A Cosmopolitics of Grievable Bodies: Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown (2000)
Cecilia Novero, Associate Professor of German
University of Otago (Aotearoa – New Zealand)
Michael Haneke’s film Code Unknown: An Incomplete Tale of Different Journeys (2000) was released in Europe, just prior to 9/11. Composed of a series of tableaux depicting the random and generally ‘aggressive’ encounters among strangers, neighbours, family members, lovers etc., the film display how the lives of the inhabitants of a contemporary metropolis such as Paris are interdependent, both in distance and proximity. The film was variously critiqued as representing the Huntingtonian position on the clash of civilizations. Accordingly, the West would appear as a world dominated by irreparable relations of “contempt” (Ver-Achtung) and care-lessness, rather than attention. The few scholars who, in contrast, have observed the film’s engagement with hospitality have for their part emphasized how the film insists ends up focusing on hospitality’s failure.
Contra these readings, my paper attempts to rescue the film by enlisting Judith Butler’s analysis of vulnerability. I suggest that Code Unknown subtly provides us with an antidote to the clash of civilisations, which it may seem to portray. I see the antidote as lying in the film’s aesthetics of “long shots”. I argue that 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. Code Unknown makes manifest the interdependence of all in the precariousness (existential)/precarity (socio-political) of everyone’ s life: every character is shown to be 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.
Sponsored by the Department of Germanic Studies and Co-sponsored by Moving Image Arts.