Please join us for a lecture co-sponsored by the German Department and the Program in Cinema Studies
Cecilia Novero, Associate Professor, University of Otago (Aotearoa - New Zeland)
"The Radical Vulnerability of Agency: Grievability in Michael Haneke's Code Unknown (2000)"
Just prior to 9/11, Haneke’s film Code Unknown: An Incomplete Tale of Different Journeys (2000) was released in Europe: a series of successive tableaux depicting the random and generally ‘aggressive’ encounters among strangers, neighbors, family members, lovers etc., the film displays a network of challenging interdependence amongst the inhabitants of Paris. The film was variously and somewhat convincingly critiqued as conservative reproduction of the idea of the clash of civilizations, static in form and essentialist in its politics, a politics that, allegedly, underwrites the doom and decline of the West. Accordingly, the West has descended into a world where only irreparable relations of “contempt” (Ver-Achtung) and care-lessness, rather than attention, govern. The few critics who have observed the film’s engagement with hospitality have for their part emphasized how the film insists on hospitality’s failure.
Contra these readings, my paper attempts to rescue the film by enlisting Judith Butler on vulnerability. I suggest that, while perhaps the film can be read as demonstration of the clash of civilizations, Code Unknown also subtly provides us with its antidote. I see the antidote as lying in the film’s aesthetics of “long shots”. Indeed, here, this cinematic strategy calls close attention to the (characters’) body as vulnerable – i.e. injured—and as grieving. The film captures the body as overwhelmed by grief, the grieving for another’s pain. I argue that Code Unknown makes manifest the interdependence of all in the precariousness (existential)/precarity (socio-political) of everyone’ s life today: every character is exposed to the other. As I conclude, the film thus compels us to at least ask, with Butler: “what obligations are to be derived from this dependency, contiguity and unwilled proximity that now defines each population, which exposes each to the fear of destruction? …” (Frames of War). In showing that all habitation is co-habitation, and that co-habitation is always fragile, the film – I posit-- demands a politics that takes into account and responds to the radical vulnerability of agency.
For students and staff at Rutgers, the film is available at: https://rutgers.kanopy.com/video/code-unknown. Thank you for your time!