- arrêt sur visagefrom Hatred of Translation1
or else isolated in silence—Danielle Collobert, Ça des mots
In the language of film there are often extraordinary divergences between English and French, which prove at times to be irreconcilable.2 If this tendency toward discrepancy is true of translation as a rule, it reveals itself to be particularly true in the case of this work in translation. Danielle Collobert's Recherche,3 rendered as Research, in which the search of re-search must be read as detachable, with emphasis on its repetitive motion—but also in its slide from substantive to predicate (search>searches)—makes salient such divergences, through the implied camera movement panning over the evacuated faces of A and B and the marked distances especially that define the space of their bodies, in proximity and in remove, as though the text were annotating a form of recusal that is implicit in the spaces of desire to which their mortiferous movements owe everything; an intimacy of anticipated death, and seizure, from which the camera extracts movements of degradation through violent stillness.
Indeed the term still here is adopted to render the French arrêt, proposing a false equivalency between the (film) still and its seemingly concordant locution, the arrêt (sur image). These are "attested" terms that reveal something of the contexts in which each seeks to function. In Recherche Collobert limits herself [End Page 138] to the use of arrêt sur, designating in each instance a specific detail on which the camera is to stop. "Stop" of course is one of the translations of the lone substantive "arrêt," which also implies "arrest" (from the verb arrêter), replete with its juridical (enforceable/enforcible) intent.4
One might just as readily translate "arrêt sur" as "stop at," stopping at nothing to achieve the irresistible demands of such a transitive language that subverts its own objectivity through a persistent preference for passive forms, abdicating one's responsibility to the law in abject deference to its capital aims. Regimens of grammar are coincident with regimens of power now as always.5
More than one frontier has now been crossed, and reading the three works6 gathered by Françoise Morvan under the title Expériences (experiments and/ or experiences) in this so-called America is a serious transposition indeed in which the sands of north-western France adjoining the virulent Atlantic, may readily allow themselves to be supplanted by an imagined far-ouest of burnt deserts shimmering with radioactive particulate, under some gun. These are voided investigations that succeed only in subtracting the body from its criminality—a condemnation of ages pressed into moments, a crime committed to each and every one.
Meurtre (Murder), the title of Collobert's first acknowledged work,7 is just as operative in these cinematic and radiophonic works; indeed, it can be read as a mot d'ordre for her entire oeuvre,8 and with which its entire topography is suffused. The stills of Recherche and "Polyphonie" attest to this, as does the recurrence of the isolate arrêt, whether in its designation of a bus stop or a pause in action (breaks in the fight, for example, between B and the man on the dock), toppling into the near untranslatable arrêts in the plural, stops, which invites, again, a transitive reading rather than the congealment of the plural substantive, and this, in keeping with the stares that transfix and bore into the faces verging on the dunes. The polysemic displacement of arrêt is such that the cumulative effect of its multiply transposed sense is that of a filmstrip caught in a projector, and it isn't clear whether the image is held or whether it is caught in the mechanism; in either case, the reader is among those held captive by a language that forbids release, burrowing instead, more deeply, into a thickeningly menacing interiority with its inscription of fear similar to that elicited by the perceived approach of the beast in Kafka's "The Burrow." The time of exposure holds the permanent promise of such a threat. [End Page 139]