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[In this] lucid, accessible and imaginative book, Richard Dienst convincingly effects and invites a thinking of the image and its inherent ethico-political potential as ongoing montage that might challenge consensus and power relations. In the variety of examples and the suggestion of extensibility, Seeing from Scratch will be of interest to those already familiar with Godard, those interested in different ways of writing film-philosophy in accessible and imaginative ways, and, in the clear roadmap that the book offers for an actual classroom exercise, those teaching film.
— Michael Grace, Studies in European Cinema

Seeing from Scratch: 15 Lessons with Godard arrives on our virtual bookshelves at the perfect time. Never have we needed to rethink how we teach and learn about images more than we do now, a time when we are buried beneath bewildering imagery and when higher education is being transformed in dispiriting ways before our very eyes. Richard Dienst offers us a series of provocations infused with a wit and intelligence equal to that of Jean-Luc Godard, whose work is the inspiration for this ambitious attempt to rebuild a pedagogy of images from the ground up. It should inspire students and teachers of film alike in ways that will surely surprise them.
— Christopher Pavsek, Simon Fraser University, author of The Utopia of Film: Cinema and Its Futures in Godard, Kluge and Tahimik

In Seeing from Scratch: 15 Lessons with Godard, Richard Dienst teaches us how to see and thereby think through the Swiss filmmaker’s cinematic imaginary. Combining his acute critical lens with a more playful example from a postcard game, Dienst illuminates Godard’s strategic deployment of a system of montage in which a careful selection of images is set in motion, generating a series of profound meditations. Dienst persuasively demonstrates how images, even when isolated, are never alone but exist in complex relationships with each other, forming ever-changing constellations.
— Nora M. Alter, Temple University, author of The Essay Film after Fact and Fiction

Seeing from Scratch: Fifteen Lessons with Godard, with The Postcard Game

Richard Dienst (Rutgers University)

Taking as his starting point fifteen characteristically penetrating epigrams by Jean-Luc Godard, Richard Dienst invites us to trace a new path through some of the fundamental questions of cinema. Godard has never stopped offering lessons about seeing and thinking, always insisting that we have to learn how to start over. By starting over ‘from scratch’, Godard challenges us to rethink our ideas about embodied perception, material form and the politics of making images.

Less a commentary on Godard’s oeuvre than an outline of a Godardian pedagogy, Seeing from Scratch offers a theoretical exercise book for students, teachers and practitioners alike, pursuing unexpectedly far-reaching ways to think through images. Along the way we encounter, in this brief, accessible essay, ideal for classroom use, a wide range of thinkers whose ideas are put to practical use working through the intellectual and aesthetic questions and challenges Godard’s epigrams suggest. Readers are thus introduced to some of the essential currents in canonical and contemporary thinking on the image, from Kant to Klee, Reverdy to Rancière and Brecht to Bresson – not in the abstract, but as part of the book's practical approach to intellectual problem solving. In its conversational tone, return to fundaments and practical pedagogical approach, Seeing from Scratch is an essay for the media age in the mould of John Berger's Ways of Seeing from the 1970s: a new way of discussing the theory and practice of images and the film image.

A companion piece, ‘The Postcard Game’, presents a scene from an imaginary classroom, where a stack of postcards—like those found throughout Godard’s work—provokes a spiralling series of questions about images, texts and the manifold pathways of the creative process, providing a template for similar new kinds of pedagogical activity and discussion.

Like Cinesthesia in the Theory and Practice series, Seeing from Scratch is being published in a pandemic-era electronic edition only. With dozens of colour screen grabs peppering the striking black-and-white typography, reminiscent perhaps of certain film essay books from the past, Seeing from Scratch makes use of all the design possibilities offered by the electronic format.

This quotation, spoken in English by Godard, is drawn from Robert Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematograph. Bresson’s book is a compilation of aphorisms, slogans and verbal sketches, encompassing philosophical observations, personal exhortations and story ideas, all taken from the ‘log books’ he kept between 1950 and 1974. In this clipped and gnomic form, Bresson’s Notes resembles nothing so much as a book of spiritual exercises for aspiring filmmakers. This particular aphorism dates from 1950–58.

On this account, images acquire their power not because of their inherent qualities, but because they prove themselves to be transformable, that is, because they can act upon other images, and be acted upon in turn. This claim must be surprising to anyone who has admired a particular shot in a movie for its pictorial qualities; it is hard to resist the idea that a great film would be one where every shot could stand on its own. (The photographic ideal dies hard.) Yet any image that presents itself as self-sufficient—one that includes its own meaning, that tells you everything you need to know, that can be taken at face value—will be useless for the purposes of montage, that is to say, for cinema and for thinking. In fact, we could just as well say that no such image exists.

In an earlier aphorism, Bresson explains: ‘An image must be transformed by contact with other images as is a colour by contact with other colours. A blue is not the same blue beside a green, a yellow, a red. No art without transformation’. Just before the passage quoted by Godard, Bresson proposes a ‘Cinematographer’s film where the images, like the words in a dictionary, have no power and value except through their position and relation’.
— Richard Dienst

5.5 x 8.5 in., 130 pp., 57 colour illustrations. Library PDF, ISBN 978-1-927852-37-8. Kindle, $10.

Richard Dienst is Professor in the Department of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. He is the author of The Bonds of Debt: Borrowing Against the Common Good and Still Life in Real Time: Theory After Television. His essays on Jean-Luc Godard, Bertolt Brecht and cultural theory have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals.