism, internationalism, socialism and communism as ideological vehicles for liberation struggles.


In the last last ten minutes of the film, we see a frame of four fedayeen discussing a failed operation in the Occupied Territories. In a text published in 1991, Palestinian intellectual Elias Sanbar (who had been the Dziga Vertov Group’s translator and native informant in the Middle East), remembers being present during the filming of this scene in Jordan[9]. Godard had wanted him to translate the statement of account of a commando unit that had just returned from an operation in the Territories; Godard had filmed the scene «live». Sanbar describes how there were four Fedayeen covered in sweat, showing bodily tension, on the verge of a breakdown. Two members of the commando unit had fallen down and the rest were directing their anger at the commander. After that, Sanbar tells us, they sat down in front of the Dziga Vertov Group’s camera to supposedly discuss their operation in terms of self-critique. Sanbar recalls being at the side of Godard’s editing table two years later translating for him the conversation between the fedayeen:


Vous êtes des inconscients, notre ennemi est féroce et ne prend pas les choses à la légère (comme vous). Cela fait trois fois que les unités de reconnaissance nous font traverser le Jourdain au même endroit et cela fait trois fois que l’ennemi nous y attend et que nous perdons des frères . . .[10]


Sanbar remembers that they insulted each other, an action which is very removed from Marxist-Leninist self-critique (which is how Godard wished to frame the scene).


Going over this material two years later, was shocking for both Godard and Sanbar; for Godard, because he realized (as we hear in the movie) that he had not «listened» to the revolutionaries because at that moment, he only wished to shout «Victory!» and on their behalf.


For Sanbar, as he writes in his text, because he realized he had been deafened by theories and unfaltering convictions that caused him to idealize the struggle in spite of the fedayeen’s discussion being in his own language. In other words, theories, enthusiasm and convictions had «covered» up what the Fedayeen were saying and the fact that their dialogue was actually a matter of life and death. It is true that in the euphoric eruption of revolutions and the enthusiasm they ignite, people forget the stakes and sacrifices that they are going to make or that they have to make, and that political struggles are actually a matter of life and death.



Image 3: Screen shot from the last scene of Ici et ailleurs


According to film director Masao Adachi –whom, along with Koji Wakamatsu also made a film about the Palestinian revolution titled Seikun-PFLP: Sekai Senso Sengen (The Red Army / PFLP: Declaration of World War, 1971):


 Ici et Ailleurs manifests a spirit that we shared with comrades all over the world, mobilized as we were by the march towards the creation of a new world. The film recounts the shadows of the historical time and space as we lived it back then. It is an account that demonstrates the painful road travelled by those who marched without halt in the middle of those shadows, towards a confiscated goal[11].


In the last scene of Ici et ailleurs, Godard reiterates that «his» voice as a Maoist had covered up the voices of the men and women they had filmed, denying and reducing them to nothing. In this manner, Ici et ailleurs ends revealing the limits of aesthetic practice grounded on the politics of the signifier and the signified. This politics could be defined as formal Modernism, an ontological reflection of images tied to reflexivity of the cinematic apparatus. A politics of the signified implies a coding, decoding, and recoding images through ideological self-critique. We should also consider that after Black September, when the Palestinian guerrilla was attacked by King Hussein’s troops in Jordan, Palestinian forces found themselves before a sudden change in the conditions of their struggle. The need to reframe /construct/create a new strategy to achieve the liberation of Palestine resulted in the wave of terrorism in Europe and the Middle East by Black September (the terrorist wing of Fatah)


This is why Godard considered that he had to rethink the film, also because he felt that the terrorist turn of the Palestinian liberation struggle had gone beyond his capacity to become engaged with it. In 1972, a Palestinian commando demanding the liberation of Palestinian political prisoners broke into the Olympic Villa in Munich and kidnapped eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team. Masao Adachi recalls how the television stations interrupted the transmission of the games to film the building where the guerrilla was entrenched with the hostages[12]. Godard and Miéville evoke this incident in Ici et ailleurs in relation to their own engagement with the Palestinian cause. Along with many other Western sympathizers, they condemned and lamented the wave of terrorism that followed the Black September massacre in Jordan. In a similar spirit, Sylvère Lotringer wrote: «In 1974 we were in the last gasp of Marxism and I knew the terrorists were right, but I could not condone their actions. That is still the way I feel right now».[13]


Under the principle of humanitarianism, terrorism is outside of the laws of war and thus, committed intellectuals drew a line. Tracing the links between resistance, revolution, television, film and journalism, Godard and Miéville vouched for a non-violent way to give visibility to the Palestinians by making a plea in the film: «Pass these images (of Palestinian refugees) from time to time (in Western television)».


The years 1973-1974 mark in France the disavowal of the revolutionary subject and project and a wave of anti-totalitarianism. This gave way to a new humanism and by many accounts, a new reactionary period in general[14]. By 1978, Thirdworldism had been dismissed as a sort of aberration of decadent Socialism. A new form of emancipation of the people of the Third World was grounded, leading to the substitution of politics for a new ethics of intervention, prompted by the perceived failure of many Third World revolutions and by their transformation into to terrorist or corrupt movements or dictatorial states.


Revolutionary politics was substituted by a new intervention ethics.


Tiermondisme had been a universal a cause giving a name to a political wrong: for the first time, the ‘wretched of the earth’ emerged for a specifically historic period as a new figuration of ‘the people’ in the political sense: the colonized were discursively transformed into the political figures of the Algerian immigrant worker, the Chinese barefoot doctor, the revolutionary from elsewhere[15]. Yet, a new ‘ethical’ humanism (or humanitarianism), substituted revolutionary enthusiasm and political sympathy with pity and moral indignation, transforming them into political emotions within the discourse of pure actuality and emergency. This led to new figures of alterity in the 1980s and 1990s, the ‘suffering other’ that needs to be rescued, and to the post-colonial ‘subaltern’ demanding restitution, presupposing that visibility within a multicultural social tissue would follow emancipation. The urgency of the state of exception elsewhere, prompted morally interested observers to bring the precariousness of life to the fore in the most direct and realistic way possible, leading to an explosion of visibilities of ‘wounded subjectivities’ demanding to be rescued or recognized. At the same time, these subjectivities confirm the hegemonic power of Western neocolonial power.



Image 4: Struggling Girl by Kevin Carter. Photograph taken in Sudan, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1993.


By the 1980s, the colonial distinction between center and periphery, north or south had become irrelevant: cultural production and capital began to celebrate decentralization, rendering the distinction between first and third world obsolete. The globalized market, with its ability to go beyond national divisions integrated first and third worlds, forcing certain areas of the third world to «develop», creating pockets of wealth and cultural sophistication within the Third World, and areas of destitution and misery within the First. In retrospect, we could think of thirdworldism as the last utopia in the sense that utopia means «new land». The ephemeral frame within which the term «Third World» was coined – the Cold War – has disappeared. The new one that came to substitute it, however – human rights, development and economic growth, cultural intervention, wars in the name of democracy, even social responsibility – has failed just as Thirdworldism did in highlighting the pressing issues that are at stake: the incredible polarity and massive dispossession and displacement brought about by the globalization of the free market economy, capitalism’s financial structural crisis and the hegemony of ideological neoliberalism. At the beginning of the 21st century, while the other has been rendered transparent due to a series of discursive mutations – brought by the freemarket, ethnography, the globalization of Western modernism expressed though local specificity, journalism and tourism – global connectivity transformed the elsewhere into something immediate. For example, Congo (and even an ‘ethical’ relationship to Congo) may be in the ‘free trade’ coffee you sip every morning.


Facilitated by the democratization of tourism, culture and information, encounters with the other, have been substituted by encounters with different forms of life that are different in the qualitative sense: that is, more or less different and arenowmediated by the mass media, tourism, aesthetic or humanitarian interventions and non-governmental politics.


Godard and Miéville lay it out in a visionary way at the end of Ici et ailleurs: «L’autre c’est l’ailleurs de notre ici»[16].


Now that the utopia of freedom of expression in cyberspace has been underscored by global NSA surveillance, some of the questions that rise under this New World Order are: How to see the differences between different life worlds coexisting side by side and how to account for their interaction? Is the outside of gated communities – now a cliché in Hollywood films from Upside Down, World War Z,The Hunger Games, Elysium (all from 2013), etc. – the actual paradigm of inequality between different forms of life and the basis for aesthetic-political engagement? Are the figures of the favelado or immigrant, and the artivist or politically engaged cultural producer substituted the working class, revolutionaries and vanguard intellectuals respectively? How to forge solidarity links amongst them and politicize them?



2. The Mediatization of Mediation and Journalism of the Audiovisual 


Ici et ailleurs has been interpreted as an epiphany in Godard’s work. As if after this film, Godard, showing repentance for the «Maoist» excesses of the Dziga Vertov Group had taken a turn in his work, away from politics. After things «exploded» in the Middle East and Europe, however, Godard’s and Miéville’s compass for political action was transformed according to the new challenges that represented the changing politics in the new historical situation. As I have mentioned, Godard and Miéville called the post-Marxist-Leninist practice they carried out in their Sonimage production company “journalism of the audiovisual”.


The films they made in the 1970s are characterized for devoting considerable screen time to the analysis of images gleaned from the mass media, elucidating them and teaching the spectator the workings behind the construction of visibilities in the media and how they become reified in discourses that are favorable to power. In their opinion and linked to this, two new problems had emerged. On the one hand, the propagation of the doxa of the left as the becoming information of leftist discourse – exemplified in their critique to the Maoist journal Libération in Comment ça va? (1978) –. On the other hand, Godard and Miéville challenged the mediatization of mediation and the turn leftist militants had taken: having been inspired by the belief of the emancipatory potential of mass media communications, militants mediatized representation in the sense of speaking in the name of others and their struggles by means of mass media campaigns as a main tool in political action.


In that regard, Miéville and Godard would agree with Baudrillard’s critique in 1972 of the leftist vision of the media. For the left, the mass media had the potential to facilitate unlimited democratic exchange. This position, however, ignores that in essence, the media is essentially discourse without response. Even if efforts are directed to resolve the problem of the passive reader-consumer, his/her freedom is reduced to accepting or rejecting content; for Baudrillard, those efforts are vain because mediatization implies to codify information in a support that reifies messages to transmit them at a distance. As a consequence, due to the nature of the apparatus, it renders feedback impossible. As Baudrillard expresses, with the media  “speech has expired”. Baudrillard compares the mass media to elections, referendums and polls. For him, all four share the logic of offering a codified situation with which we must agree or disagree without having any agency in the content[17].


Taking this into account, in the films they made together, Godard and Miéville sought to stay away from the dichotomies of producer/consumer, transmitter-conductor/receptor, rather positing them as a problem: that of the transformation of knowledge into information (or codes), proposing experiments with cinematic voice from a variety of discursive positions. Moreover, Godard laid out the problem of the expiration of speech (for him, discourse expires when it becomes information) in the script of an unrealized film, Moi, je (1973) where he writes: «It is time to seek treatment for this kind of illness, and in what concerns us, the treatment of his information[18]». In the same script, Godard questions the figure of the new political man coined by Jean-Paul Sartre, Bernard-Henry Lévy and Pierre Gavin[19]. Under the light of the new wave of deception that drowned Maoist enthusiasm for revolutionary causes, here and elsewhere, the new political figure had as its tools critical consciousness, persuation and action in the public domain of the dissemination of information.


In sum, the new political man was rooted in the mediatization of mediation, which implies that engaged journalists or intellectuals make public urgent debates through the mass media. Traditionally, the function of the intellectual left had been to give France its universal values. The paradigm of intellectual intervention in the media in France is J’accuse, the famous open letter by Émile Zola to the French president published in the first page of the Parisian journal L’Aurore in 1898. For Godard and Miéville, in the context of the first years of the 1970s, the roads traced by information had changed: communication had become a market of the visible in which the free circulation of images cannot be interrupted. The de-regulation of the icon brought about by the massification of the media rendered obsolete the traditional model of political engagement represented by Zola’s «J’accuse», because the form and the space of the inscription of the j’accuse had changed[20]. In that context, Godard and Miéville took up the task to explore the new conditions for the inscription of the j’accuse in the context of political commitment in dialogue with the new forms of militancy that emerged after 1974. In that way, Sonimage marked the change from the Dziga Vertov Group’s «militant cinema» to «audiovisual journalism». Ici et ailleurs can be interpreted as the affirmation of both positions, at the same time that marks the passage form one to the other.


Considering the issue of the mediatization of mediation from the point of view of Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, which could be said to mark the symbolic shut down of the «new media», we could ask: What is at stake when cybernetics has been integrated to all aspects of our lives, and the values of de-centralization, peer to peer and rhizomatic structures inherent to internet communication are now instruments of surveillance and control?[21]



3. The Time of November


Hito Steyerl’s November (2004) is a reading of our neoliberal Restoration present seen through the perspective of the past that persists in the contemporary world: specifically, the legacy of the militant image, and the prevailing wish and need for such image. Against the normalization of neoliberalism, November asks the question of how to understand militant practice and the militant image today.


In its frame of revolutionary hangover and nostalgia, activist defeat and angry melancholia, and in its inquiry into the means and channels of circulation of signs and images, Steyerl’s video could be understood as an homage to Ici et ailleurs. The video tells the story of Andrea Wolf, Steyerl’s best friend when she was 17, shot in 1998 as a Kurdish terrorist in Eastern Anatolia. It incorporates footage from a feminist martial arts film that the artist made together with Andrea in the early 1980s. In light of Andreas’ death, the film had become a document, and in November, Steyerl juxtaposes this old footage with Andrea’s image as a Kurdish revolutionary and martyr, which had become a traveling icon of resistance.


Steyerl’s use of reflexivity, as well as the historical narrative in the video, both links November and sets it apart from political films from the 1960s. Steyerl states in the voice-over: «November is the time after October, when revolution seems to be over and peripheral struggles become impossible to communicate». In the meantime, we see images of the artist amongst pinups porno film taking part in the 2003 worldwide mobilization of 50 million people against the war in Iraq (since then, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria have been shattered). Steyerl ponders self-reflexively on the futility of the march, and on the constructedness of her militant gestures and image.


November is the time when the revolution is over and only revolutionary gestures circulate, when marching in protests becomes an empty gesture devoid of political action or a program. In November, Andrea’s martyr poster is tearing down in a Berlin wall.


Aside from considering the conditions of politicization and political action today, November is centered on a politics of the image and of the sign; Steyerl explores how meanings change by displacing signs, and how mobilizing signs may contribute to destabilize or mobilize people providing tools for articulations that enable specific political goals.


In Ici et ailleurs, Godard formulated the problem of the image that derives from the media and spectacle as an «uninterrupted chain of images», a mirror from which we build our own image. The mass media image is for him and Miéville, a matter of subjectivation by way of consumption: «Ami ou ennemi, on produit et on consomme son image avec celle de l’autre»[22]. The politics of the image Godard and Miéville sketch out in Ici et ailleurs is similar from Steyerl’s as they address the conditions of visibility of images.


As Steyerl in November, politics in Ici et ailleurs is considered to be a question of signs and communication; but differently than Steyerl, Godard is concerned with a filmic practice that would seek to open up the possibility of seeing. In other words, the mise en image of the Palestinian revolution becomes a matter not of how to make it visible but how to see and give to see imbued with an anxiety of blindness. For Godard, seeing is a pragmatic act that begins with the declaration: «I see blindly» and sight is enabled by means and in the process of montage. Ici et ailleurs belongs to the genre of the «video-essai», which means: I try to see (Video in latin means «I see»). Like for Rimbaud, the act of vision for Godard is conditioned by a disarray of the senses, by a shock of thought. In the case of Ici et ailleurs, Godard was shocked by the failure of the revolutions, by the death of the Palestinians, by the terrorist attacks. As we hear in the voice-over: «Très vite, comme on dit, les contradictions éclatent et toi avec // et je commence à voir // et je commence à voir // et je commence à voir que moi avec»[23].


In our post-political era, as communication and speech (the grounds for political action, in Hanna Arendt’s terms) have been transformed into codes, the main objective of much of contemporary politicized images is to achieve visibility of given struggles or injustices perpetrated here and elsewhere. Premised on the idea that moving images can provide a «common language» or a new form of literacy as political tools, not only art and culture become inseparable from social movements, but contemporary politicized aesthetic practice has become a niche or genre called: «sensible politics». And yet, as I will explain below, most of the current politicized images are functioning as compensatory devices to the ravages caused by neoliberal reforms implemented worldwide in the past two decades.



4. From the «Militant Image to Sensible Politics» 


According to post-workerist theory, Semiocapitalism is the current stage of capitalism in which the production and dissemination of signs is the main source of surplus value. Can film become a potential space for political relations in the context of our current form of capitalism? At the peak of the Fordist factory era, film screenings were considered to be film-events in which workers could learn from anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles and revolutions elsewhere. Film screenings thus had the purpose of instrumentalizing film seeking to bring about political change. The films shown were by filmmakers like Chris Marker and SLON, or by the Dziga Vertov Group. The screenings included Third Cinema filmmakers such as Glauber Rocha, Fernando Solanas, Octavio Getino, Santiago Álvarez, León Hirshman, William Klein, etc. These films were not only part of a third wordlist, international solidarity network addressing urgent struggles, but they were vehicles to learn from other revolutionary struggles and to express solidarity with them, creating new forms of cinematic exhibition, production, distribution and pedagogy.


Today, militant cinema is shown on rare occasions in universities, film clubs or museums to privileged audiences; certainly never to workers, immigrants, guerrilla fighters, or subjects of humanitarian intervention. What can this be a symptom of? Steyerl observes that films have actually never left factories: museums are now lodged in discarded factories incorporating viewers to the «social factory». The «social factory» is a key post-workerist thesis that argues that the mass worker is central to processes of production and reproduction by projecting the shadow of social life into the factory of cognitive work. The «social factory» of the museum, transforms everything it exhibits into culture and viewers into cognitive workers. Thus, today, museums embody the neoliberal notion of culture as commodity because they are tied to the chains of cognitive production, while they contribute to the saturation of meaning in an already overloaded sensible realm or Infosphere. Shown as petrified documents of a bygone era, we must not let militant films keep us in the winter years, disenchanted with the illusions of counter culture, with the failure of the working class to become the motor of history, with the masses’ zombification and lack of spontaneous energy, with the lack of a global discourse to unite all struggles, like Thirdworldism used to do. Instead, we must take up their legacy and the lessons internationalism left behind.


Above all, we have to consider the changes in the past 45 years or so in the form, purpose and discourses in the field of political action: yesterday’s revolutionaries are today’s activists, Whose work is intrinsically tied to semiotic and cultural production instead of armed struggle. Instead of seeking self-determination or to topple power, activists today fight for enacting antagonism and to democratically achieve rights, which are battles of visibility and human rights. A term has been coined to define this new form of hybrid political action: artivism; the artivist is «someone who uses her artistic talents to fight and struggle against injustice and oppression by any medium necessary»[24]. In an era in which social movements are configured as social networks, they come to be linked through artivism using technology as their main weapon[25]. The problem is that these practices tend to derive in a kind of politics where expression and communication precede or take the place for action, and the enunciation of a position. Today’s activists declare antagonism democratically demanding that their rights be respected, which is a battle of visibilities and human rights out of the field of possibility of emancipation and political self-determination based on dignity and autonomy from the yoke of the new authoritarianisms of capitalist absolutism materialized in neoliberal governments, transnational corporations and organized crime.


Under Semiocapitalism, as images have become forms of power and governance, by carrying information without meaning, automating thought and will, political action has migrated to the mediascape: a form of political action in the realm of signs, that reduces Jacques Ranciere assertion that:«Politics is first and foremost an intervention upon the visible and the sayable».[26]


«Sensible politics» presupposes that art can bring a different way of looking, and thus seeks to disrupt the ‘normal’ relationships between text and the visible; it is also a form of non-governmental politicization active at the level of encoding unstable political acts in medial forms.


In a way, sensible politics has adapted the politics of the image inherited from militant filmmaking and adapted it to today’s tastes, neoliberal (humanitarian) sensibility and general de-politization. Erasing the boundaries between everyday life, political reality and creative intervention, these interventions tend to lack self-reflexivity and a political program, they are sometimes imbued with sad passions (cynicism, impotence, melancholia) and fail to express solidarity. In this context, perhaps visibility and recognition have become the problem. How?


While politicized artistic expressions from the past decade focused on the problems brought about by globalization increased, it becomes evident that cultural production ignores in general the conditions of its own production and exhibition. Art or interventions that can be categorized as sensible politics also make evident a huge, problematic gap between how artists position themselves vis-à-vis non-egalitarian, exploitative conditions of global capitalism – they denounce them through their art in networks of consumption and distribution, which thrive on inequality and exploitation (for example, as they are funded by corporations and corrupt, neoliberal governments). In other words, as the new genre of «contemporary political art» devoted to global issues has flourished in the past decade, it has become evident that art ignores the conditions of its own production and exhibition (let alone, artists’ own position in production and reproduction relationships, which was a crucial question militant filmmakers asked themselves in the ’60).


Therefore, as opposed to creating a political space (like militant films used to do), «sensible politics»«represents» politics in an abstract and detached way. In this regard, one of the things that political filmmaking taught us, which needs to be brought urgently to the fore is to ask the question of representation: «Who speaks and acts, for whom and how?»


It would be worthwhile mentioning Renzo Martens’ pornomiseria film, Enjoy Poverty (2009), which transmits impotent moralizing indignation in the face the economy of the production of images that bear witness to the destitute conditions in which Congolese people live. The film is a critique of concerned artists and documentarians as much as of exploitative photojournalists who work under the premise that things can be better by visualizing suffering and abjection in developing countries. The film also shows how poverty can be an asset to underdeveloped regions because poverty has a specific function in rich countries: to make affluent concerned people feel like they can make a difference.


Under this light, we must consider that today art and culture are central to neoliberal processes as they are being instrumentalized as agents of globalization, as tools for betterment and development, counterinsurgency and pacification. The state and corporations use culture as a tool as they search for economic and sociopolitical betterment — for instance, in peacefully resolving violence and crime, reconstructing the social fabric, transforming society, creating jobs, increasing civic participation, and so forth. So, culture has become a resource and a compensatory device to the ravages neoliberal policies have caused on the social tissue: it gives meaning and symbolic representations, provides mechanisms of solace, as well as tools for re-invention and amelioration.


In my view, the neoliberal cultural project has brought the idea of militancy to the trash: liberal capitalism and Western versions of democracy are considered the only acceptable solutions, while revolutionary ideas are considered to be utopian and criminal: «What is nowadays called terrorism, used to be internationalism» (Hito Steyerl). Anyone who resists being given moral lessons about armed struggle or violence is marginalized in the name of security and rights. Paradoxically, transnational wars are being waged in the name of security and rights.


Sensible politics represents politics in an abstract, vague and disinterested way while it disseminates political practices without previous theoretical analysis that have fallen short in understanding the complexity of contemporary environmental and political problems that we are facing at the global level. Confounding artivism with micropolitics, sensible politics promulgates forms of politicization that are unwilling to pay the real price of political struggle. Sensible politics can be considered to be a postpolitical derivation of militant films. Militant films in the 1960s were very different than the politicized work shown today in museums and political or documentary film festivals: they were cine-events meant to create «visual bonds», that is, links amongst workers and revolutionaries across the world in order to inform, entertain and organize them. International solidarity and its symbolic and discursive catalyzers have disappeared, along with the figure of the worker as the leading figure of socio-political change. The demise of party politics and the reconfiguration of the political landscape into an archipelago of social movements, has given leeway to an array of sporadic struggles, demonstrations and occupations isolated from each other, lacking signifiers that would encompass all struggles and find ties throughout the rest of the world. Ironically, the internationalist perspective of the left has been replaced by the cutthroat titans of capital: the new plutocracy with liberal mentality carrying out entrepreneurial charity, seek to change the world by applying the same formulas that made them rich in the first place. This new plutocracy (Russian, Mexican, American, etc. oligarchs that run global corporate monopolies) emerged thanks to the transformation of state-led capitalism by neoliberal or free market policies. The changes in capitalism urge us to create a new form of politics, beyond class, de-colonization and anti-imperialist struggles; to account for the new forms of power, subjection, exploitation and the new wave of «primitive accumulation». This wave of primitive accumulation is best exemplified by transnational megaprojects of resource extraction worldwide.


In this light, the current discourse of «exclusion» for example, is too weak to offer a social base to critique the system. The exploited are not only those who produce or ‘create’ but also those who are condemned not to ‘create.’ Domination is therefore inscribed in the very structure of the production process, which is why everyone can have personal freedom and equality but only formal freedom and a graded equality, with many having no access at all to jobs, education, healthcare, housing, and other profit-generating enterprises, services or goods.


Denouncing wrongs by visualizing them and showing what the media or mainstream discourses do not, are now well-established strategies of «sensible politics» and forms of counter-information. Gilles Deleuze noted in his conference at la FEMIS in 1987 that counter-information only becomes effective when it is by nature, an act of resistance: the act of resistance is not to «counter-inform» but to resist against the neoliberal destruction of forms of life and common experiences; it means to defend the right to protect something that already exists, or to protest against something that is already lost or about to be lost. We could argue that sensible politics is not a means to resist, especially if we consider that critiques of capitalism need a social base. Sensible politics makes evident a gap between real politics and the public sphere (as the site for potential political action), which is being filled by both spectacle and cultural production, acquiring a substitutive political function.


The example that comes to mind is James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar. Made with computerized animation technology, the film depicts an originary people’s struggle to defend its form of life in the face of the threat of corporate dispossession and displacement. The ordeal suffered by the Navi people in Avatar mirrors ordeals that communities across the world are undergoing in terms of the worldwide extraction of resources or developmental programs, like electricity damns and Aeolic plants, oil and mineral extraction or even fracking. These projects are destroying the land, homes and liveliehoods of millions of people. What interests me about Avatar here, is neither the trivialization (by romanticizing) current orignary people’s struggles, nor how the film transmits politically correct heroic failure, melancholia, impotence, martyrdom and hope (and by transmitting them, it is putting social-democratic and Christian affects into circulation). What I find very symptomatic of our current Baudrillesque paradigm of political representation is that on February 12th 2010, in the weekly protest against the Apartheid Wall in the Palestinian village of Bil’in in the West Bank, five Palestinian, Israeli and international activists dressed up to look like characters from the film. The activists’ adoption of Hollywood political correctness sought to turn the weekly protest into a media event that would make the Palestinian cause «more humane» to unsympathetic Israelis and unaware foreigners (who’d all seen the film). This event not only highlights the gap I already described, between real politics and the public sphere (as the site for political action), but it is an instance of the confusion of politics with its representation, which misrepresented the Palestinian cause, actually hindering effective political action. This confusion highlights how visibility and recognition have become tyrannical: «The more I am recognized, the more my gestures are hindered, internally hindered».[27] By being recognized I get caught in the super-tight meshwork of the new power, which demands identification to enable collective surveillance. Perhaps the question today is not what to do, but how to do it. What is needed is to create zones of opacity where bodies are no longer separate from their claims or their gestures, enabled by sites of enunciation (rather than of visibilization) where a political stand can be taken beyond the exhausted frames of left and right. Speaking back, the gap that the mediatization of mediation created between speech and action needs to be overcome, in order to wage a war in the name of our nameless existence.



Irmgard Emmelhainz



 [1] Jean-Luc Godard “Manifeste”, Jean-Luc Godard Documents edited by David Faroult, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 2006, pp. 138-140

[2] See: Megan McLagan and Yates McKee, «Introduction», Sensible Politics: The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Activism, Zone Books, Cambridge, Mass. 2012

[3] For an analysis of both, Ici et ailleurs and Godard’s militant films, see my essays: «Between Objective Engagement and Objective Cinema: Jean-Luc Godard’s «militant filmmaking» (1967-1974)», e-flux journal nº 34, April 2012; and e-flux journal, nº35, May 2012) and «From Thirdworldism to Empire: Jean-Luc Godard and the Palestine Question», Third Tex, Vol. 23, nº5, 2009, pp. 659-656. For an analysis of montage and what Godard calls images de marque in Ici et ailleurs see Irmgard Emmelhainz , «Trademark Images and Perception:Godard, Deleuze and Montage», Nierika, Revista de estudios de arte, Vol. 5, May 2014, pp. 30-44 Also my forthcoming book Jean-Luc Godard’s Political Filmmaking, Palgrave McMillan, London 2018.

[4] As they state in «What is to be done?», Afterimage, nº1, April 1970.

[5] Roland Barthes, Le Degré zéro de l’écriture, Seuil, Paris 1953.

[6] Franco Berardi (Bifo), La fábrica de la infelicidad. Nuevas formas de trabajo y movimiento global, Traficantes de Sueños, Madrid 2003, p.20

[7] Sylvain Dreyer, Image & Narrative Vol. 11, No. 1, 2010

[8] Immanuel Kant, “The Contest of the Faculties”, Kant: Political Writings, The University Press, Cambridge 1991, pp. 182-183

[9] Elias Sanbar, “Vingt et un ans après”, Traffic no. 1, 1991, pp. 115-122

[10] “You are completely irresponsible, our enemy is ferocious and unlike us, they take things very seriously. It has already been three times that the ‘recognizing’ units make us cross the Jordan River at the exact same spot and every time the enemy is waiting for us there . . . Now we have lost our brothers.” Ibid., 116.

[11] Masao Adachi, «The Testament that Godard has never Written», (2002) published in French by Nicole Brenez and Go Hirasawa (eds.), Le Bus de la revolution passera bientôt pres de chez toi, Éditions Rouge Profond, Paris 2012, translated to English by Stoffel Debuysere, Mari Shields and available online:

[12] Ibid.

[13] In: “Introduction: The History of Semiotext(e)”, Hatred of Capitalism, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles 2001, p. 10

[14] See Gilles Deleuze, “La gauche a besoin d’intercesseurs”, Pourparlers, Les Éditions de Minuit, Paris 1990, pp. 165

[15] Kristin Ross, May ’68 and its Afterlives, The University Press, Chicago 2002, p. 11

[16]«The other is the elsewhere of our here».

[17] Jean Baudrillard, “Requiem for the Media”, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, Telos, St. Louis Mo 1981

[18]. Jean-Luc Godard, «Moi, je», Jean-Luc Godard Documents, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 2006

[19] See Kristin Ross, May ’68 and its Afterlives, p. 176.

[20] Jacques Derrida, Ecographies of Television: Filmed Interviews, Polity, Cambridge 2002, p. 24

[21] See Geert Lovink, “Hermes on the Hudson: Notes on Media Theory after Snowden”, e-flux Journal nº 54, April 2014 available online:

[22]«Friend or enemy, we produce and consume his/her/our image against that of the other».

[23]«Very quickly, as they say, the contradictions explode and you with them // and I begin to see // and I begin to see // and I begin to see that I with them».

[24]Alnoor Ladha, “Kenya: Artivists Versus the State”, Aljazeera, April 16, 2014 available online:

[25] See Raquel Schefer, “Une forme présente en tension filmique. Représentation cinématographiques des mouvements politiques contemporains”, La furia umana nº19, March 2014 available online:

[26] Ten Theses on Politics, available online:]

 [27] Tiqqun, “How Is It To Be Done?”, November 2008, available online: