Category Archives: Memory

L’entretien infini

An hour-long entretien has been published on France Culture: “Chris Marker (1921-2012),” in the collection “Une vie, un oeuvre” curated by Matthieu Garrigou-Lagrange. This eloquent, personal and erudite conversation is hosted by Virginie Bloch-Lainé; participants include Claude Lanzmann, Régis Debray, Raymond Bellour, Arnaud Lambert, Bruno Muel, Eric Marty and Edourd Waintrop. You can listen to the conversation embedded below or go to to listen, read a summary, and browse selected links and images about Marker.

The arc of the conversation begins with Marker’s origins and early films and concludes with the period where he remained mostly in Paris (with forays into the ‘retreat’ of Second Life) at the helm of his media control center, bringing the world he had traveled to him via global networks and the many monitors that populated his atelier (as shown in several Angès Varda stills). Though his life was both veiled and encrypted in his work, we hear also of the man himself from those who knew and admired him.

Agnès Varda in the Atelier

« Le désordre de son atelier est magnifique. »

Episode 1 of “Agnès de ci de là Varda” on gives viewers a rare glimpse into Chris Marker’s atelier, replete with audio-visual & computer equipment, books, clippings, cats & owls, totemic miscellanea, and a bit of the voice-off of Marker himself. Here is an endless sprawl of creation out of the personal archive, the living space of the magnetic bible continuously remembering itself. Here the traces of travel, of nomadic photo- and cinematography—come to some sort of slow-spiraling gravitational orbit in the artist’s loft, a kind of ground zero of the mnemonic.

Agnes de ci de là Varda
Série documentaire réalisée et commentée par Agnès Varda
(France, 2011, 45mn)
ARTE boutique

Thanks to japanese forms for the letting us know about this fascinating mini-doc by Marker’s longtime friend and fellow filmmaker.


Thus, every self-portrait (unlike autobiography which even when it resorts to a myth such as that of the four ages, is limited to an individual’s memory and to the places where he lived) ceases to be essentially individual except, of course, in a purely anecdotal sense. The writing machine, the system of places, the figures used – everything in it tends towards generalization, whereas the intra-textual memory, that is, the system of cross-references, amplifications, and palinodes that supplants a memory turned towards ‘remembrance,’ produces the mimesis of another type of anamnesis, which might be called metempsychosis; it is, at any rate, a type of archaic and also very modern memory through which the events of an individual life are eclipsed by the recollection of an entire culture, thus causing a paradoxical self-forgetfulness.Michel Beaujour, Poetics of the Literary Self-Portrait

L’Archipel Fantôme: An Appreciation

Mary CelesteThanks to Quentin D. for alerting us to a fascinating poem-image collage narrative entitled L’Archipel Fantôme, set in the virtual space of Second Life, one of many lives known to the transmigrating cat. Though veiled with  elegant self-effacement, this rêverie bears the signature, to our senses, of the master’s hand, mind and spirit (though it is not his own, as we have learned post-post).

The story presents a kind of back and forth play of images and words, the images postcards from the rich space of the Ouvroir and neighboring or jump spaces within Second Life, the texts evocations of a search and encounter with a “sad angel” named Mary Céleste. The quote that serves as the epigraph of the site is from Giraudoux (subject of Marker’s 1952 book for Seuil Giraudoux par lui-même):

“Sa vie nouvelle éclatait déjà sur lui dans le miroir”

The archipelago, as thought-form, experience and poem, visualizes the concept of both the ancient art of memory and the bricolage of Second Life itself, a string of geographies with traversable passages between them: a hyper-natural arcade within which the poet-flâneur is guided by his avatar. The themes of fleeting personal sightings/meetings with a friend-stranger, of discreet moments of bonheur à deux that provide the emotional atmosphere of La Jetée are here, woven concisely into the stanzas (“Nous nous étions promis de nous revoir”).

The tricks of sight and memory are at play: most of the images seem phantasmatic, a mix of dream, hallucination and cinema: sometimes invisible, sometimes semi-transparent, sometimes caught within the process of mutation from one state of being to the next. The quest is less that of Marker’s photography, to capture as in a hunt, than to live within the indecisiveness of these states of image and perception.

Throughout, there is a pacing that is clearly remniscent of La Jetée and, further in the background, of the essay film, with its dense meaning yet light touch that transforms documentary into veiled self-portrait. Here the commentary of the essay film has migrated into poetry and so further condenses, like a white dwarf star. The voice seeks to find the phantom angel girl, not wishing to exhaust the images (or the angel) with words, only grace them with the touch of another medium, as if the image and the word were old friends, each aware of its particular powers, its valences and its limits.

As throughout Marker’s expeditionary career set to celluloid, the theme of traveling and its inter-spaces appears—architectures, visions seen and experienced in the process of moving from one place to another, fleetingly recorded then receding into the past of travel, space moving back into time. One of these images, which “create their own captions” (as Marker once stated as program and wish), attests to the “proof that an image can be a living organism.”

As in Sans Soleil and the book Staring Back, we brush up against the theme of the regard of and from the other. It is not now the length of a single frame of film, 1/24th of a second, nor of the desiring, voyeuristic photographer, but rather a gaze that sees through and beyond while remaining completely present. The gaze of the other shifts from an object of capture to a shared moment of being-together, inscribed emotionally rather than technologically. This is the feel of the encounter with the girl angel, black-haired with a hint of dreadlocks, pale, freckled and clothed in black. A fallen angel? Perhaps. Or an angel of history.

The presence of the encounter takes place within a respect for the intrusiveness of words: “J’évitais d’être trop bavard.” This respect keeps the encounter within the air of mystery that the seeking itself breathes. It also slyly refers to the over-abundance of words in the spaces of social networking, and how silences and listening can be as important as constantly informing an interlocutor, a stranger-friend, of every last detail. Restraint of voice becomes a respect for the miracle of the encounter, and for the unknowable palimpsest of identity. The masks of avatars reveal something already true in the event of meeting another human being: s/he is more than meets the eye. What do we really know, in an encounter, of the past, the durée, the origins and trajectory of this being?

Just as space is fluid, so too is time and memory. The poem speaks of “Deux jours, deux semaines / ou deux mois plus tard, je ne sais plus…”. Objects share this fluidity, and their world a sense of animism, as if all creations within this world were in some manner alive, negotiable in their being, ephemeral and evolving. The world is presented as a puzzle, or rebus, something to be put together to form a whole, itself part of some greater whole … in fractal succession.

The older media are not lost in this space; they become the content, as McLuhan (for whom Marker “gave up Gutenberg long ago”) promised, for the new medium: so projectors of film are themselves fluid objects embedded in the landscapes, sometimes floating freely in the air, at other times installed in intimate spaces that represent new ways of situating the moment of spectation.

The question of authorship is unimportant as fact, though it has its particles of evidence: references to Giradoux, to San Francisco (one thinks of Marker’s intensive encounter retracing the temporality and spatiality of Vertigo), to Cuba, to owls. Throughout there are images of the markerian past, including floating cubes holding images of Le Joli mai, Le Fond de l’air est rouge, Le Mystère Koumiko, and the recurrent image of Guillaume. In the thank you note on the site, the other Guillaume, Guillaume-en-Egypte, is credited as “assistant d’un photographe et vidéaste dont certaines images apparaisent ici furtivement.” That the whole production could have been put together by another, an imposter, a Marker simulacrum, only stitches it tighter into the weave of his oeuvre.

As with authorship, identity and authenticity, the primacy of the human is blurred too. Animals, angels, aliens, architectures and machines all co-exist in the phantasmatic space within which each traversing, each leg of the journey, becomes a unique experience—not re-playable, not monumentalized in any history, not encapsulated in a product with beginning and end, and as such marking another chapter, a further evocation of Marker’s “Farewell to Movies.” But every farewell holds within it the possibility of new encounters, and this work is a testament to those, even as these new encounters hold out finally the message of their own disappearance and sense of loss.

L’Archipel Fantôme:

Chris Marker’s Gifts to Patricio Guzmán

With the recent release of Patricio Guzmán’s epic documentary The Battle of Chile on DVD, a moving tale has come to light: of solidarity among filmmakers; of Marker’s focus on giving without need of thanks; of this nearly inexpressible thank you coming nonetheless years later in a revelatory interview; of collaboration and friendship; and of the redistribution of the means of reproduction that made the impossible film possible.

In the ongoing list of ‘things that quicken the heart,’ this tale certainly takes its rightful place. Marker does not wear his heart on his sleeve; rather, he places it carefully into his actions. In this clip of remarkable recollections by Guzmán of Marker, we see the emotional, inspiring result of several of those actions.

Note 6/2015: The very moving video has unfortunately been taken down from and YouTube, so please refer to the transcription, available here: What I Owe to Chris Marker, Patricio Guzmán

The Battle of Chile on DVD

Battle of Chile DVDIn December 2009, Icarus Home Video released a deluxe 4 disc DVD edition of The Battle of Chile. Their site notes:

Long banned in Chile after Pinochet’s coup, only in 1997 could Guzmán return to show THE BATTLE OF CHILE there for the first time. CHILE, OBSTINATE MEMORY (included on the fourth disc here) is the extraordinarily moving record of that homecoming, and a fitting conclusion to a “thrilling documentary double feature,” “the unusual opportunity to see one film artist sustain an inquiry into the life of a troubled country over the course of decades.”

In the press kit [pdf] for the new DVD set, there is a section noting Chris Marker’s contributions, citing a 1975 interview with Guzmán by Le Monde film critic Louis Marcorelles:

Chris Marker played a fundamental role. He had translated into French for us El primero año; so, at the beginning of 1973, when we sensed that the great political crisis was approaching, we wrote to Chris and explained to him that we wanted to make a film which would be a vast panorama of everything that was taking place in Chile, but that we didn’t have any film because of the economic blockade. Chris wrote to me: ‘Very well, I will see what I can do.’ A very short letter. And at the end of three months, he alerted me that he was sending the material. Chris made no conditions on his shipment. He said to us: ‘The material is yours, film with it, all I can do is to send it to you.’

Icarus Films also presents a substantial overview of Guzmán’s life and work on this page. The more one learns, the more it becomes clear why Marker volunteered, in such direct but profound gestures, to become a kind of ambassador for both The First Year and The Battle of Chile — “one of the most eloquent and daring explorations of revolution and repression, hope and memory, to survive our sorry times” (as Ariel Dorfman is quoted) — to Europe and to the world.

Take Two

We received this thoughtful reprise of the “moment of happiness” in Sans Soleil via email today:

Cet été en Islande j’ai vu sur les îles vestmann une image qui m’a fait penser au premier plan de Sans Soleil. C’était un groupe de jeunes filles blondes + un petit garçon. J’ai pensé “c’est la même image”. Je viens de revisionner votre film et découvre que vous aviez tourné ce plan sur la même île, je ne me rappelais pas de ce détail. En visionnant ce plan de nouveau j’ai pensé : “on dirait que c’est au même endroit”. Peut-être est-ce les petits-enfants de vos enfants ?

Avec respect,
Bien à vous,


Michel de MontaigneWarranting special attention among the typical texts of the sixteenth century are those that, not classified under any recognized genre, overflow the bounds of literary art: the miscellanea and diverse and motley compilations share at least one feature: they gather fragments under more or less traditional headings. All these texts are premature products: they give the public raw or barely processed materials. Their role is to mediate between a producer – classical antiquity – and a user – the modern poet, the orator. The semiprocessed state is the result of a set of activities: reading/writing (copying), grouping together (collecting or collating), and sometimes commentary (intercalated text, moralization, philology). Michel Beaujour, Miroirs d'encreThese works, though not designed to persuuade, praise, or blame, still serve to instruct and also to please and surprise by the variety and strangeness of the examples they assemble. They are not intended for aesthetic, hedonistic, or consecutive reading, since they are readymade commonplace books whose function is transitive and instrumental. Constituting a pseudomemory, or an exomemory, like a reference library, they furnish the raw material for a second-degree intervention, for a secondary elaboration aimed at producing literary works of art, which, in principle, would usually be subject to rhetorical, stylistic, and generic imperatives, as well as to criteria such as the verisimilitude of mimesis. According to Quintilian’s metaphor designating rhetorical memory, these centos form “treasure houses of eloquence.” They are not themselves eloquent, nor do they contain writing as presence unto itself, but they are easily accessible, and as they handily substitute for individual memory and its vagaries, they are emblematic of the new typographic age. Individual memory stopped serving a crucial function in the production of discourses when two cultural conditions were met:

1. When the solitary writer had within arm’s reach a reference library complete enough to form, virtually at least, an encyclopedia. Montaigne’s library combines the metaphorical circularity of the encyclopedia with the circular bookshelves along the walls of his round tower. One need only be adept at looking up data, but as every user of he dictionary, encyclopedia, compilation, index, bibliography, and library knows (as opposed to the user of much more specifically programmed electronic memories), there occurs a dispersion, whether because his attention is deflected by something for which he is not looking, or because he finds, next to what he was searching for, more pertinent data. From the end of the sixteenth century on, the writer becomes accustomed to leafing through printed books, to consulting indexes and tables of contents; even if Montaigne does not use a card index, at least he is already in the position of a modern researcher prior to the introduction of electronic memories. With this exception however: Montaigne claims to find what he needs without looking for it.

2. Memory becomes less important when texts, not being designed to praise or blame, to persuade, exhort, or preach, no longer has to obey rhetorical codes of composition and style, one of whose functions in scribal culture was to make it easier for the listener-reader to understand and remember data by introducing a coded redundance, or copia, which was moreover the object of an aesthetic appreciation. So great is the disdain of Montaigne’s task for these obsolete imperatives that the reader has difficulty in remembering the order and tenor of the Essays’ long chapters. The Essays are indeed, in this sense, antimemoirs.

– Michel Beaujour, Poetics of the Literary Self-Portrait, trans. Yara Milos, New York: New York University Press, 1991, 111-113. [orig. Miroirs d’encre: Rhéthorique de l’autoportrait, Paris: Seuil, 1980]

Cinéaste du je{u}

By the good graces of M. Bookmite, we have received scans of an article that emerged around the time of the release of Immemory in the journal artpress. artpress issue 224 chris markerSo here we offer a first on the site—a pdf. No big deal, really, but perhaps the beginning of an archive within an archive, built the way bees would build—hexagonally. We’ll see. In any case, we offer you Louis-José Lestocart, “CHRIS MARKER cinéaste du je et de la vérité / Truth, First Person Singular,” artpress 224 (May 1997), 48-51, in French and English.

The ocular and mental vertigo of La Jetée: a man navigates from past to future, around a central point to which the editing brings him constantly back, into a world of fixity, of the partitioning of space which, visually, by its immobility (the filmed still photographs) refuses Time. […] Immemory is a CD-ROM containing the history of a character who is none other than Chris Marker himself. In this relating of his personal history, Marker goes one step further with the experiment begun in Zapping Zone, a series of videos of people he knew and loved, a Mnemosyne divided up into zones that were like islands, archipelagos, deserts, overpopulated lands, continents and terra incongnita. Immemory is a laboratory of the future and of survival and, as in La Jetée, constitutes a profoundly involving experience for the user.

For those interested in pursuing further the long & esoteric history of the art of memory—touched on by Marker in the “liner notes” to Immemory and explored a bit more in this article—may we suggest you visit our recently updated page “Documemory: A Bibliography [§ E: Rhetoric & the Art of Memory].

All the Fragments

“Astrophysics, physiology, theology, taxonomy, philology, cosmology, mechanics, logic, poetics, technology. Here we catch a glimpse of a future in which all mysteries are resolved. A time when we are handed the keys to this and other universes. And this will come about because these readers, each working on his slice of universal memory, will lay the fragments of a single secret end to end, a secret with a beautiful name, a secret called happiness.”

Alain Resnais (and Chris Marker), Toute la mémoire du monde, as quoted on Brandon’s Movie Memory.

[ancienne] Bibliothèque Nationale

“The dream of a library (in a variety of configurations) that would bring together all accumulated knowledge and all the books ever written can be found throughout the history of Western civilization. It underlay the constitution of great princely, ecclesiastical, and private ‘libraries’; it justified a tenacious search for rare books, lost editions, and texts that had disappeared; it commanded architectural projects to construct edifices capable of welcoming the worlds’ memory.”

Roger Chartier, The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe Between the 14th and 18th Centuries, Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1994, 62.

The Library is a sphere whose exact center is any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible.

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel,” Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings, New York: New Directions, 1962, 52.

Brooding at the end of the world on my island of Sal in the company of my prancing dogs I remember that month of January in Tokyo, or rather I remember the images I filmed of the month of January in Tokyo. They have substituted themselves for my memory. They are my memory. I wonder how people remember things who don’t film, don’t photograph, don’t tape. How has mankind managed to remember? I know: it wrote the Bible. The new Bible will be an eternal magnetic tape of a time that will have to reread itself constantly just to know it existed.

Chris Marker, Sans Soleil.

Bookcell matej krén + Borges

Letizia Álvarez de Toledo has observed that this vast Library is useless: rigorously speaking, a single volume would be sufficient, a volume of ordinary format, printed in nine or ten point type, containing an infinite number of infinitely thin leaves. (In the early seventeenth century, Cavalieri said that all solid bodies are the superimposition of an infinite number of planes.) The handling of this silky vade mecum would not be convenient: each apparent page would unfold into other analogous ones; the inconceivable middle page would have no reverse.

Borges, “The Library of Babel,” Labyrinths, FN1, 58.

References: Matej Krén’s Bookcell


Friedrich Kittler: Discourse Networks 1800/1900A shift in paradigms occurred: Nietzsche and Ebbinghaus presupposed forgetfulness, rather than memory and its capacity, in order to place the medium of the soul against a background of emptiness or erosion. A zero value is required before acts of memory can be quantified. Ebbinghaus banned introspection and thus restored the primacy of forgetting on a theoretical level. On the one hand, there was Nietzsche’s delirious joy at forgetting even his forgetfulness; on the other, there was a psychologist who forgot all of psychology in order to forge its algebraic forumula.

– Friedrich Kittler, Discourse Networks 1800/1900, trans. Michael Mettler, Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1990, 207.