Monique Rooney on Malabou’s Anarchy and Varda’s Sans Toit ni Loi (1985)

Join us for the next CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 25 August 2022, 5.00pm – 6.30pm (Please note that this seminar is beginning at the later than normal time of 5pm; please note also that this seminar is taking place via zoom ONLY; please contact monique.rooney@anu.edu.au for the link and password).

The Pleasure of Self-Erasure: Catherine Malabou, (Sexual) Anarchy and Agnès Varda’s Sans Toi ni Loi (1985)

Adventures and solitude of a young vagabond (neither withdrawn nor talkative), told by those who had crossed her path, that winter in the South of France. But can one render silence, or capture freedom?

The film wanders between Mona and the others. We glimpse their lives, and then move on. I really liked all the characters in this story, here and there, like small “figures” in a winter landscape, where, coming toward us, walking, is a rebellious girl. (Agnès Varda, “Publicité,” quoted in Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, To Desire Differently 285-6).

This work-in-progress paper reads Agnès Varda’s Sans Toit ni Loi (meaning “without roof or law”) through the lens of Catherine Malabou’s conceptualisation of anarchy as order without command or beginning (“Politics of Plasticity: Cooperation without Chains,” 2021, and Pleasure Erased: The Clitoris Unthought, 2022). I elucidate key elements of Malabou’s anarchy and, in particular, I highlight her argument that the clitoris (a “little pebble” or “scruple”) is a symbol of sexual anarchy. The paper also draws on Rebecca J. DeRoo’s argument that Varda cultivated “strategic naivety,” with her public presentation of her apparently artless relation to cinema history enabling her negotiation of, and survival within, a male-dominated industry. DeRoo also highlights the disruptive role that non-cinematic works, including Renaissance painting and vernacular photography, play in Varda’s films. My paper suggests that it is the intermedial role of photography and ancient myth that meaningfully punctuate both Sans Toit ni Loi’s montage and narrative. My paper ultimately suggests that the female film-maker partially occludes the anarchic (“wandering”) nature of film itself, training its attention instead on the image of the “rebellious girl” that is Mona Bergeron (Sandrine Bonnaire).

Monique Rooney teaches literature, film, television and new media in the English program, School of Literature, Languages and Literatures (ANU). The author of Living Screens: Melodrama and Plasticity in Contemporary Film and Television (2015), she is currently writing a book titled Brow Network: Programs and Promises. The plan is that this paper’s reading of anarchy in Varda will be published as part of a collection of essays on Malabou in an upcoming special issue of Film-Philosophy.


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