Category Archives: Memory

Bellour + Beaujour on the Self-Portrait

If we must finally find one word to describe what Odenbach makes, let us use ‘self-portrait’—as literary tradition conceived it, as it has been redefined by a certain auteur cinéma, and as today’s video permits in a clearer, more natural way. The self-portrait is this idiosyncratic literary genre whose logic has been described, and genealogy traced, in a book by Michel Beaujour. Unlike autobiography, which tells the story of a life, the self-portrait tells only the story of an I: it is less interested in events, and its progression is defined by a single movement around the endlessly repeated question, “Who am I?” The self-portrait was born, in Montaigne’s Essays (1580), from a transformation of classical rhetorical procedures that had organized the representation of the world and discourse and set the rules for invention and memory. All of this, in the self-portrait, is redirected toward the person who writes to know him or herself better—only to discover in the act of writing a mere fleeting proof of his or her identity. The system of places and images and the analogical and encyclopedic functions that are so powerful in classical rhetoric are always at the origin of the text: but they exist autonomously, and the book somehow becomes an end in itself. Even if the self-portrait has changed only minimally (Beaujour dwells on its value as a transhistorical model), it thus becomes a highly modern genre, which, from the 19th century on, embraces all the avatars of the crisis of representation, and triumphs in today’s literature from Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, to Michel Leiris’ The Rules of the Game, André Malraux’s Anti-Memoirs, and Roland Barthes’ Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. In a way it even partakes of its own definition: the self-portrait is not really a genre, since it is more than a genre.
Raymond Bellour, Between-the-Images, trans. Allyn Hardyck, JRP|Ringier Kunstverlag AG and Les presses du réel, 2012, 295

Self-Portrait - Bellour + Beaujour

Warranting 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). These 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 the 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]

Rare Chris Marker Post-War Memory Published

music memoryI just published a text sent by Chris Darke, who has seen to its translation and encouraged its publication here, for which I am profoundly grateful. The text is one Marker wrote at the request of Jean-Jacques Birgé, answering the question Images gravitate around music. Which has marked you the most? You can find the text as An Image Just Appeared by Chris Marker.

The text shows the remarkable blend of keen memory, eye for emblematic images, and historical consciousness that we find inscribed in many of Marker’s films and installations (Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men comes to mind, for one). Once again, as in Sans Soleil, the wounds of history meet the compassionate gaze of memory. En plus, the text reminds us of Marker’s deep attachment to music – in this case, jazz. It is an attachment that works subliminally in many of his films to deepen the emotional reach of the projection and audition for the spectator. It’s what made Chat écoutant la musique possible: another treasure of memory and music.

In prefacing his remarks, Marker hints at how large ‘memory’ can become – stretching space and time like an expanding universe, an impossible architecture – within a single lifetime.

The image below is of one of the ships that Marker references in this memory text.


Ça fait longtemps

Sans Soleil
Без солнца Mussorgsky

Fronticepiece, Modest Mussorgsky’s Без солнца [‘Sans Soleil’], as printed in Sans Soleil original brochure, 1982

ça fait longtemps
que l’on a visité
le salle Roxie
à San Francisco
et s’est trouvé
sous le charme
d’un film
qui s’intitule
Sans Soleil

ça fait longtemps
trente ans aujourd’hui
ou pas
peu importe
parce que
la mémoire
vaut mieux
que le temps

ça fait longtemps
comme le bon vin
qui chaque année
même si
son créateur
est disparu


Here is the full commentary in the original French for Chris Marker, Sans Soleil:
Commentaire—Sans Soleil

For English and Japanese versions, please visit, where you can also find commentary/voice-over texts for À Valpariso, Description of a Struggle, La Jetée and Letter from Siberia, as well as the English version of the text for Marker’s book Coréennes.

Thanks to CMontel & ac-nancy-metz-fr’s servers & the Pacific Film Archive

Lettre de Sibérie and Dimanche à Pékin Coming Soon to DVD

lettredesiberie-dvdAs twilight passes into night on the left coast of an increasingly hysterical nation, I find somehow my browser has arrived, as if of its own volition, at I had received an odd email re. a company trying to brand the word “chrismarker” and my thoughts turned toward the still very much missed bricoleur. I was wondering if someday some entity would trademark everything or if it might be a new line of perfume. A visitor had commented on Marker’s Bestiary and I found that these short films had been assembled on a DVD by Icarus Films. Thanks John. I wondered what else might be happening in markerland. I reset my password to, as my login management machine seemed to have let it fall into the moss of time.

Coffret Planète Chris MarkerMy search revealed some soon to be released products. First, a mysterious “coffret” of 8 Marker films: “Coffret Planète Chris Marker” with this meager summary: “Retrouvez une grande partie de l’oeuvre de Chris Marker en 8 films.” If you use the zoom tool on, there actually seem to be 10 total films included: La jetée, Le joli mai, Loin du Vietnam, La solitude du chanteurd du fond,  Le fond de l’air est rouge, Sans soleil, A.K., Mémoires pour Simone, Le tombeau d’Alexandr et Chats perchés.”

coffret-zoom-side-titles1200 minutes of Chris Marker. Wow! Thanks ARTE. Release date: November 19, 2013. Bear in mind that when I first saw it and drafted this post, there was no branding, no image, now it looks elegant, like an auteur’s Oeuvres, and resonates in title with the exhibition upcoming at the Centre Pompidou. Reality is shifting daily in front of my eyes – same for you? OK then.

Second, a DVD that brings together two crucial films: Lettre de Sibérie bundled with Dimanche à Pékin. Exciting, but not available until October, and only in the original French. Hopefully this pairing will find its way to an English release before too long. Details list Studio as Tamasa Distribution and release data as October 15, 2013. Here’s the description:

Ce DVD contient 2 films :
– Lettre de Sibérie :
Je vous écris d’un pays lointain. On l’ appelle la Sibérie. A la plupart d’entre nous, il n’évoque rien d’autre qu’une Guyane gelée, et pour le général tsariste Andréiévitch, c’était “le plus grand terrain vague du monde”. Il y a heureusement plus de chose sur la terre et sous le ciel, fusssent-ils sibériens, que n’en ont rêvées tous les généraux…
– Dimanche à Pékin :
“Rien n’est plus beau que Paris, sinon le souvenir de Paris. Et rien n’est plus beau que Pékin, sinon le souvenir de Pékin. Et moi, à Paris, je me souviens de Pekin et je compte mes trésors” Chris Marker.

I found myself finally on a page called “Les Zones”, which conveyed information about encoding of DVDs by geographical zone (Pal vs. NTSC). Again, misty hints of Marker. These how did I get here moments are re-traceable, but only to a degree – which is good, as we don’t want to know what I had for dinner. Maybe Proust wants to know that. The moss of time is a preservation zone too. I don’t want Total Recall, just the soft covering of old stones that stay out of the sun. Room for new things. Room for some new DVDs of old movies that are precious.

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.