Understanding Immemory with a little help from Raymond Bellour

PART I: PUBLICATION

Title: Immemory
Platform: CD-ROM for MacOS and Windows PC
Production: Coproduction Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne / Les films de l’Astrophore
Edition: Direction des Editions du Centre Pompidou
Date: © 1998
Recommended Price: 295 FF (44,97)
Publisher’s Notes (from website): “Chris Marker organise les fragments marquants de son oeuvre et de sa vie sous forme de “zones” interactives concernant le cinéma, la guerre, les voyages. Il ‘cartographie le pays imaginaire qui s’étend au-dedans de lui.'”

Additional notes: Immemory a été composé avec Hyperstudio [...] Traitement d’image: Fractal Design Painter / Adobe Photoshop / Studio 32 / Morph / Kai’s Power Tools.

Selected notes from the CD-ROM booklet by Chris Marker:

“Dans nos moments de rêverie mégalomaniaque, nous avons tendance à voir notre mémoire comme une espèce de livre d’Histoire: nous avons gagné et perdu des batailles, trouvé et perdu des empires. A tout le moins nous sommes les personnages d’un roman classique (‘Quel roman que ma vie!”). Une approche plus modeste et peut-être plus fructueuse serati de considérer les fragments d’une mémoire en terms de géographie. Dans toute vie nous trouverions des continents, des îles, des déserts, des marais, des territoires surpeuplés et des terrae incognitae. De cette mémoire nous pourrions dessiner la carte, extraire des images avec plus de facilité (et de vérité) que des contes et légendes. Que le sujet de cette mémoire se trouve être un photographe et un cinéaste ne veut pas dire que sa mémoire est en soi plus intéressante que celle du monsieur qui passe (et encore moins de la dame), mais simplement qu’il a laissé, lui, des traces sur lesquelles on peut travailler, et des contours pour dresser ses cartes.”

[In our moments of megalomaniacal daydreaming, we tend to view our memory as a kind of History Book: we have won and lost battles, found and lost whole empires. At the very least we are characters from a classic novel ('My life is such a novel!'). A more modest and perhaps more fruitful approach would be to consider the fragments of memory in terms of geography. In every life, we would find continents, islands, deserts, swamps, overpopulated territories and terrae incognitae. From this memory we can draw the map, extract images with more ease (and truth) than do stories and legends. That the subject of this memory is found to be a photographer or a filmmaker does not imply that his memory is more interesting than that of any passing gentleman (or moreover, than that of the lady), but simply that he has left traces with which one can work, and contours to help draw up the map.]

Immemory“Mon hypothèse de travail était que toute mémoire un peu longue est plus structurée qu’il ne semble. Que des photos prises apparemment par hasard, des cartes postales choisies selon l’humeur du moment, à partir d’une certaine quantité commencent à dessiner un itinéraire, à cartographier le pays imaginaire qui s’étend au dedans de nous.”

[My working thesis was that every somewhat extensive memory is more structured than it seems -- that photos taken apparently at random, postcards chosen following momentary whims, begin given a certain accumulation to sketch an itinerary, to map the imaginary land that stretches out inside of us.]

“L’Art de la Mémoire’ est [...] une très ancienne discipline, tombée (c’est un comble) dans l’oubli à mesure que le divorce entre physiologie et psychologie se consommait. Certains auteurs anciens avaient des méandres de l’esprit une vision plus fonctioinnelle, et c’est Filippo Gesualdo, dans sa Plutosofia (1592) qui propose une image de la mémoire en termes d’«arborescence» parfaitement logicielle, si j’ose cet adjectif.”

[‘The art of memory’ is a very ancient discipline, fallen (that takes the cake!) into oblivion as the divorce between physiology and psychology came to pass. Certain antique authors had a more functional vision of the twists and turns of the mind, and it is Filippo Gesualdo, in his Plutosofia (1592) who proposes an image of memory in terms of ‘branching’ that is perfectly “softwary”, [softwarian?] if I dare use this adjective.]

PART II: INVESTIGATION

aller retourLaurent Roth and Raymond Bellour, Qu’est-ce qu’une madeleine? A propos du CD-ROM Immemory de Chris Marker (Paris: Yves Gevaert Editeur / Centre Georges Pompidou), 1997
Languages: French and English

Contents:
Avant-propos de Christine van Assche / Forward by Christine van Assche
Laurent Roth, “D’un Yakoute affligé de strabisme” / “A Yakut Afflicted with Strabismus”
Raymond Bellour, “Le livre, aller; retour” / “The Book, Back and Forth”
Filmographie / Filmography

EXCERPTS FROM RAYMOND BELLOUR, “THE BOOK, BACK AND FORTH”:

“Since the famous article by Andre Bazin on Lettre de Sibérie, Marker’s cinema has primarily been defined as ‘essay film.’* Adopting Vigo’s phrase about A propos de Nice, Bazin spoke of ‘an essay documented by film.’ He stressed the importance of the word essay, ‘understood in the same way as in literature: both an historical and political essay, though written by a poet.’ In this brief article he did not recall all that the essay form owes to the letter; nor did he recall that Marker had borrowed it from Michaux, whose departures from the deceptively clear definition of poetry had left his critics perplexed. Marker’s essays have since taken many forms: they bear witness as much to a strategy of mood as to variations modulated by his subjects (countries, portraits, problems…), his commissions, and his working rhythms (punctual engagements with ‘hot’ material, long-term projects). One could draw a map of all that, to the point where nothing would be visible for the density of the crisscrossing lines. Still one thing is sure: the subjectivity expressed here with such force and such ease does not only stem from the power to say ‘I,’ of which Marker makes immoderate use. It springs from a more general capacity: the viewer is always taken as a third party to what he sees, through what he hears. Marker’s formula is exchange, in the elective modes of conversation and correspondence. But since he does not believe in the communication under which our epoch agonizes, he knows that the only real exchange resides in the address, the way the person who speaks to us situates himself in what he says, with respect to what he shows. It is not only a question of cinema, or of television. It is not limited to the position of the essay which, in Marker’s employ, encourages this overflow of address. It is a question of writing and of enunciation, in the broad and the restricted senses. One feels this constantly as one moves through Immemory. The hero who says ‘I’ without liking to appear (except behind the shelter of his Rolleiflex) appeals first to the fetish animal, Guillaume-en-Egypte, the ‘silent-movie-cat’ who serves as his double and shifter, his delegated guide and witness. In this way the different persons of the verb can circulate even more fluidly through Immemory and through all his texts, as well as the commentaries and voices of his films: I, you, he, she, one, we, they, returning finally to ‘I.’ This fluidity implies knowing how to address oneself in order to move toward others, and knowing how to touch the other of each one who becomes involved. Beyond humanism, it is a gift of alterity, guaranteed perhaps by an ethis of reserve. This is what links Marker to Michaux. The letter, for Michaux, is only the crystalline form of a larger manner of always addressing the reader, of calling upon hiim with all the means of the language.” [109-111]

“The impression that Marker is speaking to us also derives from the extraordinary mass of people to which, one by one, he has given the chance to speak, the right to the image. He has done so by largely dispappearing as an interviewer (even using footage filmed by others), except in those cases where the dialogue meant too much to him, as with Kumiko and her mystery. No longer in Immemory do we hear all the witnesses of Joli Mai, A Grin Without a Cat, L’Héritage de la chouette, The Last Bolchevik, and Level Five. We don’t hear anyone. But we see an immensity of beings who gaze back at us, whose mute photographic presence becomes a form of address. They speak to us through their image, through what the captions and texts say or let us guess. This force of the gaze, captured in film and photography by the man with the camera and offered to the viewer, was raised by Marker to the status of a kind of ethical and aesthetic law in Sans soleil, through the powerful image of the market woman of Praia. He returns to it in the Museum zone of Immemory, where he lends a voice to the owl Molly in the London Zoo, who stares us straight in the eye the way only an animal or Mabuse can: ‘To hold up under my gaze has never been an easy test. I have made it my criterion in painting…. With his Venus of Urbino, Titian offered me that gift.’ The sublime lying woman who gazes at us with her oblique eyes fulfills the inner design of every image, as Marker experiences them and persuades us to experience them: this inner design is an address. It is the point to which he leads us, just as a letter arrives at its destination. For an address is as much a destination as a mode of discourse, it is a physical or moral quality as much as an informational sign (for instance, the digital or literal expression representing a site of memory in a computer).” [112-113]

“The dialogue to which Marker invites us recalls, in many respects, that of Video Letter, of the rare and beautiful video letters that the poet Tanikawa and the filmmaker-poet Terayama sent to each other. But as in Immemory, the dialogue between sender and addressee remains virtual; and one still has very little understanding of what a CD-ROM may be, somewhere between the withdrawing film and the book of images. One thinks of the book conceived by Tanikawa, on the occasion of a retreat from writing. A screen-book in landscape format, nothing but signs, pages of images and words, alternating, mixing, edited together with an astonishing freedom: a staggering encyclopedia of everyday life and of life in general. A spectography of Time. The author entitled it Solo and the book was published by Daguerreo Press. These are his ‘Bedside Notes,’ like the book by Sei Shônigon which haunts Sans soleil and to which Marker returns in Immemory – since it is still a matter of making lists and of choosing “the list of ‘things that make the heart beat.'” [113-114]

“How does Marker come to Immemory? And what is Immemory? The three French adjectives condensed into this English word of Marker’s fabrication suggest something so familiar and ancient that its memory would be lost. Doesn’t it designate the impossible character of a personal memory which would be Memory itself? A Memory in which, as if in God or the Machine, the world’s entire memory would be complete? This would be the memory of the future, of the year 4001, in the paradox Marker tantalized us with by evoking the viewpoint of the “imaginary film” that he made and yet did not make with Sans soleil. Yet he already made this film once, from the viewpoint of fiction, projecting toward the future that science-fiction hero whose image of childhood coincides with the vision of his own death: La Jetée once again, from which everything begins, to which everything returns. But how to touch oneself more directly, so as to coincide, at last if not with the absolute image of one’s personal memory, at least with a form that allows one to better understand it by keeping it alive up to the last instant?” [114-115]

“The all-terrain “I” at which Marker has excelled was long that of the chronicle and the voyage, of sentiment and conviction, of a sharing of ideas and sensations. It was implicated in an active political and cultural memory, with which it maintained a relation of playfulness and complicity: the world’s memory, of which it became the voice and testimony. But Marker had not yet implicated himself in his own memory, to the point where the essay and the fictionalization of life come to fuse within the same material, through the very means of their formalization: writing, photography, cinema, video. That would come twenty years after La Jetée, with Sans soleil: the play of pseudonyms, letters, and imbricated voices (borrowed from Michaux once again, this time from Voyage en Grande Garabagne), the slippages of identity, the anamnesis experienced in Vertigo, and through it, in La Jetée, “its remake in Paris,” which already bore in memory the “impossible memory” once touched upon by Hitchcock. And to convey all that, the passages between images, all kinds of images, elaborated over such a long time, reaching a point of incandescence in Sans soleil.” [115]

“From this point forth two movements are intertwined, punctuated by the incursions-interventions without which Marker would not be the indispensable witness he has always remained. The first of these movements is local and temporary; the second appears ineluctable. A long cultural anamnesis brought Marker back to the origins of Western culture, in Greece, with L’Héritage de la chouette (thirteen times 26′). A way of regaining his breath, his distance, particularly in relation to political presentism. Marker set up as many imaginary owls as there are interlocutors (forty-four to be exact) for this inquiry that serves to justify the phrase ascribed to Michaux: “The Sorbonne should be razed, and Chris Marker put up in its place.”** In a minor mode, as though withdrawing behind his material, Marker conceives a renovated version of the West’s temptations; with this return to the source he probes the difficult future of the democratic subject, the links between “The Space Within,” “The Empire of the Signs,” and “The Way of the World.” A few years earlier, Michel Foucault had also taken the route to Greece, like so many others before, to shed the self, and to find himself.” [115-116]

“After this, Marker can mostly be seen trying out other approaches to cinema. Already in 1978, for the exhibition Paris-Berlin at the Pompidou Center, he designed a video wall evoking the imbrication of the First World War and the Soviet Revolution through a montage of films: Quand le siécle a pris forme. But in the late eighties, with Zapping Zone for the exhibition Passages de l’image (also at the Pompidou Center), Marker took the step which truly led him outside the screen and projection, to the installation and monitors: then for the first time he found the occasion to deliver the image that he had been seeking to conceive for so many years in front of his computer. In its voluntary disorder, its fractured zones, its ways of relating the different registers of historical and personal experience, and its sketch of interactivity, Zapping Zone is something like a first outline of Immemory. It is a space of subjectivity constituted as a network, opposing its logic to that of the institution which inspires it and which it ransacks: “Proposals for an imaginary television.” On the other side of the divide, The Last Bolchevik brought the film letters to Alexander Medvedkin together for real television, in a sort of adieu to the great utopian forms, perhaps forever linked, of cinema and politics. Silent Movie seized the occasion offered by the Centennial of Cinema to carry out a return to the films which watched over our childhood, through an homage to silent film, once again in the form of an installation. Finally, the slow transformation of a film that had been so long in the making, announced since Sans soleil, the film about Okinawa, the last monstrous blank in the memory of the Second World War. For the first time and with stunning success, Marker included an actress, Catherine Belkhodja, already present in Silent Movie – the real body of a real phontom-woman, drawn no less directly from “The Space of Shadows” than from the memory of film noir. He films her before his own computer, in his own room of working life; through her he concentrates on a new dialogue with the machine-memory henceforth destined to include all words and images, and to renew our view of creativity and its exchanges. Thus Level Five is the film which leads toward Immemory, but which Immemory already transforms.” [116-118]

“It is difficult, then, to say when Marker began devoting himself to Immemory. He has clearly working on it since he defined a production plan with the Musée national d’art moderne in 1993, but also since he began attempting the invention of a kind of personal language on his computer, and since he began confiding ever more of his memory to the machine. Perhaps he started Immemory at the moment when he chose to write and to film; at the time when memory, after the war and the camps, became his problem, almost his sole subject. He entered Immemory as soon as he began to remember, to remember that he remembered, and to accumulate – in the increasingly dioportionate treasure of his archives where he keeps ‘everything’ – the traces of his life refracted in so many others’ lives: private lives, whose least vestige then ‘immediately sends you signs,’ as he says of the Land of Israel at the beginning of Description d’un combat. One meets them as soon as one begins shuffling around almost at random, through the treasure of Immemory …” [118-119]

FOOTNOTES (selected):

* “Chris Marker, Lettre de Siberie,” in Le Cinema francais de la Liberation a la Nouvelle Vague (Paris: Cahiers du cinema, 1985), pp. 179-181.

** Anatole Dauman records this phrase in his book Souvenir-écran (Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1989), p. 149.

3 thoughts on “Understanding Immemory with a little help from Raymond Bellour

  1. [...] de los referentes de Benjamin y Warburg no puedo dejar de recordar dos más recientes: el Immemory de Chris Marker y, en otra línea, el París: Ciudad Invisible de Bruno Latour que, por cierto, [...]

  2. [...] del videodisc amb Dragon’s Lair de Cinmatronics del 1983 o amb algunes perles del CD-Rom com Immemory del pioner Chris Marker el 1998 o 92 Faces, de Peter Greenaway del 2000. Un territori ben [...]

  3. […] le cadre de l’exposition «Passage de l’image» en 1990 et la production du CD-Rom interactif Immemory, avait refusé à Marker de son vivant ce qu’il lui offre […]

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