Thoughts on “Hiroshima, Mon Amour.”

I recently watched this fantastic 1969 film Hiroshima Mon Amour, directed by Alain Resnais and written by the exceptional Marguerite Duras. I’d also recommend the film to anyone who likes a classic, or who has an interest in things that are beautiful. I thought I might say a few things about it. Also, Hubert Dreyfus talks about it in his lecture series on Kierkegaard– which I think is just brilliant.

This film smoulders at the edges with incoherent light, like the edges of burnt newsprint. It is black and white, which means that the fire has gone out. It is covered in coal dust, and the coal might be from wood or metal. Or perhaps, the ashes might be flesh.

Flesh, human life, cities and memories all are subject to the law of impermanence. Even when they are shot through with violence and love, those tethers can’t hold them down– and they float away into the sky.

We could say that Nevers (Emanuelle Riva)– the female character as she is named at the end of the film– and Hiroshima (Eiji Okada)–the male character of whom can be said the same disgrace themselves together. But do so only to re-enact a trauma that is passed and which therefore can never be touched again. It’s an experiment in fossilizing pain. At least in the case of Nevers, her defining pain is something she clings to, and which she is compelled to relive again and again through her affair with Hiroshima and other men, as we come to learn..

Hiroshima was a city that disappeared in an instant. It was also a horrible scar, left by the most brutal and impactful conflict in human history. These assets fix it as a perfect scapegoat for a sacrifice.

In the first scene, Nevers and Hiroshima are entangled, as they question each other over documentary footage detailing the horrific aftermath of the atomic bomb. In this light, it is significant I think that the trauma of Nevers was individual, while the trauma of Hiroshima was collective.

There is something essentially audacious about comparing the loss of a single individual to the loss of an entire city. I suppose the way we can satisfy our concerns as viewers of this film would be to acknowledge that his own knowledge of Nevers’ secret love is what brings Hiroshima to accept her on his own grounds. Where previously– as in the beginning of the film– he did not believe that she had seen suffering that was comparable to his own.

But both know what it’s like to be mad with grief. The film-makers wisely unplumb the depth of world-death. They use the death of one’s lover to point at it indirectly. That’s probably because it’s impossible to fit something so large in something as small as a film. It would be easier to fit an elephant into a tea-cup.

The Mythology of Making Words.

I am deeply suspicious of any writer who thinks that writing about writing is the right way to go about it. This is a problem, because so many people think the right way to start writing is to feverishly scribble down the one lousy thing they were given to say in their lives, and then they just spend the rest of the time doing that (1).

While I sure hope I have things left to say, I do think I’ve spent enough time in front of a blank page making words appear to talk about what Hubert Dreyfus would call ‘the real phenomenon’ of writing. That is, the experience of doing it, of setting yourself to the physical process and not letting go until it’s done resolving itself. I don’t think this is anything special. It is perfectly accessible to anyone willing to do it.

There is some garbage that culture tells itself regarding what it’s like to write, and I’d like to get it all out of the way, just so I know where I stand on the matter. If you like it too, all the better! Don’t get sucked in by people who think in the following terms. They’re charlatans.

I. ‘Divine Madness.’

Hemingway never said ‘write drunk, edit sober.’ Having done it myself, it’s a terrible idea. I’ve only seen it work once in person, and while it did really work, I’m not convinced the guy who pulled it off wasn’t a genius anyway. In history, as well as in all things, Bukowski is the exception.

Don’t align things like creativity and things like self-destruction. It’s too easy, and too cheap. If I had a penny for every college colleague who lived the idea that Bacchus was optreme angle from which to approach the process of producing a thing– this could include academic work and essays– then I’d have maybe around ten bucks, which I could then spend on a book that was actually good.

The mistake is understandable. If it hurts like love, smells like love, and feels like love, it must be love, right? Wrong. Detecting the loss of your ego could be a sign you got your self out of the way long enough to produce something you couldn’t expect. That’s a sign of good writing. Or it might be a sign that you’ve blasted yourself out of your mind on something prescription or non-prescription.

I like Hunter S. Thompson as much as the next guy, but even he admitted that he could never keep up with his own press. Fitting way to go for a newspaper man.

II. That the Writing is Yours; That it Comes from You.

If it’s true that you have to get yourself out of the way for anything good to come, and it is, then you can’t be the place that it comes from. Because remember, you aren’t so much more than just a bundle of preconceptions about the thing trying to be born through your skull.

The myth of the birth of Athena is archetypal, and as anxious as Jungian analysis makes me these days, I’m tempted to point out the ways in which the myth needs to mirror the truth.

All the plans and structures in the world can only get you so far when you have to confront the page at the end of it. You don’t get anything good without risking carpal tunnel or RSI. That means scribbling out and replacing, frequently. I’m not saying this to sound cool, or exclusive, or elitist– I’m just saying it because it’s true.

The reason why it helps to put down the pages of pre-determination and make is because only when you really enjoy the process of making do you and your preconceptions fuck off for long enough for something good to happen. Just trust it, cause it will happen. And when it does, it can be glorious, and that’s the gamble.

Footnotes.

(1): I say this while apologizing to Quentin Tarantino, whose Inglourious Basterds is really little more than writing about writing inasmuch as it is a film about films. That said, it remains one of the single finest god damn films I’ve ever seen, not because it was art, but because it was good. I don’t think he was one of those people I demean.